Conflict

28 years of heartache ended with heart-attack: The great tragedy of Rehti Begum

Kashmir’s APDP family loses another member today following the death of Budgam’s Rehti Begum due to a heart attack. In her passage, she has joined the fate of those departed mothers who faded into obscurity sans reuniting with their enforced disappeared sons.

Last time when she showed up in Srinagar’s Pratap Park, on a signature sit-in for the disappeared persons of Kashmir, she was holding the same old-fading picture of her son in her lap. Her sunken eyes were secreting a stream in longing. Her poignant park sojourns had come in the backdrop of her relentless efforts to seek her son’s whereabouts.

She had ventured into the city and the countryside alike, trekked hills and mountains, visited military installations and dungeons. But the struggle-hardened mother could never spot her son, again, taken in a blatant raid at her home in 1990, when armed Kashmiris challenged the Indian State in Kashmir.

On the cusp of turning septuagenarian, Rehti Begum was a struggle personified. As an active member of the Associated Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) since its inception in 1994, she would regularly participate in the monthly sit-ins at Partap Park, Srinagar.

A socio-political movement against enforced disappearances in Kashmir, APDP is dedicated to providing for, as well as legally fight on behalf of the families of the victims of enforced disappearances in Kashmir.

As tears kept soaking her parched face during her last sit-in, Rehti detailed the day when her son Muhammad Ramzan Sheikh was picked up.

She starkly remembered the signs of her tormentors: “They wore a whitish dress and had faces covered with black scarves.”

She had repeated those details countless times. Recalling her nightmare, she said, had helped her to uphold memories against the state of forgetfulness.

“When they were taking my son,” she told me, “I shouted, confronted and ran after them.” That day, she had fought like a desperate mother, who was shedding tears and shouting like a brave-heart in one go.

“I had to do it for the sake of my innocent son, who was screaming for help,” she recounted. “When they realised that they couldn’t overpower me, they first fired in the air, before beating my hands with gun butts.”

The brazen assault had left her hands deformed. But she never minded those battle scars, as the heartburning search for her son had pushed everything else on the backburner for her. She became a roaming soul on the streets, for the sake of her son, who was nowhere to be seen.

“After they left me devastated that day,” the mother would tell, “I wanted to end my life there only. But then, I had to fight for my son. I don’t know where they took him, on what crime. I wanted to live just another day for his sake. I’m still living another day, so that I can search him, here and there.”

But today, on April 26, that search ended when the mother fell to a massive heart attack.

Her partner-in-grief and chairperson APDP, Parveena Ahangar was quick to mourn the demise. “With immense grief,” Ahangar informed, “we regret to inform you that Rehti Begum, 70, one of the trustees of Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), passed away on Thursday morning 26 April 2018.”

A monthly protest of the APDP.

Rehti Begum came from Budgam’s Cheke Kawoosa Narbal. Her son was a daily wage labourer, abducted from his home by the personnel of Central Reserve Police Force in 1990 and subjected to enforced disappearance.

“Her dedication to the cause of enforced disappearances remained undeterred until her last breath,” Ahangar said in her tribute to the departed companion.

After becoming part of APDP in 1994, Rehti Begum became one of its known faces, evoking the heart-numbing woe, unleashed by the war-abusive campaign across the Vale. She struggled for her disappeared loved one, along with her tormented tribe. And until her last breath, she kept the struggle alive, with dignity.

Her son Ramzan was in his early twenties at the time of his abduction. He was the only son among her eight children. Months later, her husband died in a distraught state. She had since worked odd jobs. At the same time, she continued searching for Ramzan, even as age took a toll on her health.

During her last sit-in, she would term her long struggle, bereft of any male support, as an uphill task. At the same time, she expressed a strong will to fight on, for the sake of her seven daughters—for whom she was the only hope—besides, for her son.

“Our struggle is not about job, compensation or any package,” she detailed the motive of her APDP tribe. “It’s about seeking the whereabouts of our dear ones, who were forcibly snatched from us.”

Following her demise now, Rehti Begum has joined Dilshada Shiekh, Moghal Maas, Misra Begum, and many others, who faded while seeking the elusive whereabouts of their loved ones.

“Even though her search for her son remains unfulfilled,” Parveena Ahangar wrote in her tribute, “we the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), pledge to carry on with her unresolved search for her son on her behalf and take it forward to its fruitful end.”

 

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