Whenever she passes by a motor garage, she halts for a while and looks carefully at the men— mechanics, welders, painters— working there. Heaving a deep sigh, she walks pasts with heavy steps. Among these workers, she actually tries to look for her disappeared husband who would paint vehicles in a local garage. Despite her multiple ailments, Dilshada (55) once in every month shows up in Srinagar’s Pratap Park to join a peaceful protest of scores of family members of victims of enforced disappearances.

In nineties when insurgency in Kashmir was on its peak and a constant rat-a-tat of machine guns was heard every where , one afternoon on June 12, 1992 Dilshad’s young husband Bashir Ahmad(27) , an automotive painter by profession left home for work and did not return till date.

Ahmad, a resident of Zukura, Srinagar was seen by a neighbor being bundled into a vehicle by some gun toting men in uniform. On June 16, 1992, After searching for him a few days, Dilshada registered an FIR with a nearby police station.

“I failed to get a trace of him. I looked for him an all BSF and army camps in Srinagar but I am sure he vanished into some military facility.” Said Dilshada.

As Ahmad was the sole bread earner of family, Dilshada, a mother of three—then all in the age group of 2 to 9 years--had to confront new challenges on many counts . To eke out an existence, Dilshada took up many jobs . She worked in a boutique, washed clothes in her neighborhood and also did some menial jobs at different construction sites in the city. She even worked beyond normal hours that took a toll on her health.

“I would stitch cloths till late night that not only affected my eyes but also become a reason for many orthopedic conditions” said Dilshada

After a couple of years, her elder son Imtiyaz Ahmad quit his studies to help his mother. He worked as a bus conductor.

Dilshada’s tribulations did not end here. In 2001 her middle son Riyaz Ahmad(15) vanished mysteriously after he had left for school. After many days of useless search, Dilshada visited the office of a prominent local newspaper and got a missing report along with the picture of his son published. Next day she received a phone call from a resident of Baramullah who said that he along with his fellow villagers had recently interred a dead body of a youth who resembled with the picture carried by the newspaper. A devastated and crestfallen Dilshada without wasting a minute visited the area and found her son interred under an oblong mound of earth.

“The locals told me that he died after he was hit by a speedy vehicle and when his body was not claimed by anyone for a few days they buried him in a local graveyard.” Dilshada recounts with her misty eyes.

Dilshada joined Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), an NGO fighting for the justice of victims enforced disappearances in2000. She takes part in its monthly organized peaceful demonstrations seeking whereabouts of those who vanished in the custody of forces.

Leading a life of half- widow for past more than two decades, two consecutive tragedies put Dilshada through the mill with no help from state or central government.

“Government never ever helped me. My family is still reeling under worst financial constraints. It is only APDP that provides me a small financial support” said Dilshada who still searches for her husband.

Although in 2011 an investigation by State Human Rights Commission has found nearly 2730 corpses interred in a plethora of unmarked graves across four districts of valley,the government is yet come up with a rehabilitation policy for the families of victims of enforced disappearance.

(Gulzar Bhat is a fellow with National Foundation for India and this article is part of his fellowship)