Handwara: Forty-year-old Fahmeeda Begum from Zachaldara village in Kupwara district has last seen her husband, Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, then 28, 17 years ago, when he was asked to sit in an army vehicle outside their house. She has no idea of the fate he met and whether he is alive or not.
“In the morning of 14th November, 2000, a chowkidar came to our house and told my husband that the Major of Soud army camp of Zachaldara has called him. When my husband went outside, he was picked up by army who were waiting outside along with four other men who were putting up in the village in a rented accommodation thrown into army vehicle and taken away,” Fahmeeda said.
The chowkidar, Fahmeeda said, was a man from the village, who used to work for the army and assign jobs ordered by army to the villagers.
“He used to be more powerful than police and politicians in the area.” Fahmeeda said. “Someday he would assign our family men to ferry water from the river to the army camp and if we declined, we had to face wrath of the army. He was killed some years back and nowadays army doesn’t take villagers to do their camp work.”
Though picked up in front of her eyes, the army denied any involvement or information. The family lodged an FIR in police station Handwara and even protested but “we were beaten up ruthlessly and threatened with dire consequences if we did not stop protesting”.
“We even registered a case with the state human rights commission (SHRC) but after four years they even surrendered and failed to do anything in tracing our men.”
Living a life of half widow, unaware of husband’s fate, Fahmeeda has faced hardships raising her four children. For one year she says she tried to trace him “everywhere” “in army camps, police stations, jails, in forests, everywhere”.
“My only dream now is, before I die, I want to know that what happened to my husband,” she said breaking into tears.
Fahmeeda’s husband is one of the five men who were allegedly picked up by army’s 21 Rashtriya Rifles camping in Zachaldara from the village that day and subjected to enforced disappearance that day. Four of them were from Chapran village.
The families are still eager to know the whereabouts of their kin, but gave active pursuit long back when fathers of the two of the disappeared were killed.
The family of Manzoor Ahmad Khan, then 25, from Chapran village of Zachaldara, said that Manzoor’s father Karimullah Khan tried to pursue the case, until he was killed.
“Army came to our home one night after two months and fired indiscriminately setting our house on fire and shot my father leaving his body in a pool of blood. After that who would have dared to follow this case, so we left it halfway, fending for our lives.” Manzoor’s brother Bashir Ahmad Khan said.
Father of Abdul Aziz Bajad, another disappeared, was also killed the same night, in a similar fashion, they said.
They were following the case together, Aziz’s brother, Saifuddin said.
Manzoor’s wife is now married to another man in the village, while his daughter lives with her uncle.
Similarly, Aziz’s wife also married. Her three orphaned children are taken care of by their grandparents.
Ghulam-ud-Din Tanchi, son of another disappeared, Jamal-ud-Din Tanchi, then 45, of Chapran village said they also stopped pursuing the case after fathers of two men were killed.
“We tried everything to trace our father, sold our cattle and land to pay a person who cheated on us by telling us that that he knows about his father’s whereabouts but left after taking our money. When the fathers of two disappeared persons were killed, we stopped to follow this case because of our family safety”, Ghulam-ud-Din said.
Mohd Shafi Tanchi, then 26, of Chapran village was the fifth disappeared. His wife Mamkhato Begum, lives with her only daughter.
Police station, Handwara had registered a case under FIRNo.124/2000 U/S 346 RPC about the lifting of these men, however without any breakthrough.
Rights activists say around 8,000 people have gone missing in Jammu and Kashmir since the outbreak of armed uprising in 1990. They were allegedly picked up by government forces.