Curious Confrontation

Kashmir still remembers the case of a Maisuma youth, “Mandela”, who shifted his base from a hardcore stone pelter to a young face of state police. A similar instance was in making from North Kashmir’s Bandipora where a teenager, known as “a chronic case of street confrontation” was trying hard to join the camp of government forces until his arrest last month confined his chances, Bilal Handoo reports

Stone-Pelting-at-Nowhatta

Some 55 km away from summer capital, a teenager was arrested by police on charges of stone pelting on January 26 this year. Five days after his arrest, the 18-year-old Bandipora youth was booked under Public Safety Act (PSA) and was sent to Udhampur to complete his jail term. But here is the kicker: the boy charged by police for leading a “gang of stone pelters” against the government forces in this northern town was, in fact, toiling hard to join the same confrontation camp!

In the bustling bazaar of Bandipora, a mere mention of Arif Wani sets his friends on rage. They recall him an intense, expressive and fearless young friend who, they say, had put police in the town in tight position. “You know what,” tells one youth, sporting stubble, “Arif always led from the front whenever stone pelting would break out in the town.”

On the day of his arrest, his friends recall, police vehicles chased him on two sides. And blocked both sides of the alley he was running in. “As vehicles approached him, he jumped on the roof of one of the police vehicles and before they could catch hold of him, he hurled Kangri on cops. But he was soon overpowered and beaten to pulp on the spot,” continues his friend.

Some 5 km away from the main market of the town, a cluster of households in Aayatmulla locality is in the grip of stillness. At the fringe of the locality, a mother is inconsolable inside one storey modest house. She is Arif’s mother, Hameedah. Her parched and worn out appearance resembles with the visible condition of her house. Apart from her, Abdul Samad Wani, Arif’s father, is quietly sitting in one of the corners of room.

Both of them are in total fix over the arrest of their son—whom, both of them term innocent. But their perception about their son doesn’t seem to be wrong. Arif is hardly known to anyone in his locality. He would either spend his time inside four walls of his home or far away in the town. The grieving parents knew their son as someone very caring and obliged in their home. But they never had an idea of the “expressive and fearless” side of their son exhibited in the town.

But they started sensing something ‘shady’ on December 5 last year, a day before Hurriyat patriarch  Syed Ali Geelani was scheduled to visit Bandipora. That evening while sitting amongst his family, Arif’s cell phone buzzed up. On the other side of the phone, his parents claim, was a police official. The personnel directed him to report to his local police station next day. “I told him, go and visit police station,” says his father.

As the day dawned, people came to know that Geelani had been put under house arrest. The mood in the town was intense. Meanwhile, obliging the call, Arif showed up at the police station. He was asked to stay and was set free in the evening that day, his parents continue. “Maybe, he did not expect arrest for that day,” his father informs. But his parents weren’t aware about the anger brewing inside their son.

Arif was someone, who used to labour for sustaining his needs and that of his family. His parents knew their son as someone who was trying hard to end frequent spells of low income stress at home. They knew him as their last hope.

But all notions were redefined soon with the dawn of Republic day of India. Till 11.30 am that morning, Arif was at home before he went to market to get some bread for his mother, who was ailing with severe stomach pain. Arif didn’t return home. His absence only grieved his ailing mother back home. And then, suddenly, the bad news arrived. Somebody informed them that their son was arrested by police on charges of stone pelting. The news shook Wani family.

Two days later, Hameedah went to meet her son in the local police station. “He had been badly beaten,” she breaks down while recalling. Her sobs touched the raw nerve of her husband who dropped his head inside his pheran and joined his better half in her grief. The situation in the room turned grim. “He couldn’t move his leg due to severe thrashing and would continuously vomit for five consecutive days.”

For medical treatment, Arif was referred to Srinagar police health centre from where he was taken to SMHS Hospital, continues his mother. After sometime, he was again taken back to Bandipora police station. And then visiting her son one last time, Arif told her: “I think, they are planning to take me away!”

“But how do you know?” Hameedah enquired.

A File photo of  a police recruitment drive.
A File photo of a police recruitment drive.

“They had called a doctor, who did some medical checkups and told them: He is fine and can travel.”

The very revelation broke Hameedah’s heart. She was there with Arif when police took him to Srinagar for medical treatment. And there, she was told by some cop that one of Arif’s kidneys has been left injured by police beating. She pleaded with police that her son be given at least a chance to recover. But the plea was not heeded.

On the other side, somehow, Arif was still hopeful that next day he would be set free. He assured his concerned mother in their last meeting in police lockup that he would take bath in his own home the next day. Hameedah reciprocated her son’s feelings by telling him amid relentless sobs: “Just prepare your mind to face any eventuality.” And soon, she bid him tearful adieu.

On January 31, the next day, Arif’s journey to Udhampur jail began. Later, Hameedah came to know that throughout his way, he was crying like anything. Moved by his plight, two cops accompanying Arif promised him one last call to his parents. That evening cell did buzz up displaying some unknown number. As Hameedah attended the call, she soon gave out a loud cry. It was Arif calling from Udhampur. And all of a sudden, Wani manzil was in the grip of cries and wails. “Don’t worry mother, I am alright. Please, do take care of yourself,” Hameedah heard the breaking voice from the other side of cell. But before she would have consoled her son, taken away from home, the call was dropped.

Few days later, Hameedah insisted her husband to visit Udhampur with clothes and necessities for their son. But the visit needed an expense of about Rs 6000. The family arranged money from their relatives. Besides, he needed someone to accompany him. Upon reaching Udhampur, Wani found his son admitted in a local hospital. He wasn’t moving his legs with ease, still.

But, few know, before PSA was slapped on him for creating what police terms “law and order problem”, Arif was toiling hard to get into the services of government forces. Last year in fall, a paramilitary recruitment drive was going on in Bandipora. Arif along with friends went for it. But he was asked to produce the character certificate approved by his local police station. As he visited police station, some boys mocked him by saying: “What an irony! Those who were pelting stones against government forces till yesterday are now becoming part of them.”

What was, otherwise, said in a lighter vein, soon alerted the armed men nearby. And Arif was asked to stay inside the police station for the whole day, claims Wani. Later, the character certificate was issued, as his fate would have been, he couldn’t qualify the trials. “He wanted to join the government forces to improve the financial condition back home,” says Hameedah. “He was just exploring the limited options available.”

Arif kept applying whenever any recruitment drive would be held in and around Bandipora. But he continued to face rejections. His application was rejected in Fire Service Department—which termed him “underage” for the post. Similarly, in another paramilitary drive in Aloosa nearby his village, he was disqualified after a name was spotted engraved on his arm. In another recruitment drive by police, he wasn’t taken on board!

But in spite of his strong desire to join government forces, Bandipora police claimed that he continued to lead “gang of stone pelters” against them.

District Police chief Bandipora, Mohammad Shafi Mir claims Arif was a “chronic case of stone pelting” who had posed a ‘big challenge’ to law and order problem in the town.

“He himself confessed before me that he was leading a group of stone pelters in the town,” says Mir, who is discharging his duties in Bandipora for last two months. “Slapping PSA on him suggests that he wasn’t just any other stone pelter around.”

The confrontation indeed appears curious in this case!

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