After prayers, fervent hope remains

Taja Begum used to pray for a grandson. Her son Mohammad Akbar Khan had been married for more than a decade but had no child. Fifteen years ago, her prayers changed. She wanted her Khan to return home. Today, she says she has lost all hope of seeing him alive. She just wants a glimpse of his grave before she dies.

In 1992, on the night of February 28, there was a knock at Khan's door at Pathukhah Muqam, his family recalls. Khan opened the door and found BSF personnel waiting outside, they say and add that Khan was arrested by the troops led by officer Tyagi. "They picked him up and bundled him into a vehicle," says Khan's cousin Ghulam Mohammad. "They didn't tell us why".

Khan was a Senior Reading Inspector with J-K's Power Development Department (PDD).

At dawn, Taja Begum, Khan's wife Nabla and his sister Saja started searching for him. "We looked for him everywhere," says 70-year-old Taja Begum.

A month later, came the first clue. The family says Manzoor Ahmad, a resident of Sangrama in Sopore, told them he had seen Khan at the BSF camp in Mazbugh, Sopore, where Ahmad was under detention. "He was being ruthlessly tortured. I don't know whether he survived,"Ahmad is said to have told them and handed them over his Phiran (Kashmiri gown he was wearing at the time of his arrest) and watch saying Khan had handed them over to him at the BSF camp. The family soon lodged an FIR with Sopore police station. "We felt they have killed him," Khan's 45-year-old sister Saja says. Khan's wife Nabla returned to her parents. She didn't remarry. Left alone, Tajia Begum started living with her daughter's family in her ancestral home. Taja Begum has lost hope of her son's return but she has a regret. "There is no one to carry forward the genes of the family," she says. It keeps her in tears all the time. Her eyesight has become very weak. "He was my lone son," she says. Now that fake encounters have been exposed, Taja Begum doesn't long for a reunion with her son. "I am old. I will die any day. I couldn't see even his body," she says. "If somebody would tell me where he is buried, I will dig up the grave and embrace his skeleton. I would die a peaceful death".

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