Photo by Anuj Chopra
Kashmir: The Disappeared
-- By Anuj Chopra
SRINAGAR, Indian Kashmir – A wood-fired bukhari warms the tiny room, providing much needed respite from the biting cold. Donning the hijab, Tahira Begum, fair, frail, and 32, is sitting in a quiet corner, her knees drawn to her chest. Between sobs, she narrates how searching for her missing husband has been her life's obsession in the last six years.
"I've looked up every prison, every morgue in Kashmir ," she sighs, her voice weak and faltering.
"I've searched and searched and searched."
Tariq Ahmad, her childhood friend who she fell in love with and married when she was only 15, disappeared mysteriously six years ago. Unemployed at that time, he left to look for work one morning, never to return again.
Some eye witnesses said they had seen Indian army soldiers whisking him away, putting him in a van and driving away. Since then, there's been no information about his whereabouts. The army denies detaining him.
Tahira begum, amid uncertainty over whether her husband is still alive, is denounced a "half-widow" -- a woman who is neither a widow nor a wife. She cannot remarry under Islamic law until it's proved Tariq is dead.
The search for answers on her husband's whereabouts has taken over her nights, her days. She's been popping anti-depressants, she tells me, just so she can hold on to her sanity for the sake of her three children. Hope of Tariq's return has waned over the years. All that Tahira Begum asks for is a dignified closure.