In 2003, a PaK woman returned home from Jammu with a daughter born in jail as a result of rape by the warden and died two years later. Almost 16 years later, a group of women in India conceived a serial that has started being beamed on the web. Masood Hussain tells the story on which the serial is seemingly based
Last weekend, Zee5, one of India’s premium OTT platforms, started beaming Kaafir, a serial based on an unfortunate story weaved around the human relations in a bifurcated state that is perpetually in conflict. Dia Mirza, who plays Kainaaz, the main character of the story, has termed it “the most compelling, heart-rendering and beautiful story I have ever heard”, insisting she felt “extremely lucky to play her role”.
“Siddharth and Bhavani have been trying to tell this story for 10 years,” Mirza said in an interview. Interestingly, there are three women behind the initiative: Bhavani Iyer of the Raazi fame, who has written this series; Sonam Nair who is the director and Sapna Malhotra, the producer.
The series has cast Dia against Mohit Raina, 36, a Kashmir-born model turned actor, who after performing as Lord Shiva in Devon Ke Dev… Mahadev, Mahabharat and Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat, landed in a major role in Uri: The Surgical Strike, a Bollywood smash-hit that performed exceptionally well after being released in the run-up to Lok Sabha polls. In Kaafir, Raina is playing the journalist-lawyer who traced Kainaaz in jail and helped her move out.
The information about the story is too scanty. “The series follows Kainaz (Mirza), a Pakistani woman, who crossed over to India under mysterious circumstances and is being held prisoner there along with her daughter. Accused of being a militant, Kainaz gets help from a journalist-lawyer (Raina), who “makes her justice his sole objective”, according to the synopsis. Kaafir is inspired by a true story, according to the trailer,” reports one newspaper. “Dia plays an alleged militant who has been behind bars for many years. We also see her young daughter in the trailer and the dialogues suggest that she was born behind bars.”
Raina, the actor has said that while researching, he saw the video of the real-life female, coming out of the prison and realised the story surfaced from Jammu and Kashmir. The series was shot in Himachal Pradesh.
The web series is expected to reopen the collective memories in Kashmir. For many years, this story was told and retold as people waited with tensions about the next development in the “Pakistani” woman’s case. Between Heena (1991) and Bajrangi Baijan (2015), there have been many commercial films that had storyline revolving around the human relationship between the two people straddling the Line of Control, the de-facto border between the bifurcated Kashmir since 1947. But the story on which Kaafir is apparently based is completely different. The story had the element of a frightening security environment, the human rights, judicial set-up and a crusader who wanted the protagonist of the story out of the jail.
That story is about a young woman, let us say PS. A resident of Amb Bariyala, the hamlet of Harya da Bagh belt of Pakistan-administered-Kashmir; she was married for five months but could not conceive. Routinely, she would be dubbed a barren. This was the reason why she had a very strained relationship with her in-laws. Illiterate, not knowing what the political divisions are all about, one day, enraged by the fight she had with her in-laws, PS fled from her home.
After covering some distance, she jumped into a roaring torrent in her backyard that incidentally divides the two Poonchs. She jumped into Raya Pandori rivulet dividing Bimbar (PaK) and Rajouri (J&K) to end her life. But the powerful currents washed her ashore to the Indian side of Rajouri where the army is routinely marching to prevent infiltration. She was caught when she was unconscious. She was around 20 years of age and that was October 6, 1995.
“I said to the river: ‘Please kill me, let me die,’ ” she told journalist Catherine Philp in 2002. “I begged them (soldiers) to shoot me because I had failed to kill myself.”
But nature had different plans for her. Her survival was the beginning of another crisis.
PS was interrogated. The soldier mistook her as a spy but knew that residents do cross the invisible line inadvertently. (Most of the LoC is not invisible now because it has a huge fence that is routinely illuminated during nights). With a few days of questioning, the army cleared her and handed her over to the police. In police custody, PS was formally charged under section 2/3 Ingress and Internal Movement (Control) Ordinance. Though nothing was recovered from her, she still had to face the charge. She was produced before the court that held him guilty of crossing the border illegally. The court of Sub Judge Nowshehra finally held her guilty and awarded her a jail term of 15 months on November 16, 1995. Till then, she was in District Jail Poonch.
In jail, a warden Mohammad Din, a resident of Draba in Surankote (Poonch) raped her on the morning of January 14, 1996. It took her time to muster courage and tell Din’s senior what was happening to her. Instead of touching her tormentor, PS was shifted to Central Jail Jammu on January 28, 1996, where there is a women-specific barrack.
It was in the Central Jail Jammu that she realised that she was pregnant. It took two medical examinations that conclusively established that she was pregnant. Though her jail-mates and some of the jail officials suggested her abortion, she decided against it. She insisted: “Out of the saddest moment in my life, came the happiest thing I could possess.”
The situation forced the Prison’s Department boss, S S Ali, to shift the investigations of the case to the Crime Branch of the state police. The case was investigated by Ashkoor Wani and the rapist was identified by the victim in an identification parade. It was established that on that Sunday, Jail Superintendent Mohammad Ayub Bhat left the jail and handed over the keys to Din. Later, Narian Kour, who was in-charge of the female ward went to have her meals and gave the keys to Din. The court observed that at that point of time, Din was the sole in-charge of the jail.
PS was moved out of jail to the Nari Nikatan in Jammu in late 1996, where she gave birth to her daughter M. Post-birth, the mother and daughter were shifted back to the jail where they remained till January 8, 1997. The two were shifted to Nari Niketan again as they had not to be in the jail.
PS and M were shifted back to Central Jail Jammu on August 8, 2000, this time under the Public Safety Act, a law under which there is no requirement of justifying an arrest before a court. Termed a “lawless law” by the Amnesty International, this interesting piece of legislation is aimed at keeping people in jail without any reason.
Officials said they had to keep the lady in the jail and there was no provision other than the PSA. As a special case, however, the Prison department would ensure M goes to school. She would be taken and collected from the school by a police guard. While she picked up the basics of life in the school, PS would learn stitching and embroidery in jail.
PS had to fight to ensure that Din admits his paternity of M. He initially set a condition that he would accept his status as being her father only if PS withdraws the case. But she refused. The DNA test had already established his paternity and the investigations soon ended his job. He was dismissed from the services. The High Court granted the mother-daughter a compensation of three lakh rupees and gave them a right to live in a government-owned flat and also to decide if they wish to go home or live in Jammu and Kashmir.
Finally, on November 20, 2006, Din was convicted in the court of Sessions Judge Poonch A K Shan and sent to jail for five years. He was fined Rs 30,000 also. Din appealed against the verdict that Justice Virender Singh of High Court dismissed on July 12, 2007.
There were two key players in the case and life of the lady. One was her brother Mohammad Yusuf who would routinely send tape-recorded messages to her. Her concerned brother was serving a company in Saudi Arabia. These messages would come initially but later it stopped. This worried the lady and she decided to go home.
But behind her case was a young lawyer A K Sawhney. All alone, he fought the case and got her compensation, right to educate M and pursued the case of deportation and the battle against Din. The court appointed him the guardian of the mother and daughter.
It was Sawhney’s petition that brought her out of the jail on August 3, 2002. She got a flat to live in Janipore where she could send her daughter to school till the repatriation process would reach some conclusion. Sawhney had moved a PIL in which he took the human angle to help the victim. His main argument was that the other Kashmir is part of Jammu and Kashmir so technically and legally she is a state subject.
As the process of repatriation started, it had an interesting twist. When the PS and M were driven to Attari, the repatriation function was cancelled on February 15, 2002. Another attempt to repatriate the two failed in July 2002. The process of sending her home restarted. On February 15, 2002, she was actually driven to Wagha but the Pakistani Rangers refused to take her Indian daughter.
Then, she was the only one of the six Pakistanis who returned from Wagha as Rangers refused to accept her with her daughter. After her return from the border, she was desperate to the extent that she exhibited her willingness to make peace with her rapist. She told reporters: “Agar Woh Mujhe Kabool Kar Lay Aur Mearay Saath Koi Badsaluki Na Karay Tou Mein Uske Saath Shadi Kay Liyay Tayar Hoon.” Officials associated with the process, however, encouraged her against this and assured her of the repatriation.
As fresh efforts resumed, this time Sawhney contacted the Pakistan Human Rights Commission by October 2002. It bore fruit. PS talked to her brother, uncle and some other relatives on the phone. Already, human rights activist Ranjan Lakhanpal had petitioned the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights offering details of the case and seeking help. Finally, they agreed to accept her along with her daughter. Finally, the mother and daughter returned home in December 2003. The school certificates that M was carrying at the time of repatriation suggests she was a student of 2nd standard.
PS-M story did not die. While in PaK, Pakistan’s famous theater personality, Madeeha Gawhar– the founder of Ajoka, (died May 2018), and her Kashmiri husband, Shahid Nadeem, who is a TV personality, visited the family.
The family welcomed PS home and initially everything was hunky-dory. After some time, the taunts resonated from the village and this led her brother to change the residence and live at a different place. There, PS caught some disease and died within two years of her repatriation. M was studying as per Madeeha in 2013.
On the basis of her first-hand information, Nadeem wrote a script for the stage. Dukh Darya (The River of Sorrow), the drama that Madeeha directed, triggered a wave in Pakistan. Later, she was invited by the Jammu University for the performance of the widely acclaimed play. But the government banned it on March 25, 2008, citing “controversial nature” of the play.
“I love being here in Jammu, performing here. Par Mujhe Yeh Shikwa Hai Jammu Se, Eik Ranzish Hai Ke Dukh Darya Yehan Perform Nahin Karney Diya Gaya,” Madeeha told a jam-packed K L Sehgal Hall in Jammu, the same day. “The play is the story of a woman who gets strayed into this part, imprisoned and raped. She even gives birth to a baby. The only objective was to portray the plight of a woman, who could be from anywhere, from any conflict zone of the world. Unfortunately, the woman recently passed away two years back. Our theme was as to how women suffer during conflicts.”
More than a decade after the Dukh Darya, a women team has finally decided to tackle the most sensational case of indignity in conflict; everybody in Kashmir is waiting to see how Kaafir tackles a story that people have refused to forget. The team should have in mind that M, by now, has moved out of her teens and might be settled in life at 24 years of age. Kaafir has to take care of various sensitivities across the Line of Control. There are reports in the media that Kaafir shows the victim in a romantic relationship with the lawyer. That is untrue.