A poem in support of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. This poem has been previously published and is also included in an anthology on Enforced Disappearances published by the Amnesty International.

By Basil Fernando

Amnesty International Poetry Competition ‘Silenced Shadows’, 10 September 2015

What kind of a father are you,
Asked his wife.
Where is he, our son,
Do you care at all…

How can I tell her what I know.
Already so upset and depressed,
How can she take any more,
What will become of her, he worried.

Events of the last few months,
Like a film, rolled inside his brain;
First it was, “Where is Raju”,
Then, “Raju is missing”.

Then, more troubling news.
Raju was arrested;
Raju is in a detention centre;
Which centre and how to find out…

Then the journeys – one detention centre
After another; strange places,
Strange people, strange things.
Now, at sixty, he was entering into the unknown.

Head of a family, one that owed the obligation
To explain, to console and to sustain hope,
To prevent a wife, a mother
Going mad; fears of failure.

Where is Raju? No one cares to answer.
At every detention centre, the same reply,
We know nothing about Raju,
Have not seen him or heard of him.

Where is the complaint,
The arrest warrant,
The interrogation record, the case file.
No answer to such questions.

Then, the powerful ministers
Appear on television,
Denying any knowledge of Raju.
Their hands are clean, they swear.

He is told many things by many people,
Claiming that they saw the arrest
And the way he was dragged into a van.
Others speculated that Raju has been tortured.

But no one explains why.
Perhaps, mistaken for a terrorist.
After all, he was a student,
and many students are missing

He wonders, how to create a story
To convince his wife that Raju is ok….
Raju has gone for a long journey,
Raju will return soon.

At night, he dreamt his son was coming back,
His son, embracing his mother.
And then, he sees his dead son,
Body found under a tree, with many injuries.

Days pass into months and then into years.
He is standing at the deathbed of an old woman,
His wife, refusing to be reconciled,
Losing any speck of trust, muttering, Raju, Raju

They who stole his son,
Have now killed his wife.
But, who are they,
Why do they do such things…

“For truly great tragedies
There are no explanations,”
He wrote in his diary.
“But I must seek one”.

“This is about myself, who am I?”
A father who could not protect his child,
A husband who could not console his wife,
An old man who cannot make sense of anything…

I believed in civilization,
Human superiority over everything,
Of my link to the stars;
What am I to believe now…

I believed in rules and the law.
What is the rule, the law that allows
stealing of the young,
And then making them disappear…

I believed in the government’s accountability.
But, the president, the prime minister,
Other ministers, refuse to see me
And fail to answer my questions…

Who is my neighbour after all.
Everyone avoids me
Knowing I cannot be consoled.
They could say nothing of any value to me.

I will not cease to search,
I will not stop my questioning,
I will not die, but live to the end of time
Seeking my son and asking questions from every one.

When the State makes citizens disappear,
A nation becomes another-
As a polluted river
Is no longer the same river.

To the task of washing the water clean,
To the painful process of a state admitting guilt,
To the torturous path of people telling the truth
To each other, my life is now committed.


Tens of thousands of such men,
Such women, walk this country.
In the South, the North and the East,
Everywhere, every day, asking the same questions.

On the same roads walk their tormentors
Those who stole their children.
They may often meet and even exchange polite greetings,
not knowing who they are and how they are connected.