On Friday evening of March 2, 2000, Muhammad Yaseen Bhat, then a 26-year-old University student, was coming out of his neighborhood mosque in Nowhatta after offering the evening prayers. Before he could enter home, army troops and armed men from counter-insurgent group Ikhwan grabbed hold of him near the street outside his home. After an hour, he was taken to his home where, after his family members were locked up in one room, he was brought in his room where his personal library was dismantled. After torturing him in his room for an hour, his family says he was taken away in the army vehicle before they could talk to him. That was the last time they saw Yaseen.
“His library was dismantled and they also damaged the walls of his room,” says his uncle, Abdul Rasheed Mir. “But they could not find any weapons,” he says. “We heard his cries from the nearby house.”
It’s been twelve years since Yaseen was subjected to enforced disappearance. His mother is not keeping well since the day her son was taken away. She does not talk about his disappearance anymore. “Even her tears have dried up now after all these years,” says Mir.
The continued absence of Yaseen, and years of living in uncertainty about his fate, took a heavy toll on his family. Soon after his disappearance, unable to bear his loss, one of his uncles passed away. He was particularly attached to Yaseen. Yaseen’s father suffered from heart ailments soon after his son’s disappearance. He would often remain ill and depressed. Some months back, while he was preparing to offer afternoon prayers, he suffered a cardiac arrest and passed away.
Mir says over the years many people approached them, saying that they would help in tracing out Yaseen. But every time they were disappointed. “They were after money and wanted to blackmail us,” says Rasheed. One Ikhwani, Farooq Ahmad Khan, he says, called them after ten days of Yaseen’s disappearance. “When we told him where did he get our number, he said that Yaseen gave him their number.” He told the family that he was working for Intelligence bureau (IB). He asked us to meet him near the entrance of SKIMS medical institute, says Shah, but he did not give us any clue about Yaseen for six months. “Then he suddenly disappeared,” says Mir.
Rasheed says they traced Farooq and met him again in central jail. “He then demanded one lakh rupees to know the whereabouts of Yaseen,” he says. “We told him that we will give him one lakh rupees, but first he has to show us Yaseen to convince us,” he says. “But he did not lead us to Yaseen and it turned out that he was after money.”
Then another man, named Sharma, came forward to help the family in tracing out Yaseen. He too turned out to be working for IB. “All of them wanted money from us,” says Rasheed. “Our family had to spend around four Lakh rupees to trace him but all in vain,” he says.
The family searched for Yaseen in every jail in the valley. They even approached the Army camps and visited counter-insurgent camps in the valley, but there was no trace of Yaseen. When they approached the concerned government offices and police stations, they would deny any knowledge of Yaseen’s whereabouts. “We were disappointed at every place,” says Rasheed. “We would tell them not to keep us in the dark and tell us clearly where he is,” he says. “If he is dead, we told them to at least return us his dead body.”
After 12 years of his disappearance, does the family have any hope of seeing Yaseen alive? Had he been alive, we would have got some clue in these 12 years,” sighs Rasheed. “God knows what they did to him.”
Yaseen’s family suspects, if at all Yaseen is dead, he might be buried in a police station in Zakura in the city. “We had heard then that they had buried some people there,” says Rasheed. “Once we met a boy there and when we showed him the picture of Yaseen, he said he is buried here,” he says.”But he didn’t say anything more, he was afraid,” he recalls.
The government wanted to give extra gratia relief of Rs one lakh to the family after Yaseen’s disappearance. But Yaseen’s father declined to take any money from the government. “He told them to bring back his son,” says Rasheed. “He declined to take any money from the minister.”
Yaseen was known as a soft-spoken boy in his neighborhood, always ready to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. He would never miss prayers and led Friday prayers in the neighborhood mosque. “He would not take even a single penny from the mosque,” his uncle recalls. Yaseen also taught the Holy Quran in the neighborhood madrassa. “In this area he taught the Quran to many boys of the locality,” says Rasheed. “They always remember him and speak highly about him”.
Rasheed emphasizes that they strongly believe that Yaseen, who was innocent, was picked up only for one ‘crime’ – he was a good Muslim. “He was punished for being a good Muslim,” his uncle says emphatically. He says an army officer from the 53rd battalion, who was posted in Nowhatta in 2001, would often harass Yaseen. The officer had also questioned Yaseen few days before his disappearance. The local police station did not help either. “They just wrote ‘Missing’ under his name,” says Rasheed. “And when we would ask them about his whereabouts, they would say they have no idea where he is.”
No single political party or minister visited the family after Yaseen’s disappearance. “Only Geelani sahab came here once, and rest no one bothered to come here,” says Rasheed.
The family has made a large sized green banner which they bring out when anyone asks for Yaseen’s picture. In the banner Yaseen’s picture is drawn out in a white circle, and below his picture is written in capital letters: “MUHAMMAD YASEEN (BSC STUDENT). MISSING FROM 2ND MARCH, 2000.”
“If they have killed him,” Rasheed says, looking at the banner, “let them tell us directly.” What is painful even now, he laments, is to live without knowing if he is dead or alive. “This has been killing us everyday in all these twelve years,” he says. “This is more painful.”
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