“We don’t want to talk about our son,” the ailing mother of Shabir Ahmad Dar, who disappeared eight years ago, says at the door of their modest two-room home in Noorbagh, Qamarwari. “We’re tired of giving statements. We only want our son back,” she says. The family is unwilling to talk repeatedly about the disappearance of their son. They only want to know about his return.
On a Friday noon in July 2005, 25-year-old Shabir Ahmad handed over his phone to his younger sister, asking her to recharge it till he returns home. He left for Rajbagh where he had to buy some cloth material. Travelling to far off districts in the valley, Shabir would make a living for his family by selling carpets. Eight years have come to pass since that Friday noon, but Shabir is yet to return home. His sister still keeps his brother’s cell phone.
No one called on the phone Shabir left behind. It was disconnected after his disappearance. When the family called all the contacts saved in the phonebook, his friends and acquaintances said they had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
His parents are tired of endlessly talking about the innocence of their son and participating in countless sit-ins to seek the whereabouts of their only son. “We don’t want any money. We don’t want any promises. We are too old to search for him now,” Shabir’s mother says. “We want our son back.”
Shabir’s parents believe their son was picked up by a number-less military vehicle that was infamous for picking up people in Rajbagh area those days. The vehicle would pick up people from the streets, they were told, and then they would not return home. “I think he was picked up by the military,” says Shabir’s 75-year-old father, Muhammad Subhan Dar. “Had he been picked up by the militants, we would have come to know by now if he was alive or dead,” he says. After Shabir disappeared, his father says police did not tell them anything about his whereabouts. “The local police station did not register an FIR here,” he says. “They had earlier said that he was a militant but it was proved wrong when they investigated the case.”
Shabir’s mother Meahra points at a television set in a wooden case in one corner of their room. “He brought this TV on a lottery just few months before he disappeared,” she says. “He would leave in the morning and come back by evening,” she says. He would pray five times a day and work hard to make a living for his family. “Whenever he would miss prayers during the day because of his travel, he would offer all the missed prayers in the evening,” she recalls. Shabir wanted to marry off his younger sister before he could think of his own marriage. Whenever we would tell him about his marriage, his mother recalls, he would say that first I have to get my sister married.
All these eight years, lived in the absence of their only son, has taken a toll on the family. Meahra cannot remember all the things. She forgets important dates. She asks her daughter to help her recall the year her son disappeared. She errs in recalling the number of years that have passed since her son’s disappearance. “She is losing her memory,” her daughter informs. “I used to wait for him every evening till he came back home,” Meahra says in tears. “His disappearance has devastated our family.”
Ask anyone in the neighborhood, Shabir’s father emphatically says, and everyone will have nice things to say about his character. “Whatever we have here is because of our son,” he says. “He would earn for the whole family and he never asked for money from us,” he says.
The case of their son’s disappearance has dragged on in the court where the police, when summoned, says that they don’t know the whereabouts of Shabir. “They only give dates after dates and years pass like that,” Subhan laments.
Shabir’s parents are too old to keep searching for him. They often remain ill and confined to their home. His father is unable to walk more than a few steps. He falls short of his breath after a short walk. His eyesight is fading. The doctors have advised an eye operation which he can’t afford. Shabir’s mother is on medication since his disappearance. Earlier all the family members would participate in monthly APDP organized protest sit-ins at Pratap Park. But after Subhan and his wife’s health deteriorated, their daughters have been attending the monthly sit-ins.
The family is struggling to survive in the absence of their only bread earner. Three of their four daughters are married. Shabir bore all the expenses of his elder sister’s marriage. Their younger daughter, however, is unwilling to marry. She doesn’t want to leave her aging parents alone. “She says she wants to live with us till we are alive,” says her mother who is concerned about her marriage.
“Who will get her married now,” her aging father asks in a concerned tone. Earlier, he used to stitch clothes at home and earn a few hundred rupees for his family. But after his eyesight weakened, he is unable to do any kind of work. He also has difficulty in hearing properly. “I am too old to take care of even myself,” he says.
Muhammad Subhan has saved small pieces of paper mentioning the names and numbers of people and human rights activists who have visited him over the years. Details of his lawyers and police officers investigating the case are also written on small cards he has preserved. He has kept his son’s photograph in a white polythene bag in another room. The photograph, which his daughters carry along for the monthly sit-ins, has his name inscribed in black letters. These photographs, however, have to be kept away from Shabir’s mother. She cannot stand the sight of her son’s photograph. She only wants to look at her son when he is back, alive. That hope keeps her alive.
The family says not a single minister bothered to visit their home in all these years. The family is living in poverty, struggling to earn a living. “Many foreigners came here and empathized with us,” says Meahra. But when we go to ministers, she says, they don’t pay any attention to us.
How did the family survive all these years in the absence of their only earning hand? “Our daughters and son-in-laws sometimes give us some money,” Meahra says. “But they have their own families to support,” she says. “We face many difficulties in winter.”
Meahra is suffering from blood pressure and thyroid complicacies. Sometimes, when she is short of money, she has to borrow medicine on credit from the medical shops in their neighborhood. The family is not provided subsidized ration on their ration card. When they approached government offices for some old age fund, they were told that there are no funds allotted for families like them.
“We don’t want any money,” Shabir’s ailing father is quick to interject. “We want to know the whereabouts of our son?” he says. “Return our son to us, or tell us where he is.” “If he is dead,” he asks, suddenly raising the pitch of his voice, “tell us where his grave is? Then he breaks down. “We don’t have anyone left here to earn for our family,” he says. “Our son-in-law can’t replace our son who was everything for our family.”
“What we could expect from our son,” Meahra explains as tears again swell up in her eyes, “we can’t expect that from our son-in-laws or our daughters who have their own families to look after.