A Mother's Search For Son Lost In Custody
5 January 2005
The Indian Express
Srinagar: On a chilly foggy winter morning, a 70-something Hajra enters the S K Park to join scores gathered there who have lost their loved ones in the custody of the security forces. Today, Hajra is a broken woman with unending miseries. At 72, this woman from the North Kashmir village of Bandipura leaves her home every morning in search of his son, who disappeared after being taken into custody by the Army nine years ago. Hajra's son, Bashir Ahmad Sofi was picked by the Army from his native village Ongam, Bandipura. For the last nine years, Sofi is untraceable but his family hasn't lost hope. Every knock at the door brings a look of hope on Hajra's wrinkled face. 'He will come back,' she says. 'My son is alive, I am sure. A time will come and he will return.' And then she breaks down. Holding her son's picture in her hands, she starts counting: 'One, two, three and four.' Besides Sofi, her three young sons have been killed in the 15-year long turmoil in Kashmir. Her only surviving son, Fayaz Ahamd Sofi - the sole bread earner of the family - she says, has lost his eyesight and consequently, his job. 'Three of my sons were killed by the security forces and the fourth disappeared in their custody nine years ago,' she says tears rolling down her cheeks. 'He was picked up by the 14 RR from his bakery shop on Eid,' she recounts. 'We searched for him everywhere - from prisons to the graveyards - but to no avail. The Army is denying his arrest,' she adds. She says she has not gone to court to seek justice because 'we have no money. They demanded Rs 10,000 as fee. Where was I to get that money. In the morning, when I left for Srinagar, my pocket was empty and my neighbours helped me,' she adds. After his eyesight failed him, her son Fayaz had to leave his job as a carpet-weaver. Today, there is no one to feed this family of seven - Hajra, her 75- year-old husband, son and four grandchildren. For some time, the family was without any shelter. 'Our house was burnt by the Army,' she alleges. 'The villagers came to our rescue and helped us build a shed, where we now live.' The government help and compensation too has eluded us, says she. The misery and misfortune has, however, failed to break the resolve of this frail woman. 'I will fight till the end,' she says. 'They should release our sons or tell us that they are dead.' This is all the protestors gathered in the park ask for, she says. Hajra's is not an isolated case. There are hundreds of stories of such missing people, some of whom disappeared 15 years ago. 'There are over 6,000 disappeared persons and their number is only rising. In Mufti's rule alone, 144 persons have disapperaed in custody,' says Pervez Imroz, patron, Association of Parents' of Disappeared Persons (APDP) - an organisation formed by relatives of the missing persons.