THERE IS an unfinished room on the first floor. There are 700 wedding cards lying in a corner. There’s a father, a mother, a brother, and three sisters.
All they want is closure — dead or alive.
On June 22 last year, Subhan Ali, a 27-year-old Indian Engineering Services (IES) officer with the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), went missing after the vehicle in which he was travelling with a driver fell into the Drass river from the Zozila-Kargil-Leh road. His family in Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur is still waiting to know what happened to him.
They have been to the site of the accident twice. They have been told by officials that the driver’s body was recovered a few kilometres from the spot. Last month, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh wrote to Amroha MP Kunwar Danish Ali, who is supporting the family, that a DNA test on “an unidentified body” recovered from the river on the other side of the border, five days after the accident, would take more time.
But last week, they were informed that the test conducted by the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Chandigarh, with coordination from Pakistani authorities, had led to another dead end. “It did not match their DNA. The report came a few days ago,” says Kargil SP Anayat Ali.
“If we saw his body, we would at least know that he has left us. But till now, all our efforts have been futile,” says Subhan’s father Ramjan Ali (56), a tailor from Kauwapur village. “It has been eight months….”
Subhan’s brother Sahban Ali struggles to speak, taking deep breaths before breaking down. “My mother cries all the time, and keeps asking about him. We have told her to stay busy teaching the Quran to children in the neighborhood,” he says.
“Subhan was our everything. He was so bright. He was the district topper in the Class X and XII exams, and all he wanted to do was work for the country… He sent half his salary home every month,” says Sahban (33), who runs an IAS coaching centre in Delhi and is a lawyer at the Delhi High Court.
Sabhan is married with an infant son who used to call Subhan “papa”. “During our school days, Subhan and I realised how hard it was to get a proper education. We had to travel 15 km to school and it was difficult, considering that our father was a tailor at an export house in Delhi,” he says.
“But Subhan did his B.Tech in Civil Engineering from Jamia Millia Islamia. And later, both of us bought some land near the village to open a school for underprivileged children from the village, so others would not have to fight for an education,” says Sahban.
The family says Subhan had a “knack to crack competitive examinations”. “Without any coaching, he first cleared an examination and was appointed as a Junior Engineer in the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) in 2016-17. After that, he gave the examination for Indian Engineering Services (IES) and cracked it in the first attempt,” says the brother while showing newspaper clippings with photographs of Subhan along with other toppers after the Class XII results.
After working as a Junior Engineer at DDA, Subhan joined the BRO in January 2020. Leh was his first posting. The family, meanwhile, managed to convert their “kuccha house” into a two-storeyed building. “The construction happened after we got some financial stability because Subhan and I were both earning well,” says Sahban.
But the long wait is now beginning to take a toll, in more ways than one. “Our savings have been exhausted, and we have received no financial help. I had to go to Kargil twice to search for my brother with help from the local administration and an NGO. My work has also stopped because I have to stay at home to look after my parents and family,” says Sabhan, adding that his father had survived a heart attack 10 years ago.
Of the three sisters, Nazia (22) is pursuing an M.Tech while Seema (25) and Shama (31) are school teachers. “Subhan was scheduled to get married last March, but that was postponed due to the lockdown. We had done most of the preparation. The cards were printed in Delhi, and we were getting a room constructed for him on the first floor with expensive fittings. But now, no one goes upstairs because it just breaks us,” says the brother.
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