A Tribute to Mugli

For nearly twenty years, Mugli looked for her son. But she never found him.

And then she died.

I met Mugli in November 2008 in the city of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir. She was not strikingly different. Her face was marked with heavy lines. Though her subtle smiles and graceful gestures were instantly comforting. She could hide her trauma well.

Like hundreds of mothers in Kashmir, she lived with the pain of losing her son. She symbolized mothers marred by the mysterious disappearance of their children. In January 2009, in a story published in Express India, journalist Muzamil Jaleel wrote,

“Deep inside Habba Kadal [a neighborhood where Mugli lived], where streets run like a crawling snake through a cluster of housing blocks, even the buzz of this dense downtown locality does not break the silence in Mugli’s lonely world.”

Jaleel called her ‘the lonely mother.’

I followed my guide, Rashid, an aspiring young journalist who was determined to find the legendary mother. He told me Mugli’s son, a schoolteacher named Nazir Ahmad Teli, went missing one day in September 1989. He was on his way to school. It was an auspicious time. The militant movement in Kashmir was in full swing. Every young man was suspected of being a militant. In the hunt for men with guns, the Indian police and Army arbitrarily arrested anyone in sight. Mugli’s son was likely one of them.

Hundreds of innocent young men vanished. A human rights organization led by Parveena Ahangar of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) suggests that at least 10,000 men have gone missing since 1990. A mother with her own son missing, Ahangar comforts women like Mugli. Women (and men) sit in the city’s main square, holding photographs of loved ones. Women do not know what has happened to their sons or husbands. Whether they are dead or alive. Buried or behind bars. They are just missing.

After 1989, Mughli’s son never returned. “She thinks he could be alive,” Rashid told me, “So she continued to look for him. Every day, she goes to the shrine to pray for his return.”

For eighteen years, Mughli searched. She prayed. She asked God for the only family she has ever known. Losing her son was one of many misfortunes. Mugli was divorced months after marriage because her mother-in-law disapproved of her. She returned to her father’s home, where we eventually met. Then, her father died. Her sister died.

The relatives across the street hardly noticed her. She only had her son.

Mugli told me her story. “When my son disappeared, he was 23 years old. He was going to school. He never came home that day. I went mad looking for him. I went to every police station. I ran up and down these streets. I went to the burial sites. I never gave up searching for him.”

Do you believe you will find your son?

“I would have felt peace if I knew my son died for a cause. Had he been part of the movement, and then died, I would have accepted his death. But I know he was not a fighter. He didn’t carry a gun. He just had books,” Mugli said.

What if he is dead?

“I can’t imagine him dead. If he is dead, then he has gone to Heaven,” she said.

A year later, Mugli died.

 

 

 

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