Waiting for Papa

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As their father languishes in Delhi’s Tihar jail for last 21 years, four daughters are doing their bit to keep the family together. Heena Muzzafar meets the siblings who are eagerly waiting for their father’s return 

Surrounded by her four daughters, Fatima Bano, who is in her late forties, almost gasps with surprise when told that it has been more than two decades since she first arrived in Kashmir. “Time flies,” thinks Fatima.

In 1988, Fatima, a native of Muradabad, Uttar Pradesh was married to Mehmood Ayub Khan, a Kashmiri moazin at Delhi’s Jamia Masjid.

Khan is in Delhi’s Tihar jail for his alleged involvement in 1994 kidnapping of foreigners in Delhi. He was arrested in 1997 from his home in Kangan, Ganderbal.

Ever since Fatima came to Kashmir, a small stitching machine has been her companion as it helped her feed her family of five. “It has affected my eyesight badly,” said Fatima.

Fatima, who single handedly brought up her daughters often finds it hard to make sure that her four daughters’ do not go to bed on empty stomach.

“It was not an easy task. But, neighbours were generous, who helped me in bringing up my daughters,” said Fatima, trying hard to get thread through the needle of the stitching machine.

Fatima initially learned to make pherans (traditional cloaks). “It was suggested by the women from the neighbourhood that I learned to stitch clothes,” recalls Fatima. “Later I started stitching curtains, pillow cover etc.”

It was Fatima’s neighbours, who admitted her daughter in a local school. “I asked my neighbours to help me get my daughters admitted in a Government school, instead they admitted them in a local private school for free,” said Fatima.

Fatima vividly remembers the day when she made uniform for her daughter out of her burqa (veil). “I made it within an hour,” said Fatima.

With the passage of time Fatima’s little daughters grew into young girls, and like their mother, they too started working to meet their day-to-day expenses.

The eldest one, Nazima Parveen, now 23, while studying, knew that a huge list of responsibilities waits her.

After completing her graduation from Women’s College Nawakadal, Nazima learned how to become a beautician. “Since, I already knew a lot about beauty techniques, so it did not take me much effort to learn,” said Nazima.

Although Nazima wanted to continue her studies, but that was not possible. “Choice was quite open; either to help my mother in feeding five mouths or to study,” said Fatima while attending one of the customers.

Nazima’s talent was recognised by one of her client’s relative, who later offered her a space in downtown’s Nawakadal area, to run a parlour.

“He was generous and did not ask for any rent, until I get a regular footfall of customers,” said Nazima.’

Nazima then started attending clients at her residence in Zaina Kadal during 2016 uprising.  Since, the house is modest and does not have more than three rooms, she felt short of space. Besides, because of curfew and restrictions, not much customers turned up. “It was difficult to manage in such a short space, but I also knew that I do not have any choice,” said Nazima. “It was once in a blue that a customer would turn up.”

While Nazima attends clients, her younger sister Razia Parveen, 22, waits patiently, practising mehandi designs to draw them on a bride’s hands, if anyone happen to visit Nazima.

“Every day I train myself with new designs with a hope that a client might turn up,” shares Razia.

Once, Razia became aware of her talent, she thought why not to make it a means of earning.

“I apply mehandi on bride’s arms as well, but, only to those who come to my home,” said Razia. “Although it does not fetch much, but then I remember the saying, something is better than nothing.”

Razia completed her graduation and is looking forward to go for higher studies. “Nazima sacrificed her studies, so that we can continue,” said Razia.

Nazima and Razia, once had relatively comfortable life, while in Delhi that they even do not remember. Now, they strive every day to keep the wheel of their home moving. “We cannot stop working,” says Nazima.

The third sister, Sana Parveen, 20, who was born and brought up in Kashmir, is a B.Com student and a tailor by profession. Sana, since childhood, has watched her mother stitch clothes and hence has imbibed the skill. “My mother is my mentor,” said Sana. “I know how to turn an old designed outfit into a trendy one,”

Sana, take orders at home and sometimes help her mother as well. “Mother has been doing this work for more than 22 years, and she now finds it difficult to work consistently, due to various health issues,” said Sana, who herself is struggling with health issues.

However, their younger sister, Iram Parveen, 19, concentrates on her study and is currently taking coaching for her competitive exam.

Despite the fact that Nazima works to bring change in the financial conditions of her family, she is looked down by some of the people. “We meet both good and bad people. Some really appreciate my efforts and some try to knock me down,” shares Nazima. “There are taboos attached to the kind of work I do.”

In 1988, Fatima was married to Khan. “It was Jamia Masjid’s head moulvi, Ahmad Bukhari, who introduced Moulvi sahib to my family,” said Fatima. “Actually we had friendly terms with Bukhari Sahib’s wife, who too is from Muradabad, Uttar Pradesh.”

Fatima, like any other bride had dreamt of a beautiful married life and luckily her dreams came true. She lived happily with her husband in Delhi’ Usmanpur Jamuna Par, in a rented room.

“But, nothing lasts forever,” said Fatima with moist eyes.

Khan being moazinn of Jamia Masjid was given a shop by the masjid authorities in nearby Urdu Bazaar.

He used to sell prayer mat (jai-namaz), rosary (tasbih), prayer caps (topi), which made him famous as “Mehmood topiwala” in the area.

Fatima would weave “darya”, a kind of mat used in winters for keeping a house warm.

“Moulvi sahib used to earn good but I still would do it,” said Fatima. “Just to kill time.”

In 1994, almost 6-years after their marriage, Khan as usual left for his shop, but never came back.

Fatima waited for him to come back along with her two daughters, Nazima, then 2, and Razia, who was just one-year-old.

Fatima waited for two consecutive days, with a thought that Khan might have gone to the mosque. She was calm as Khan had stayed away like this earlier too.

“He would stay in the mosque overnight sometimes,” said Fatima. “Besides he had a habit of helping poor both in terms of cash and kind. He would also spend time to solve the problems of others.”

However, after two days, Fatima was informed by one of the salesman working at Khan’s shop that he had gone to Kashmir on emergency basis to see his ailing mother. The salesman also gave her some money that Khan had left for her, before leaving.

After five days, at around 4 in the morning, Fatima heard a loud knock at the door. “It woke up my daughters too,” recalls Fatima.

Without comforting her daughters, Fatima went straight to open the door. The moment she opened the door, 12 men in civvies appeared in front of her.

They told Fatima to come with them as they want to ask her a few questions. “They did not say much, except that I was being taken for some enquiry.”

Fatima, along with her two daughters, was taken to Lodhi Road police station. Fatima’s landlord was already in their custody. “They did not even let me dress my children,” said Fatima.

At the police station Fatima was relieved to see a few lady police personnels. But what followed is nothing less than a nightmare for Fatima.

Fatima was told that she would have been approached four days back, but as it was Holi, they waited.

“They asked me about my husband’s whereabouts,” said Fatima. “I told them whatever I knew.”

Then Fatima was told why she was bought to the police station. “The lady police officers encircled me and said that my husband is a militant,” said Fatima.

Before Fatima could understand the whole matter, her daughters were taken away from her, making her more anxious. Landlord too was taken to another room.

Now, it was one of the lady police officer and Fatima alone in the room, who asked her in a soft tone about her husband’s engagements.

“I told them he leaves early in the morning for shop and comes back at night. Besides, he keeps busy in activities related to masjid,” said Fatima. “The lady officer said that they already know that part.”

Fatima told them if they already know then why she is brought here like this.

“She tortured me mentally and repeatedly told me that you are concealing the details of a militant. It can land you behind the bars,” said Fatima. “It seemed as if she wanted me to confess that moulvi sahib is a militant, forcefully.”

The lady police officer then left the room and sent another officer, the one with fierce looks.

This officer repeatedly asked Fatima to admit that her husband is a militant. But, when Fatima replied that it could be a lie or a misunderstanding, she was assaulted.

“The lady police officer took off my dupata, got hold of my collar and tore it apart,” recalls Fatima with eyes full of tears. “My mind went blank; sense of security that I felt on seeing lady police around was gone in a minute.”

Before the lady officer could harm Fatima anymore, she was summoned outside. In the meantime three hours had passed and after a while, Fatima’s daughters and landlord were sent in. “My heart hammered against my chest, when I saw my girls crying and famishing,” recalls Fatima.

Before Fatima comfort her daughters, a police officer came in and asked Fatima to give Khan’s address. “After my marriage I had been to Kashmir only once. So I told them I just recall a place called, Kangan,” said Fatima.

Later, Fatima came to know that forces had interrogated the owner and tried to confirm from Fatima’s eldest daughter about her father’s friends, who would visit their place.

It was after spending three hours in the jail, Fatima was told about her husband’s alleged involvement in kidnapping of foreign tourists from New Delhi.

Later newspaper reports confirmed kidnapping of four foreigners: one American and three British (1994).

Before, Fatima could actually reach her home; forces again barraged into landlord’s house and connected his phone line to a tracker for 22 days so that they could trace Khan’s location, if he happens to call me.

Besides, two security personals were deployed to stay there, for the first 15 days. “Forces were kept there to keep watch on us,” said Fatima. “They used to follow me everywhere.”

Even after forces left the house, they did not stop surveillance on Fatima. “It was at least for eight months that the forces followed me everywhere,” recalls Fatima. “Even they would get into the same auto I would hire to move around.”

After eight months, when the dust settled, Fatima sold some of her household assets to manage the money as income from shop had already stopped.

One night, Fatima picked up some essentials and took her two daughters along and came to Kashmir in search of her husband. “All the sources of income had exhausted, Jamia Masjid authorities had taken back their shop,” said Fatima.

Once, Fatima reached Kangan, she met her husband only after confirming address from people. Khan along with his family had shifted to Srinagar’s downtown area. He was working as imam in Sheikh ul alam Masjid, Bohri Kadal. He was given a room by the masjid authorities. He was there for three years. “It was during these days that Sana was born,” recalls Fatima.

Before, Khan could buy a house in the same locality; he was arrested along with his wife and three daughters from his ancestral residence at Kangan for his involvement in kidnapping.

“We were taken to Kangan Police Station and kept there for twenty days,” recalls Fatima.

Later Fatima along with her three daughters was released. She went back to Srinagar. “I was pregnant at that time,” says Fatima. “A few months after Iram’s birth I came to know that Moulvi Sahib is in Tihar Jail.”

Iram has no memory of her father. However, her siblings recall their father vaguely.

The family now lives in a house bought with the financial assistance by their neighbours, in 2003.

Fatima and her four daughters are waiting for the day when their father will be home.  “It is his 21st year in jail. He was supposed to serve only twenty years,” said Razia.

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