When the struggle-hardened septuagenarian mother Hameedah Begum from Bandipora breathed her last on March 1, 2018, it apparently ended her 26-year old search for her disappeared son. But till her last breath, she never hoped against an elusive reunion.
As mourners turned up in Bandipora lately to bid farewell to a mother whose search for her disappeared son had taken her to many places, they were caught between two competing emotions.
One was about the passage of the matron whose skinny frame would defy the logic of her 26 years of grueling search for her son — and second, was the “logical end” of her spearheaded struggle.
That day, her elder son, Mohammad Iqbal Sheikh, not only performed her last rites, but also carried out congregational Fateh Khawani for his ‘disappeared’ sibling, for the first time in 26 years.
But till his Mouj Hameedah was around, it was simply unthinkable for him to do what he did, apparently to come out of the uncertain phase of life — which had involved his mother to a point of no return.
In the bustling Bandipora town, Hameedah would either be seen on her way to search for her son, or conversing about him. For the townspeople, she had become ‘pain personified’ and an epitome of motherly sacrifice.
Many years later, as she continued venturing and wandering, to trace her lost son’s signs, she would make strangers sentimental with her nagging struggle.
Hameedah’s torment began when the counter-insurgent offensive began blurring the combat line in Kashmir, where the masses had risen up against the status quo. In the times when the military operations like Catch and Kill and Tiger would terrorise commoners across the valley, she began constructing her new—which her relatives term her dream—house.
It was the summer of 1992.
Her family of six was constructing their new house in Kharpora area of Bandipora town. Her second son, Ghulam Nabi Sheikh, had completed his graduation from Degree College Sopore, and was working hard to help his family to get the new house completed.
As their house neared completion in winter that year, Ghulam Nabi went to the market and never returned.
He became one of the many young Kashmiris, regularly subjected to enforced disappearance. In Bandipora, Haleemah and her heartbreaking struggle soon made her a symbol of strength for those wandering mothers whose endless search for their enforced disappeared sons took a heavy toll on them.
In the process, she turned into a troubled soul—battling between hope and elusive justice.
Even as her husband Abdul Gaffar Sheikh, daughter Aasha and elder son Iqbal joined her search routine, the promising son was nowhere to be found.
“We visited every village in Kashmir, scaled every mountain, travelled on foot with a photograph of our brother in our hand, but all in vain,” recalls Iqbal, a fireman.
Surrounded by dozens of locals in the courtyard of his home, Hameedah’s eldest son isn’t only mourning his mother’s demise, but also wailing over the turn of events that unfolded on his family all these years.
He talks about his mother’s endless search and subsequent woes. A few years after his sibling’s disappearance, Hameedah’s aging and woebegone husband died, silently. Father, says Iqbal, just couldn’t bear the loss of his son — who had begun to shoulder his responsibilities.
The impact of losing her husband left Hameedah emotionally, as well as psychologically shattered, Iqbal continues, “but she never gave up and continued the struggle to search her son”. Even when her other children moved on with their routine affairs, she persisted.
One day, years later, when Iqbal learned from his “sources” that his sibling “died on the Line on Control”, Haleemah refused to believe the theory.
In anguish and pain, she would come out of her home, repeatedly, to look for her Ghulam Nabi — who had helped her construct a new home but never graced it. In times of her great distress, she would tell her relatives how her son didn’t keep some of his promises.
“When she would see a young man in the town, she would relate his features with her son and define his physique, the skin tone, his favourite hair style, his eye colour and even the favourite dresses,” says Sheikh Mujtahid, her relative. “A knock at her door would rush her to the door as she would think that it might be her son. Her overwhelming behaviour was killing us!”
She had even asked Iqbal to keep a share of his property intact, as “Ghulam Nabi might return and start his living again”. Even on the deathbed, Hameedah waited for her son, telling Iqbal and other family members: “He will return.”
This story first appeared in Kashmir Convener.