The Story of Mughli, A Mother Who Died Searching For Her Son

An enlarged black-and-white photo hangs in my home office. When I see her, I am reminded of why I write about women inc conflict. Many years ago, I had written a post about Mughli, a woman in Indian-held Kashmir who never stopped looking for her son. I write about women in war because women like Mughli deserve to be known. When a mother like Mughli loses a child, she no longer wants to live.

Women like Mughli live through their children; and in the Islamic world, a son and daughter are blessings.

While some women continue to place greater value on sons, it is a cultural norm that does not exist in Islamic tradition. In Islam, girls are arguably more precious than boys. After all, the Prophet of Islam only had four daughters. His two sons died in infancy.

And his daughters would leave behind a legacy for generations to follow.

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Qazi with Mughli (right) in her home, Indian-held Kashmir before her death.

Searching For Mughli

One winter, I went looking for the woman coined “the lonely mother.” I didn’t understand the phrase until I found her in November 2008. It seemed like yesterday when I was in Kashmir. I remember everything about that night. A sky of cool blue tiles by day went cobalt-black by night. Patches of ice lined the narrow alleyway. I followed my guide, a young journalist who reeked of cigarette smoke. His shiny golden-brown hair looked like coal in the dark. “She’s not here. Let’s try another house.” He kept knocking. The neighbors said no. He called out to an open window. Thank God. You found her. I’m frozen. 

In a three-story house, on the second floor, we sat in a circle. She looked at me inquisitively. Mughli wore a cardamom colored pheran and a starch white pooch over her head, her neck visible like a lizard’s elbow. Round gold earrings dangled on her ear lobes and black-rimmed eyeglasses perched on her nose. She had a gentle-looking face, a Roman nose, and eyes like black pearls. For a moment, she almost looked happy. Mughli touched my face. She spoke her native language.

In a soft voice, Mughli 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,” she said.

Do you believe you will find your son? 

She continued. “I would have felt peace if I knew my son died for a cause. Had he been part of the resistance 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.”

What if he is dead? 

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

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. But then her father died. Her sister died. For a few years, she had her son. 

Until he disappearedKashmir M Profile Picture.

In the late 1980s, 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 the men taken away. Hundreds of innocent young men vanished. A human rights organization led by Parveena Ahangar of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP) reports 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. 

Mughli removed her glasses. “My eyes have gone blind searching for him. It’s been almost 20 years. I have no message from anyone about where he could be. I can’t imagine where he is. Every day, I wonder, is he hungry? Is he thirsty? Is he cold? Is he in jail? Is he dead or alive? I just want to know. When he didn’t come home, I ran to the police station. I went to the Army. They said they didn’t know where he was. They denied arresting him.” She continued. “I didn’t sleep that night. I went again and again to the police station. I begged. I pleaded with politicians. I went to the court and filed a petition. The case is ongoing. But nobody knew. I just wanted answers.”

My son was everything to me. I sold my jewelry to pay his education. Now I keep searching and pray he is alive. I can’t imagine him dead. He calls me when I sleep. He is alive in my dreams.”

Mughli probably knew he died a long time ago, but still demanded an official report from local authorities. She told me:

I want to know the truth. If he’s dead, I want to give him a proper burial. I would hug his grave.” 

If there was ever a woman who deserved to be happy, it was Mughli. I wanted her son to walk through the door. I wanted her to laugh out loud. I wanted neighbors and relatives to visit her. I wanted her to wander through the hills of wonderland triumphantly. My guide held Mughli’s hand, “I will come back. I promise,” he told her. She had something to look forward to. He kept his word.


 You can read more about Mughli in my newly released book. 

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