By Gulzar Bhat
A narrow road towards the left of Magam town along Srinagar- Gulmarg highway serpentines through the apple orchards and leads to sparsely populated village of Larkipora in district Baramullah. A loud and continuous yapping of a sleek and sturdy canine welcomes outsiders to the village. Just a few doors down the village street, stands the single-story weathered house of Zaina .
Zaina (40) lives a life of half-widow ever since her husband Abdul Rashid Parra disappeared after he was allegedly picked by army. On November 16, 2002, Parra—as Zaina recounts— went to tend his nearby apple orchard. A few hours’ later three army vehicles pulled off the road near his orchard and within a few minutes some army men bundled him into one of the vehicles and whizzed past.
“When he did not return till late, I , along with some neighbors , went to the orchard leaving my two children alone at home. As we did not find him and started frantically searching for him, a neighbor in the village informed us that he saw army men forcing him into their vehicle. ”.
Next day Zaina registered an FIR with police station Kunzer and started searching for him in army camps located in the area. She along with some relatives called on many political leaders including the local MLA seeking help in finding her husband but, save for some assurances, they did nothing.
Parra ( 27) would do needlework to eke out a living and had no connections with any militant outfit. He in his village was known for sewing wonderful designs on shawls. Zaina sometimes also used to assist him in his work.
After his disappearance, life threw up new challenges for Zaina. She had to feed her children, besides searching for her husband. “My husband had taught me how to sew designs on shawls and after his disappearance I took to embroidery to make my ends meet” said Zaina. Zaina first completed embroidering the shawl her husband was working on the day he went missing. “It was my responsibility to complete his unfinished work. With meticulous care, I stitched designs on it and hemmed its borders” recalls Zaina. Zaina says that she caresses a shawl a dozen times—before she hands it over to the customer—as it carries the designs stitched by her husband.
Zaina wears her fingers to the bone to ensure food and education for her children—Tajamul (17) and Tawseef (15). Embroidery fetches her Rs 2000-25000 per month, should she at least produce designs on four shawls. Her small apple orchard, comprising only a few trees, failed to bear fruit ever since her husband went missing as there was no one to tend it.
As government is yet to come up with a rehabilitation scheme for the families of victims of enforced disappearances, it is the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), a non-governmental organization that chipped in to provide some financial assistance to the Zaina.
“APDP is the only organization that helped me so far. It paid the school fees of my children” said Zaina.
After a few months of her husband’s disappearance, an army officer—during one of her visits to a nearby Khag army camp — told Zaina stop searching for her husband as she could not find him. Zaina took his words as a tacit hint that her husband was slain.
After few days of Parra’s disappearance, a gun battle broke out in the jungles of Baramullah and army claimed that they killed few foreign militants without ascertaining their identity. Zaina doubted that her husband was killed there and later labeled as an unidentified foreign militant.
“During those days security forces had no qualms about killing people in staged encounters and branding them as unidentified militants. I am not sure but I suspect the he was killed in an encounter. An encounter, I remember, took place after a few days of his disappearance in the forests of Baramullah” said Zaina.
According to APDP affiliated with Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Societies, there are around 8000 cases of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. Pertinently, Special Investigation Team of State Human Rights commission in 2011 confirmed that 21, 56 bodies are lying in unmarked graves across three districts of Kashmir.
Although Zaina is still not sure if her husband is dead, she always dreams about his return as she continues stitching beautiful designs on shawls with her bony fingers.
—The author is a fellow with National Foundation for India(NFI), New Delhi). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org