She was just 15 years old when her parents married her off to one of the handsomest boys in the village. Ten years later, in the early 90s, Abdul Rashid Ganai vanished and never returned. At 26, Hamida (name changed) was left alone to take care of her four children, her youngest daughter who was then only a year old.
Hamida says Ganai was picked up by the 131st battalion of the army. For three years, she valiantly continued her search but eventually gave up.
Her father's meagre salary of Rs 2,500 was all Hamida had every month to sustain her family. “I was unable to make ends meet,” she said.
A few years later, Hamida became a member of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) and started getting some financial assistance. "I get some money every month and an NGO gives Rs 500 for two of my children's tuition expenses," she adds.
The woman behind APDP, Parveena Ahanger, has a story similar to Hamida’s and many others in the Valley. Her 16 year-old-son, Javeed Ahmad Ahanger, was allegedly arrested by security forces and never returned home.
It was the August of 1990. Javeed had just passed his matriculation exams and was looking forward to a career in teaching. “On that fateful day, Javeed was at his uncle's place for tuition on his way back home. A neighbour’s house was being raided and he was taken away in the process,” Parveena recalled.
“I know so many eyewitnesses who had seen him in an army vehicle but nobody owned up. I went to every security camp, to jails across India but I could not find him,’ said Parveena.
For her, the strength to continue her search came from others like her — a strength she now provides to people like Hamida.
“I met many parents, young wives, small children who had similar tales to tell. We used to sit outside courtrooms in the hope of getting a glimpse of our kin, in case they were presented in court,” she said.
A chance encounter with a human rights lawyer and support from other affected families led to the formation of the APDP in 1994. The organisation started reporting cases of missing people, gleaning data from the nooks and corners of Kashmir. It claims that about 10,000 persons have been missing in the Valley, out of whom 2,000 were married.
“I knew that there were thousands of mothers like me. So I decided to get them all together in one association. When we are together our voices are heard,” she added.