By Mohammed Hanif
There’s phone call after every month or so, from a friend of a friend, from an acquaintance of acquaintance, and they say some Tom, Dick or Harry has gone missing. ‘You know he has never done anything wrong. Can you please help? Can you talk to somebody? At least suggest some way out…’
First thing that strikes the mind is why I have been called on this issue in the first place. I might have covered a couple of stories on missing persons in young age, but am I the ‘Uncle of missing persons’?
[‘Uncle of the missing persons’ is a reference to Abdul Qadeer Baloch, better known as Mama Qadeer, who has been raising voice for the missing persons of Balochistan for long.]
There was a real and big uncle [Mama Qadeer] of the missing persons, who travelled across the country with pictures of the missing displayed on his vegetables cart. Now, like rest of the journalists, I too have deleted even his phone number.
But, obviously, such words can’t be said to someone whose beloved has just gone missing. It also strikes my mind that even when some pet is lost, the condition of a family is too heart rendering. But here’s the question of a human being, who’s been alive, ever tweeting and keeping active on Facebook, and who was highly responsive to text messages [from other humans].
The family is terrorized; friends are regretting that they should have cautioned him. But what to do now when the person has already gone missing?
I have some very practical suggestions that come from the parents, uncles, nephews and friends of those gone missing in the past. You might find some logic in them.
I admit these recommendations won’t guarantee a safe recovery of your missing folk, but we must not be non-serious when someone’s life is involved.
You’re short of time and the first 72 hours in missing persons cases are crucial. As soon as you realize that your guy has not gone into hiding at his own and that he has been picked up, then do the following things:
- Make a noise!
Find a friend who works for a TV channel and request him to at least run a ticker if a whole package is out of question. Send a press release to newspapers, but avoid blaming anyone. Get the phone numbers and emails of Asma Jahangir and I.A. Rehman and tell them the basic facts. Don’t waste their time with details of your story, as they receive a number of such messages for help. Get an FIR registered if any compassionate cop is willing to do it; though it won’t give you a breakthrough.
Find a good picture of your missing person and get its panaflex print, it would help you during protest outside the press club. Don’t buy candles and pray you don’t need them in the coming days.
If, and it rarely happens though it does happen in many cases, you receive a call from the missing person’s number, then…
- Stay silent!
The caller has told you that your missing person is alive. Consider it good news, not a declaration of war. You would surely ask why your guy has been abducted and when will he be released. You know the answer of the first question; as for the second one, he won’t answer it. The sensitivity of the situation demands that…
- Don’t ask name!
Now, you might feel your missing person is not as much out of bounds as you thought earlier. And so, you might try to get frank with the abductor and ask his name. He would provide a customary name like Sajid, Zafar or Akbar. It is better you don’t get to know his real name; he is just doing his job as are you. [Like them] you’re also doing what you have to do.
It is highly likely that 72 hours are over, and you haven’t received any call from some Sajid, Zafar or Akbar. Banners, posters and slogans are ready. Do consult your the friends if you want to, and decide the time of protest after that. But before that…
It is possible your missing person is sick of religion and believes in poetry more than prayers. But, for now, he is missing. Your prayers might be answered, or they might not be. But this will give you a little mental peace and help you overcome the fear. After this, go out and protest. Get as much slogans shouted as possible. But, during this protest, keep one thing in mind that…
- Respect the abductor!
You’d definitely blame institutions in your statements but after all, institutions comprise of people. Those four or five people riding a Vigo (double cabin) who abducted your man are also Pakistani. And there is high chance that they are working on a meagre salary. They also take themselves as ‘good Pakistanis’. No one joins government service to become an abductor, who breaks the bones of fellow countrymen. He’s only complying with the orders of high-ups while the boss is making the big boss happy. You also might have been working in an institution, so, you’d have a good idea this is how institutions work. This is why it is essential that you…
- Avoid silly debate!
You’re persistently saying your missing person is innocent, and demanding that if he had done anything wrong, he/she must be presented before the court. On the contrary, a retired general reasoned it out outstandingly on a TV channel that ‘our agencies don’t abduct people. And even if they do, it’s obviously not kidnapping for ransom. There must be a reason!’
When both sides have good reasons for their respective position, there’s a dreadful deadlock that risks lives. The most basic thing to keep in mind is that you have the posters of your missing persons with you, and you have moral advantage. [But] the missing person is still in their custody. Do you need the missing person back or just want to keep waving the posters forever? So, at any cost…
- Avoid a clash (with institutions)!
There is a nephew of missing persons’ Uncle: Nasrullah Bagalzai, another uncle of whom had gone missing. You’ve been protesting for just over a week, but Nasrullah kept waving posters and filed petitions for years. Then one day his voice was heard. He was called for a meeting, where incidentally Sajid, Zafar and Akbar, all were present. Nasrullah asked them to swear on the Holy Quran that ‘you did not abduct my uncle and I’d never bother you again. If you have killed my uncle deliberately or accidently, show me the place where he is buried. I’ll offer the prayers and return home.’ Sajid, Zafar and Akbar, while shaking their heads, said: ‘Alas, do we appear to you such kind of [cruel] people?’
Nasarullah has yet to find his uncle even after ten years.
But don’t you lose hope. Keep up the struggle. And, when your missing person returns, thank God, and the institutions. But, from them….
- Don’t ask questions!
You’d wish to ask some simple questions from the returnee: Why you were picked? What questions did they ask? What food did they give you? Or, did you have a severe beating etc.? But, just let it go!
The returnee won’t answer these questions as he doesn’t want to go missing again. I had asked a lucky missing person similar questions [after his return]. He replied whatever happened to him should never happen to anyone more than once. No one can afford it for another time. He’s a living example of this verse:
Kabhi lout ayen to poochna, nahi dekhna unhen ghour se
Jinhen raastey mein khabar huwi k yeh rasta koi aur hai
“If they ever return luckily then say nothing to them, nor gaze them probingly
Who got to know in the middle of the journey that they were on a wrong course”
- Don’t forget to pray!
Few years ago, one of our Hindu friends had gone missing. During every courtesy visit to his house, he’d have organized Khatam-e-Quran or Mehfil-e-Milad. I have a firm belief there must be Pooja of Bhagwan underway in the backroom in the meanwhile, but remember this… Hindus have learnt while living in this country that it [being seen as closer to Islam] is the only secure way. You too learn it, and raise your hands in prayer!
Mohammed Hanif is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes” and “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti,” and the librettist for the opera “Bhutto.” Translated by Dawood ur Rehman Khawaja from the original in Urdu here.