The room was full of consoling neighbours and relatives. Few more were trickling in to provide succour to the grief-stricken family. Ghulam Mohiuddin Sheikh and his wife Sarwa Akhtar stood in one corner, brooding in mournful thoughts.
Their son, Tareq, was arrested by police on Oct 16 this month for his alleged militant links, a charge his family denies.
On the fateful day, a shootout rattled Pulwama township when suspected militants fired indiscriminately near bus stand injuring two civilians including a woman.
Police claimed that Tareq was roaming around suspiciously. “He was trying to snatch rifle from police before he was arrested,” SP Pulwama, Tejinder Singh told media.
Strangely, during the time of arrest, Tareq was wearing a burqa. Police claim to have recovered a knife from the spot too, substantiating their reason to detain him.
“It’s paining,” Sheikh blurts out, grabbing his chest, grimacing.
People in the room rush to him, trying to allay his sorrow while giving him hope that things would normalize and he would have his son back.
“He is mentally challenged,” he cries aloud. “He is innocent.”
Living in Drach village, some seven kilometers from Pulwama, Tareq dropped out from school when he was in 8th class. Later, he was apprenticed to his father as baker before he threw open his own bakery. In fairly little time, he became famous for his bread throughout his village. “His bread was in great demand in neighbouring villages too,” says Tajamul Islam, a neighbouring pharmacist.
For many years, Tareq earned good enough to sustain things and scrape out a living. “But from past six months he got addicted to cannabis (weed) smoke,” his father recalls, with tearful eyes.
At one occasion he beat up his sister Shreeza when she had asked him about his ‘weird’ behaviour. Tareq’s mother recounts many incidents of his life while trying to establish his condition.
“How can a normal person pee in his food plate?” she wonders. Her mother confides that Tareq had stolen a cow from a neighbouring village in last month. “Thereafter we had to pay 10 thousand rupees to owner of the cow to settle that issue,” she says.
After the humiliation, Tareq used to spend more time in neighbourhood and with relatives than his home. The sense of shame has been so profound that even his brother Zahoor denied any relation with him. “I am not his brother,” he declared solemnly. “I live in neighbourhood.”
Meanwhile, police have strongly refuted the claims that Tareq is mentally challenged. Speaking to Kashmir Life, SP Pulwama Tejinder Singh said that police have ample evidence to suggest that he is not. “Let his family say what they want,” he said. “We will prove it in the court of law.”
He said that police has confessions from more people who testified his culpability. He also said that with the help of Tareq, police had identified more suspects. “Investigations are underway to nab them,” the officer adds.