SRINAGAR: Missing student Ehtesham Bilal is the only son in the extended Sofi family. He has three uncles, all of whom have a daughter each. Ehtesham also has a sister, who studies at a good school in Srinagar. In Kashmiri society, having a son is considered to be a blessing. But at the home of Ehtesham in Khanyar locality of Srinagar, his parents sit wrapped in a single blanket, in grim silence. Two other relatives are there in the room. A third relative comes, the parents exchange greetings, and then silence prevails again.
“Our tears have dried up now,” says Bilal Ahmad, Ehtesham’s father, in a coarse voice. “We don’t need his earnings. Allah has given us enough. We need him. We are doomed without him.”
Irfana, his mother, broke down as she was speaking to this reporter, and had to be taken by the relatives to another room “We are not sure if our son has joined any jihadi group. But in case he has, we request their leaders to please return our son, who is the only one in our family. It will be their big service to us,” she said.
“I don’t know how we will live the rest of our lives,” she says.
It has been a week since Ehtesham last spoke to his parents. All attempts to reach out to him have failed. An unconfirmed audio announcing that Ehtesham has joined Zakir Musa’s militant outfit sounds suspicious. Bilal questions the audio because the fluent Urdu in which his son apparently speaks is too fluent. He says Ehtesham did not speak Urdu well.
Ehtesham’s phone has been switched off since he last called his parents on October 28. He was supposed to be in Greater Noida, where he was studying at Sharda University since September this year for a graduation course. Police have come up with some locations where his phone was traced, but can’t help beyond this.
“The unfortunate part is that we have money but we can’t utilise it to locate our son. Other human resources have already been exhausted. He has not responded even. We are just helpless and don’t know what to do. All we know is that our world has come to an end,” Bilal says.
Early in October, on the day Ehtesham was beaten up by students at his university, Bilal had gone to visit him. He stayed with him for a week. Bilal said that on the request of his son, he had written to the college administration asking them to not take any action against the accused students.
“My son told me that we should forgive them because action against them would ruin their career. I agreed. They, too, came and apologised. I only requested the college authorities to shift my son to another hostel. That had not yet been done when I last spoke to my son,” Bilal told Kashmir Reader.
Ehtesham comes from a well-off family. His father owns three shops of sanitary and hardware items, which have all been closed since his disappearance. Bilal is also constructing a commercial complex. On the request of Ehtesham, Bilal on November 7 was supposed to visit Delhi along with his wife. The purpose was to see their son and buy a flat for him.
“I had already spoken to a broker who was going to show us some flats. We had no personal ambitions to buy it, but only for our son. He had also requested to buy a laptop. We had recently given him a new phone as well,” Bilal says.