‘WHERE ARE OUR DISAPPEARED?’

Samreen Mushtaq

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Where are their disappeared sons? Photo: Bilal Bahadur

The sky was overcast with dark clouds as they started assembling in the Press Colony. Young and old, men and women, each one carrying a story of despair and longing, each one battling between hope and hopelessness; but certainly not ready to give up, you could see it in their eyes. Soon it started raining, a drizzle first and then it turned into a heavy shower. People around looked for shelter but these people stood in the Press Colony, shouting slogans, demanding justice, their faces asking ‘Where are our Disappeared?’ Cameras clicked. Many people walked that way, looked, and went past them. This was the usual monthly sit-in of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons.

This was the first time I was joining it. Women cried, Parveena held them, consoled them, giving them hope, promising them they wouldn’t give up. One would think that their tears must have dried after protesting so many times. But does the pain of losing a loved one, and not even being sure about it, ever fade? I just stood there, watching them, not saying a word to anyone. What could I probably say? That I had never bothered to join them? That I did feel their pain but I was also one of those that saw and walked past? That I had great respect for their courage and steadfastness but my support to them was restricted to Facebook and Twitter? Perhaps just standing there, realizing that I had failed them, was enough for now.

They walked to Pratap Park now. It was raining even more heavily. I thought they’d just leave. But they stood there, in front of those posters displaying some of those ‘disappeared’ faces. Amidst this, I found a woman who had joined the sit-in for the first time as well. Unlike me, the reason for her joining wasn’t just the realization of having failed them. She had another story, another name to add to that ‘list’ of the disappeared.

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Her wait lingers on. Photo: Bilal Bahadur

Rafiqa had come all the way from North Kashmir’s Sopore town to be a part of this protest. Her eyes were puffy, perhaps she had just cried. The cold air made her shiver, yet with quivering lips, she spoke of the events of that unfortunate day. It was 29th January this year, Rafiqa recalls. Her 35-year-old brother Mushtaq Ahmad Changa, a driver by profession, and his wife were the only people in Rafiqa’s father’s house that night in Haider Colony, Arampora, Sopore. The name rang a bell. I had read it somewhere. Later I found out news stories about ‘suspected militants’ having kidnapped a civilian and his family staging protests about the disappearance. However, Rafiqa started an entirely different side of the story. She says, at 11 p.m., some armed men, who she claims with certainty were from the STF, barged into their house and asked Mushtaq to accompany them. “His wife called me up, saying military entered their house and with that, they snatched her phone and two other phones, taking the phones with them along with my brother.” Asked if she filed an FIR, Rafiqa said that she did at 11:45 p.m. of the same night go to Police Station Sopore to file an FIR. “They asked me who took him, I said it was the STF, but they have written in the FIR that it was done by unidentified gunmen. I went from pillar to post, did whatever I could but I haven’t been able to know his whereabouts. Has he been held in some camp, is he in any jail, I just don’t know.”

Mushtaq disappeared just seven months after his marriage. It angered me when Rafiqa narrated how the STF men who had barged in also abused his wife who was seven months’ pregnant. Next day, on the 30th, she gave birth to a premature daughter at Lal Ded hospital. So what does the police tell them, I asked. “Just before the martyrdom anniversaries of Afzal Guru and Maqbool Butt, I went to meet the then DIG North Kashmir J P Singh. He assured me that after the hartaals, we should come and that my brother was fine. But then, after a call from the SP Sopore, they said it was some other Mushtaq he was talking about. Perhaps the DIG didn’t know that he wasn’t supposed to reveal anything about my brother,” said Rafiqa. She added how she was kept in the police station for a day, simply because they were angry why she was raising her voice about her brother’s disappearance.

After I heard all that, I thought if I should get the police point of view as well. But I was no journalist and I had read enough of that from news stories published earlier. And anyway, would that bring back Rafiqa’s disappeared brother? And even if I did, why should I expect to hear the truth? As if we haven’t seen thousands of cases of disappearances before when it was clearly the state machinery involved and yet they categorically denied and the disappeared continue to be ‘disappeared’. And if it was indeed militants that took him, does that make it any less important a case? It doesn’t, ofcourse. But we very well know how one such case would be used to portray as if that’s the truth of all such cases. Living under an occupation, we all know what has become of truth and justice. As I write this, I am thinking of these two different versions of the same story. Whatever the ‘true’ side, here is another name in the already long list of the disappeared. Another SIT, another probe..and we all know what happens to probes in Kashmir.

It was heartening to see how Rafiqa felt that joining the APDP sit-in could help and that it gave her hope to have other people raising their voice about the same thing, while to so many of us who walk by, it’s just a routine that we routinely ignore. To these people, it means so much more. Mushtaq’s 70-year-old father must be awaiting his son’s return, his wife must be praying for his safety while fearing at the same time that he might never return. For all those people there, the rain didn’t dampen their spirits, the rain didn’t hide their tears, the rain couldn’t wash away their pain. If only we all could feel….

 (Samreen Mushtaq is currently pursuing Ph. D in the Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)

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