By Khurram Rasool:
Twenty one years back, Bashir Ahmed Sofi was picked up by a group of masked armed men from his home at Wungam, Bandipora in 1993. His family members strongly believe the veiled men were soldiers from the Indian Army. Ever since then, there has been no homecoming.
“He just disappeared as if he was never born,” Saja Begum, mother of Bashir Ahmed Sofi profoundly describes.
Sofi, then 15 years old, was working as a carpet weaver. He had studied up-till 7th grade, but left his studies due to poverty and being the eldest son of the family.
Saja Begum vividly remembers the day her 15 year old son was taken away by masked men whom she refers to as ‘Shaitaan’. “There was no search operation in our village that night. We had just finished our dinner when there was a knock at the door. A group of masked men came in and took away my eldest son, the apple of my eye”.
Next morning, Sofi’s family looked for him around the whole village, but all in vain. Saja went from person to person in the village to ask about any traces of her son, but nobody lent her a helping hand. “I kept on asking people if somebody had seen him, but nobody cooperated, everybody was so fearful those days. Even my relatives turned their faces the other way,” Saja recollects amid tears.
After few days, when the family went to register a missing report at the nearby Police Station, they were told that their son might have crossed the Line of Control (LOC), hence they did not file the report.
“He was a 15 year old kid then. What harm could he have done to anyone? What animosity could he be having, I fail to understand. How it is possible that he had any affiliation with militant outfits or that he crossed the border,” questions Saja.
The clarification that police served to Sofi’s family gave Saja sleepless nights. She visited all those who had crossed the LOC and had now returned so as to confirm whether her son had gone to other part of the border. “I went to all those men from my area; I asked them whether they had seen my son on the other side of the border. They all denied of having seen him across the border ever”.
In the process of seeking her son’s whereabouts, Saja and her family have endured many hardships for all these years. Saja met with an accident in her desperate ordeal to trace her son which gave her serious head injuries. Her husband got ill soon after and died within 6 years of his son’s disappearance.
“My family was shattered with Bashir’s disappearance. I have two more sons after Bashir who were very young when he disappeared. I couldn’t look after them well. My husband couldn’t bear the grief. He went into depression and lived with it for 6 years. Then one night he suddenly died in his sleep,” Saja breaks down.
Sofi’s case is a distinctive example of enforced and involuntary disappearances in Kashmir. The Association of Parents of Disappeared People (APDP) testifies that more than 8,000 people have gone missing during the last two decades of turmoil in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sofi is one of the youngest among these 8000 disappeared persons, who was picked up by masked men in his adolescence at the age of 15.
After running from pillar to post in search of her missing son, Saja registered with APDP 18 years back and has been a member since. All these years, she has been tirelessly coming down to Srinagar from Bandipora to participate in the monthly sit-in. With no visible breakthrough, Saja still hopes high that one day she will see his son return home.
“I know it has been long now but I haven’t ceased to hope. Hope is all I have and it is the only thing that makes me live,” adds Saja.