KARACHI: “Now I am all alone.”
Najamus Sahar, the wife of missing activist Samar Abbas, tries hard to keep their three children pacified. Nonetheless, she is unable to ignore how lonely she feels since her husband’s disappearance.
Samar, a Karachi-based activist who owns a software company and exports rice from Pakistan, went missing from Islamabad on January 7. He had gone to the federal capital for business when he was allegedly abducted. The same week in January four other bloggers also went missing from different parts of Punjab. The other four have been recovered while Samar's family awaits his return. They have also filed a petition in the Islamabad High Court.
Missing activist: Samar Abbas' family petitions IHC
Najamus Sahar talks about how tough life is for her now. According to her, this is because even though Samar, 38, was a social worker, his participation in household affairs was of immense support to her. She was married to Samar nine years ago and, since then, the two have faced the challenges of life hand in hand. She feels the void strongly now.
“It was him who used to attend meetings at the children’s schools,” she shares. “He was the one who took them to parks and he helped me manage household affairs as well. But now I am all alone.”
Impact on children
Ghazanfar Abbas, Samar’s brother, talks about how life at home has been impacted since the disappearance. “It is very depressing,” he says. “Though Samar lives independently with his family, I visit them on my way back from work. The children are missing him severely. Zainab bintul Huda and Behjad are very talkative and naughty but since their father’s disappearance, the two have repeatedly fallen sick.”
According to Ghazanfar, they did not initially tell the children about Samar’s disappearance. However, when they took them to Karachi Press Club to protest his abduction, the children began to sense that their father is not returning any time soon.
“Children have become crankier as at this age children are more attached to their father,” says Samar’s wife. “But together with praying for his safe return, I am managing everything. I am trying to keep my children as comfortable as I can.”
Clutching a picture of her father close to her chest, four-year-old Zainab sits silently on the sofa alongside her brother, Behjad. Seven-year-old Behjad cradles their months-old sister, Amna bintul Huda, in his arms.
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Zainab’s eyes are wide open but she is oblivious to the people present in the drawing room. She is lost deep in her thoughts. Meanwhile, Behjad looks confused. Out of the three questions asked from him, he manages to reply to one. He recalls how his father used to take the family to several protests. He also mentions how Samar used to hang out with them, taking them to Sea View very often.
Talking about the impact of such a situation on children, psychiatrist Dr Haroon Ahmed says that children cannot be fooled for long as they are capable of realising what is going on. “In such cases, the mother may try to divert them,” he shares. “But the overall atmosphere, expressions and body language of family members help them determine that something is wrong.”
He adds that children are naturally attached to the father, which is why Samar’s children must have been suffering a grave amount of stress. Things can be made a little better for them by increasing their extracurricular activities, he suggests.
Taking Khurram Zaki’s legacy forward
According to Ghazanfar, Samar was vocal against banned outfits alongside Khurram Zaki, another activist who was shot dead in May last year. “He was very active and has led a campaign against extremism while heading the Civil Progressive Alliance Pakistan.”
Ghazanfar recalls how Samar was on good terms with senior officials of law enforcement agencies and always cooperated with them. He used to be part of security meetings for Muharram, he adds. “We would have thought that he has been kidnapped but since no one has contacted us for any ransom, therefore we concluded that he might have been picked up perhaps due to a misunderstanding,” says Ghazanfar.
Recently, Samar learnt about a Pakistani, Zulfikar Ali, who was about to be executed in Indonesia in a fake case. According to Ghazanfar, Samar contacted the Indonesian Embassy in Pakistan and was able to get the execution postponed and the case was reopened against the man. “Samar was very vocal against missing persons but we never knew that one day we would have to arrange a protest and wonder when he will return,” laments Ghazanfar.
Whatever happened to #RecoverAllActivists
Ghazanfar feels that even though human rights activists protested when the four bloggers went missing from Punjab, the momentum seems to have subsided since their return. “The slogan was #RecoverAllActivists but what about my brother?”
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Sindh, vice-president Asad Iqbal Butt says that they will contact Samar’s family. “We cannot forget him,” he says. “We are planning on further strategies and we will get him back. We have also written to the United Nations about him together with the Senate's committee on human rights.” Butt added that he will contact the family himself and will assure them of full cooperation.