Srinagar, Dec 9: Braving threats and all odds young Bilquees Manzoor's struggle to locate whereabouts of her father who went missing in custody of troops five years ago has earned her the sobriquet of 'brave daughter of Kashmir'.
In her eagerness to know why her father Manzoor Ahmad Dar, a chemist was picked up and what happened to him, she has shed countless tears, spend many sleepless night and traveled thousands of miles. But to no avail. Aspiring to be a journalist, she wants to highlight human rights violations in Kashmir and vows to get the accused troops punished.
Life took an ugly turn for Bilquees when troops of Army's Rashtriya Rifles led by Major Kishore Malhotra barged into her house at Hyderpora on January 18, 2002. "We were about to sleep when we heard knocks on our main door. My father rushed out and opened the gate. The troops asked him to accompany them. We pleaded before the troops to leave him as those days it was their modus operandi to kill people after picking them," Bilquees told Greater Kashmir.
However, pleas of the family members met with deaf ears. "They finally dragged my father and bundled him in their vehicle. Seeing us in tears, a trooper apologized to my mother saying 'sister forgive me'. That was the last time I saw my father," she said and broke down.
Next morning Bilquees alongwith her mother Jana went to Police Station Sadder to file a complaint. The police asked them to file an application and assured speedy investigation in the case. However, as they failed to locate Manzoor's whereabouts, the family started searching on it own.
"For many days, I accompanied my mother and other relatives to interrogation centres and army camps across the Valley hoping that I will see my father. But we faced disappointment as nobody claimed responsibility," she said.
Few days later, the troops picked up Manzoor's two friends and a youth. However, they were released after questioning. "They (friends) told us that they saw my father in a gypsy. Later the youth after his release contacted us saying he met my father in some camp at Lethpora in Pulwama district. 'He (Manzoor) has been severely tortured'. I could only talk to him as he and I were blindfolded. Later we were separated," Bilquees quoting the youth as saying.
As police refused to register an FIR, the family alongwith neighbors for days together staged demonstrations at Hyderpora.
"The then SHO Sadder Ali Muhammad misled us saying he has registered an FIR. After we learnt that he had lied and we took to streets to register our protest against police and the army. Major Malhotra who picked my father reached the spot alongwith troops and told us 'do whatever you want to. You can't harm me.' Later the troops killed a poor man in the locality to frighten us," she said.
One day a caller identifying himself as Brigadier Baldev Singh asked the family to reach a camp at Airport. "One of my uncles accompanied us to the camp. As we reached there, Baldev Singh said he is trying to locate whereabouts of my father. He gave me Rs 2500 saying I was like his daughter and advised me to use the money for pursuing education," she said.
Baldev Singh, according to the family had deputed many teams to find Manzoor. "However, one day a human rights activist Ahsan Untoo came to our house with a correspondent. While giving details I told her that the Army officer gave me Rs 2500. In her article she wrote that the cost of a human in Kashmir is Rs 2500. This irked Baldev Singh and he declined to help us," Bilquees said.
After few months, the family received another call. "The caller said he is an IB officer and wants the family members to identify the accused troops who picked Manzoor," she said.
Accompanied by her uncle, Bilquees alongwith mother and brothers boarded a car without a number plate at Rangreth. The hapless family was taken in a camp on Airport where some officers asked them description of the trooper who apologized to them after picking Manzoor.
"My mother even demonstrated how the trooper apologized. However, one of the officers objected saying the trooper did not apologize in such way. We realized that the officer would have been part of the team which picked my father. Fearing for our life we kept mum. The officers told us they will release my father on a condition that we will not raise hue and cry or file case against Army. They asked us to wait for their call and we left the camp," she said.
The family continued to receive anonymous calls. One caller told them that Manzoor was in Tihar jail and his legs were amputated. "When our relatives visited there, they did not find him. Few months later, some persons came to our house and took money for locating Manzoor's whereabouts. One day they called us saying Manzoor has been killed and his body is lying near a stream in Pulwama. Weeping and cursing over our fate, we rushed to the spot and mustering courage saw the body. But it was some else," Bilquees' mother Jana said.
"Our life has become a hell. I am so afraid after my husband's custodial disappearance that I have asked my sons to remain away from the case," she said.
The family continued to believe everyone that came to their house or made calls. "We treated everybody as a messiah believing they would help them to locate Manzoor's whereabouts. In the process of paying them money, my mother sold her jewellery and land. Our close relatives distanced themselves fearing that troops might harm them. We were on verge of starvation. At times, we did not have even food to eat. However, we reserved every penny for searching father," Bilquees said while kissing her father's photograph.
Her mother described Manzoor as noble man who would always help those in distress. "He would provide free medicine to needy and gave major parts of his earning in charity. I was about to sell my kidney for meeting expenses to locate his whereabouts. But his generosity paid off as one of his relatives and some friends whom he had helped came to our rescue," she said.
Bilquees also joined the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP). APDP since 1994 is fighting for relatives of persons who went missing in custody. She went to many states and met activists of international human rights organizations to locate whereabouts of her father and other missing persons. But has not achieved any success till date.
Finally the family knocked the doors of Court. The Court summoned the accused Major Malhotra who according to the family has been promoted and posted as a Colonel in Assam.
"Despite summons and warrants, Army did not produce the Colonel before Court. We wonder how Government of India which calls itself a democratic country has promoted an officer who has committee a number of human rights violations and shattered our happy family?" Bilquees asks.
"If my father has been killed, please give us right to weep on his grave. If he is alive let us meet him. We want to know for what crime he been punished and what happened to him? she asks.