He left home for work, but never returned

Greater Kashmir

A disappeared painter leaves behind a homeless family struggling to survive in two rented rooms

Like other days, that day in the year 2002, Syed Anwar Shah, a 25-year-old painter from old Fateh Kadal, left home early in the morning for work. Unlike other days, he did not come back home in the evening. Ten years later, there’s no trace of Anwar. He remains one among thousands of disappeared persons in Kashmir.
After a decade of search in every jail in Srinagar and Jammu, having registered his case in many police stations and made countless rounds of DC’s office in the past one decade, Anwar’s family is losing hope of his return. Despite completion of all police reports and CID verifications over the years, the family is yet to receive any ex-gratia relief. They live in abject poverty.
Anwar’s family now lives in two small rented rooms in the second storey of an old house in Bana Muhalla, old Fateh Kadal. Every month they have to pay a rent of Rs 800 for living in these two rooms. The decrepit walls of these cramped rooms are covered with old newspapers. One room doubles up as a kitchen, with a few utensils in one corner, and Anwar’s ailing mother rests in another corner. She has been bed-ridden for the past five months now. She is suffering from heart ailments.
Anwar’s elder brother, Mushtaq Ahmad Shah, is forty percent handicapped and sells readymade clothes on a roadside handcart. He is struggling to earn a living for the rest of the family that comprises of Anwar’s 33-year-old wife, his 10-year old daughter, and his ailing mother who cannot walk without support. She could not recover from the shock of her younger son’s disappearance.
Mushtaq believes that his brother was picked up by troops when he left home for work that day in 2002. He remembers how the troops those days would often pick up boys from their neighborhood. After his brother’s disappearance, when he went to the nearby police station to register an FIR, he says he was told there that his brother has crossed the border and become a “militant.”  “Now after all these years they are telling us that there will be another sub-committee that will ascertain missing cases and then our case will come up for hearing,” he says. Despite CID verifications and police reports, Mushtaq says they did not receive any ex-gratia relief.  They have been searching their brother since 2002. Many DCs changed in all these years, Mushtaq says, but we did not get any relief.
After Anwar’s sudden disappearance in 2002, his mother sank into depression and developed complicacies in her kidneys. Mushtaq says they had to sell their own house to afford the treatment of their mother. “It cost us more than one and a half lakh for her treatment,” he says. “And soon after her kidney problem, she developed heart ailments.” The doctors have recently asked the family to arrange money for a pacemaker that is required for her survival.  “Where will we get one lakh rupees required for her treatment?” Mushtaq asks.
Mushtaq is yet to pay the rent for the past two months for the two rooms. He has told the house owner to wait for some more time till he arranges some money. His niece insists on joining tuitions after school, but he doesn’t have the money to afford her tuitions. “I don’t even have enough money to buy the medicine for my ailing mother,” he says.
There are days when Mushtaq hardy earns hundred rupees a day (sometimes Rs 50 a day) by selling few clothes on his roadside handcart. There are days when he returns home without making any money. But he has to feed his family of four everyday.  He is forced to take credit from shopkeepers from time to time. Everyday is a struggle for survival for this family.
“Kudayas bagear chu nae ase kehaen te sahere,” says Anwar’s ailing mother in an low voice choked with tears. (Except Allah there’s no one for us)
Mushtaq says when his brother disappeared in 2002 they were not given any missing report and neither was any FIR registered by the local police station for seven months. Over the years Mushtaq has approached DCs office in Srinagar several times, but there has been no progress on the case. The family did not get any ex-gratia relief either. “The DC office says a committee will be setup, and when I go there again they say that there will be another sub-committee to see if my brother has really disappeared,” he says while showing many applications written to many DCs over the years and verification reports carried out by police authorities. “aze pagah, az pagah che yeam karan,” Anwar’s mother shouts from her corner about the delays by government agencies in tracing out her son.
Anwar’s wife, Naseema Begum, is from Doolipora in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. She says they were living a happy life till her husband disappeared. They had married two years ago and had a daughter who was a year old then. The family says no one helped them in all these years, except for Chairman of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), Parveena Ahanger, who got their daughter admitted in a school where she is now studying in second grade. She says they don’t go to their neighbors to seek help. “I stay at home all day, taking care of my daughter and mother-in-law,” she says.
Mushtaq says no pro-freedom leader, no minister or MLA bothered to enquire about their condition or visited their rented rooms in all these years. Although he went to the secretariat and CM’s residence several times in the past, he was denied any audience there. He was not allowed to meet the CM and deputy CM whenever he went to meet them. Whenever Naseema went to the residence of Hurriyat (M) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, she says she was not allowed to meet him. Now the family does not approach any leader for help. “Now I only pray to god to return my brother,” says Mushtaq.
Anwar’s daughter Shazia Anwar has begun to realize that her father has disappeared.  She often goes to nearby shrines along with her cousin sister and prays there for her father’s early return. Sometimes she accompanies her mother to Hazratbal shrine. When she comes back from school, she often asks her mother: where is papa? Her mother tells her that he has gone out to work, that he will return soon. There are days when she refuses to eat anything, asking her mother whether her father is alive.
Now she accompanies her mother to the monthly sit-ins organized by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) at Pratap Park. For the past four years Naseema and her mother-in-law has been regularly participating in the sit-ins at Pratap Park on the 10th of every month. Since her mother-in-law has been bedridden for the past few months, her daughter now accompanies her to the monthly sit-ins. APDP has been regularly organizing monthly sit-ins at Pratap Park to press for whereabouts of their relatives who went missing in custody of various government agencies since 1990.
Mushtaq has little hopes of seeing his brother alive, although he hopes he is wrong and his brother returns soon. Sometimes, on festive occasions like Eid, they hope Anwar will come back so that the family can again celebrate Eid together. But their days continue to pass without seeing him. In his absence their life is painted in dark colors. And festive occasions only refresh the unbearable pain of his loss. 
Had Anwar been alive, Mushtaq says, we would have at least heard of him from somewhere in all these years. “Now we pray to god that he is alive and returns home someday,” he says as he looks at his mother whose only wish is to see her son, just once, before she dies.
“Zaene soe yeames tengul chu paevan,” Mushtaq sums up their tragedy.(Feedback at maqbool.majid@gmail.com)