Jailed Without Trial

   

A minor breadwinner of a poor family of ten is behind bars from the past six months without trial under PSA.  Ikhlaq Qadri reports.

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Shahzada Bano, is shocked, inconsolable, and wails incessantly. Her only son, a 14-year-old, the breadwinner of the family, is languishing in jail since April. Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh has been booked under Public Safety Act.

“On 21st April at around 7am, policemen barged into our house and dragged Mushtaq out. He was sleeping at that time as he had come late in night from Sonamarg where he was with the tourist bus as a conductor,” says Ghulam Mohuiddin Sheikh, Shahzada’s husband.

Sheikh is handicapped – a victim of mistaken identity. He was fired upon in 1996, when he had gone out to purchase candles on a dark evening. Security forces fired on him apparently taking him as a militant.

He worked as a labourer. That day he received three bullet injuries, and he has never been able to return to work.
For the poor family, life has only been a harsh struggle since. The family of ten lives in a single room house in Nowhatta. Mustaq has seven sisters.

In these conditions, Mushtaq had no option but to leave his studies early. He started working as a conductor. Whatever he earned provided the expenses for the family.

“My son left his studies to earn for the family. He toiled hard to earn us two meals,” says Shahzada, who suffers from various ailments. Since Mushtaq’s arrest, she refuses to take medication. “I will not take any medicine till he is released,” she adds.

After Mushtaq’s arrest the financial condition of the family has deteriorated further. The sisters have had to leave their education. The family is more worried about Mushtaq. The eldest of the sisters is engaged, but she is unwilling to get married, until his brother returns.

Mushtaq was arrested first in the second week of April, and kept in police custody for eight days. The family alleges that he was severely tortured. An FIR was lodged against him for allegedly pelting stones. The family denies the police claim.

“After being released on bail on April 17, the first place Mushtaq visited was the hospital. He was not able to swallow and digest food properly,” Sheikh said

On 19th April he attended court, and went to work the next day. But the same day police came again asking for him. Finding him missing, Sheikh was called to the police station. “There they abused and slapped me, asking me to produce Mushtaq. I requested them that since he has gone for work, I will get him in the evening. Mushtaq came late in the night, I thought that I will take him to the police in the morning, but before that they came at 7am and dragged him to the police station,” says the father.

The family alleges that for the whole day police misled them when they sought his whereabouts. “They had plans of moving him out of valley.”

In the evening, the family came to know that Mushtaq had been shifted to Udhampur jail, – handcuffed in a private bus.

Somehow the impoverished family managed to arrange a few thousand rupees to visit Udhampur jail.

“At first the jail authorities denied presence of Mushtaq but I stood firm and ultimately they allowed me to see my son,” says Shahzada. “He had been kept in a dark cell for 10 days.”

After returning home, the family went from pillar to post to seek their son’s release. They approached police officers and civil administration but in vain. Instead of releasing or shifting Mushtaq back to Srinagar, he was shifted to Kot Balwal jail.

“A senior minister of present government assured me that my son will be released in only two weeks, but since then six months have passed,” says the wailing mother, who reiterates that her son is innocent. “If the police has a single proof against Mushtaq, we will never seek his release and will apologize to police.”

On November 18, international rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI) issued a statement urging state authorities to release Mushtaq.

“Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh must either be charged with a recognizable criminal offence or released immediately,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Director.

“If he is charged, he should be treated in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, held and tried in special facilities for children.”

The AI statement added that the watchdog had raised the issue of Mushtaq’s detention at a meeting with the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and the State Human Rights Commission.

“To date, despite their assurances, nothing appears to have been done,” the watchdog said.

Helpless Sheikh, beats his forehead, “If I will die who will shoulder my coffin,” he laments.

Shahzada says she visited almost all the shrines to pray for a son.

The family attributes most of their suffering to their poverty, “Had we not been poor, we would have greased the palm of police as was done by others to set our breadwinner free.”

The AI says that this year, at least 322 people are reported to have been detained without trial under the act. A number of them, including children, have been detained on similar grounds of stone throwing and rioting during protests against the Indian government.

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