the endless wait

Showkat Nanda

2014 - Ongoing

Kashmir, India

In November 2015, Hajra Begum, a 74-year-old widow, received a fist-sized bag wrapped in a thin plastic sheet. Inside it was the soil from the grave her only son who was subjected to enforced disappearance in the summer of 1997. Now her 18-year long wait was over.

Most women are not as ‘lucky’ as Hajra.

The phenomenon of enforced disappearances is a stark reality that Kashmir has been witnessing for the last twenty-six years. There are hundreds of cases where people have been taken into custody only to vanish forever.

Most of the times the burden is carried by women- mothers and wives of the disappeared persons who have spent their entire life and all their possessions, often in abject poverty, searching for their kin in jails, police stations, army camps and torture centers. In Kashmir, there is a term ‘Half-Widow,’ used for women who do not know whether their husbands are dead or

alive. These women remain in a state of confusion. There is a deep sense of loss but at the same time there is hope of being able to see their loved ones again.

Human Rights groups put the number of the disappeared persons somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000. The discovery of mass gravesites in recent years has brought more uncertainty to these women. According to a report published by the International People’s Tribunal on Human

Rights and Justice in 2009, there are 2,700 unmarked graves of unidentified people in North Kashmir close to the Line of Control that divides the Indian and Pakistani administered parts of Kashmir.

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  • Saja Begum’s sons Ghulam Mohiuddin, 30 and Abdul Rashid, 27, disappeared after Indian soldiers picked them up during a crackdown in 12 May, 1991. While trying to prevent the soldiers from arresting her sons, she was fired upon from a close range and received a bullet in her thigh. She has searched them in many jails and torture centers but she couldn’t find them. In 1992, she lost another son, Ghulam Hassan Lone who was killed by Indian forces. Now 75, Saja is still waiting for her disappeared sons to come back.

  • Hussain Bibi lives with her children in village Zamoor Pattan near the Line of Control that divides Indian and Pakistani administered parts of Kashmir. Her husband Ahmad Hussain Shah(45) and son Nazir Hussain (18), who worked as porters, were picked up by the JAK Rifles regiment of the Indian Army from their home on August, 15, 1997. When the family went to the concerned camp where the army was stationed, the soldiers denied having arrested them. The family was sent back after being threatened of dire consequences if they tried to continue searching for the father-son duo.

  • Children play near graveyard in Kashmir’s Kitchama village where around 135 unidentified bodies are buried. This is one of the most prominent mass gravesites in Kashmir. The International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in 2009, in collaboration with local Human Rights groups found out the presence of nearly 2,700 graves in North Kashmir. Some graves contain more than one body. Human rights groups believe that these graves may conatin the bodies of the persons who were subjected to enforced disapperances. Locals say that the bodies were brought by the securtity agencies mostly in the night and people of the area were aksed to bury them. Most of them were victims of extrajudicial killings and fake encounters.

  • Fazzi Begum,65, has been waiting for her son for the past 24 years. Her 16-year-old son, Nazir Ahmad, disappeared when he went to play cricket with his friends near his house.

  • Javed ahmad Dar is the youngest victim of enforced disappearance in Kashmir. He was just eight years old when he was abducted by the Indian BSF in 1990. The only possessions his mother Suraya has of Javed are his photograph and a school belt. She occasionally takes them out of her cupboard to relieve herself of the pain she has been enduring for the last 26 years.

  • The clothes of an unidentified man hang from a tree trunk near a mass gravesite in North Kashmir’s Kitchama village. It has been 12 years since these clothes were put there. “He was very young and had severe torture marks on his body. We took off his clothes before burying him hoping that his family might turn up one day, like hundreds of people who have visited the place in search for their kin who were subjected to enforced custodial disappearance by armed forces in the past 26 years.” said a local, Ghulam Rasoon Mir. Nearly 135 unidentified bodies lie buried in this graveyard.

  • A veiled woman sits beside the grave of her younger brother who was killed by Indian forces in 2008. Her elder brother Javaid Iqbal disappeared in 1990. The family has searched him everywhere but he could not be traced.

  • Shafeeq adjusts the headscarf of her 81-year-old grandmother, Bakhti Begum. Bakhti’s son Abdul Rashid Bhat, a mason, was arrested by soldiers of the Indian Army on April 23, 1992 while he was on his way to work. According to the information given to the family by eyewitnesses, he was arrested for not possessing an Identity Card. The family searched him in almost every jail and camp across Kashmir but they could not trace him. Bakhti still thinks that he is alive and will return some day

  • A mother touches the earth from the grave of her son that she received a year ago. She came to know after 19 years that her son died had near the border town of Uri in 1997. She said that she is too weak to trek the mountainous terrain where her son is buried.

  • Khadeeja touches the photograph of her missing son, Fayaz Ahmad Gashroo, a college student and an ace cricketer. Nicknamed “Marshall” after the West Indian cricketer Malcolm Marshall for his unmatched bowling pace, Fayaz vanished on May 19, 1990 after 52 battalion of the Indian central Reserve police force headed by Mjaor Kripal Singh arrested him. A man arrested along with him and later released revealed to the family that Fayaz was tortured for several days in prison and that might have led to his death. But Khadeeja doesn’t believe any of these claims. She says that her son is alive and will come back. She has spent years looking at his photographs, medals and trophies he had won as a competent sportsman.

  • Altaf Ahmad Chichi of Katiayanwali village disappeared after Indian army arrested him on November 16, 2002. He was 22 when he went missing. Altaf’s parents Lal Din and Naabi Begum died a few years after his disappearance. Police refused to lodge a first Information report (FIR). His brother Bashir Ahmad said the only picture they had of Altaf was a print out of his photograph after all his photographs were taken by pople human rights groups. “Though we have shifted to another house. Our mother never wanted to take that photo of the wall, so we have kept it there.”

  • Taja Begum spends most of her in front of the window off her small mud house where she lives all alone. Two of her sons, Ghulam Nabi Dar, 28, and Mushtaq Ahmad Dar, 14 went missing on the eve of Eid, the holiest Muslim festival 15 years ago. She doesn’t remember the exact date but recalls that it happened only a few months after the Indian forces killed her eldest son, Mohammad Amin Dar. Taja’s husband died of a brain hemorrhage three years after the incident. Though locals had offered her help in building a new house, she refuses. “I will live here till I die because if my sons return, they will come straight to the house where I brought them up.”

  • Two brothers Mohammad Iqbal Taas, 20 and Mohammad Ismail Taas, 18, were subjected to enforced disappearance in two different years. Iqbal disappeared in 1996 while Ismail disappeared in 1999. Both were arrested by the Indian army and later taken to some unknown place. The house where they used to live remains abandoned since their parents Alif Deen Tass and Khazooran Begum died.

  • Rafiqa, 52, is calmed down by her son during a pychotic episode. Rafiqa’s husband, Abdul Hamid Shah, 24, was picked up from his home on the afternoon of April 9, 1990 in Hudpora village of Handwara town. Her only son Nisar Ahmad was four months old his father was taken away. Since 2009, she started showing signs of mental illness and now she’s fully afflicted with schizophrenia. She spends the whole night wandering and shouting in the neighborhood. Her son says that she has gain started believing that he still lives with them. “Sometimes she claims to see him,” says Nisar

  • Haleema sits in a neighbor’s car to travel for a sit-in against enforced disappearances organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). Haleema’s husband, Abdul Rashid Ganaie was arrested by the 131 battalion of Indian Border security force on the evening of January 5, 1998. For three years she left her home and began a search to trace her husband. Haleema, for her commitment, got active in helping women like her to get justice. She associated herself with some Human rights groups in order to bring to attention the plight of hundreds of women whose loved ones have been subjected to enforced disappearance in Kashmir.

  • Enforced disappearances in Kashmir have not only had an emotional impact but social fallout as well. Shaista, left, was two-months old when unknown gunmen abducted her father, Bilal Ahmad Peer, on August 23, 1993. Her cousin Shameema also lost her father in June 1995. Soon after Peer’s disappearance, Shaista and her mother were denied the rights of the property she would otherwise inherit from her father. Her mother remarried but as Shaista grew up she started fighting for her rights including a piece of land that belonged to her disappeared father. A case is pending in the court. She is doing her master’s in Public Administration.

  • Anwar Jan was 16 when she got married to Mohammad Latif Khan. A year later, Khan joined the Indian Army. After they had children, he took an early retirement and started a grocery store. On the afternoon of July 14, 1990, the Special Operations Group of the police accompanied by personnel from the Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) picked up Khan from his home in Chandanwari village. “He was dragged out of the house. We tried to resist but they threatened to kill us,” said Anwar Jan. She says that her son, who was eleven-months old then, still harbors the pain and anger against the people who took his father away from him. Anwar has raised eight children besides searching for him in different jails.

  • Sakina (name changed) is seen beside a poster made by an Indian artist, Rollie Mukherjee, depicting a Kashmiri half-widow. Sakina, herself a half widow, has been struggling to know her husband’s whereabouts. Her husband, Ajaz Ahmad went missing on February 2, 2002. She was asked to leave her husband’s house by her in-laws. She lives with her parents now who are keen to get her remarried. But she says that she will wait for her husband till her death.

  • Ateeqa’s daughters were toddlers when Indian Army picked up her husband Nazir Ahmad Mir during a night raid on their house on 28 May 1990. When she approached the army, they denied having arrested him. Somebody told the family that his fingers were cut before he was taken to an unknown place and might have died. She visited many prisons in different parts of India but she could not find him. “Once I was told that he is in Jammu Province’s Kot Balwal jail and that I could meet him. I bought new clothes for him but when I visited the jail, I did not find him there. The government and army, in order to calm us down for sometime, had played a cruel joke on me and my helpless daughters.”

  • Fahmeeda, a half-widow, has spent 15 years waiting for her husband, Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, who was picked up by Indian Army on September 3, 2001. For seven months she looked for him in different prisons, camps and torture centers. Fahmeeda brought up four children despite facing extreme hardships.