Moments of union

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Undertrials are bussed to the courts daily for hearings where they often encounter their family members. SYED ASMA spent time in Srinagar lower court witnessing how people throng the court premises for glimpses and short meetings with their jailed loved ones.

Jailed

Jailed

It is a jam-packed compound, a number of vehicles are parked, most of them randomly. A few police vehicles are also there. A noticeable number of people, locals, are scattered all over. They are waiting under the shadow of huge Chinars in the compound. Some are standing, some sitting on the benches and some of them look tired and are lying on the grass.

This is an everyday scene at the lower court complex in Srinagar.

They come here to resolve their property disputes, family disputes and to legalise what they buy or sell. But there are some visibly desperate faces around, who are here to meet their loved ones brought here from jails to attend court proceedings. Most of these undertrials are accused of criminal activities.

Khatija arrived here at 9 in the morning. It has been three hours and she is still waiting for her grandson, Arsalan. He was picked up from his home and is accused of stone pelting during recent incidents in the city.

Khatija wearing a Kashmiri traditional veil is sitting near a pillar where a police vehicle is parked. “It (police vehicle) came but only had policemen in it, where is Arsalan?” asks Khatija.

She has heard from her neighbours that when an accused is arrested he is definitely brought up to the city’s lower court and is presented before a judge. She says, police were not “letting us meet”. Khatija, without letting her family know is visiting the court everyday but says she had not seen Arsalan here.

“It has been a week and I have not seen him,” Khatija says wiping the tears rolling down her wrinkled cheeks. Arsalan is her lone grandson.

It is a hot summer day, droplets of sweat are quite visible on her face. She uses her veil to wipe them off. “It is really hot but I will wait till I see him. For now I am feeling very thirsty,” she gets up and proceeds to look for a tap in the court premises.

Meanwhile, a police jeep enters into the compound. Almost all its glasses are grated. It displays a name, ‘Rakshak’. Following it is a police bus which is too huge to be adjusted in this compound. Taking about 15 minutes and directions from a dozen people, the bus finally gets parked. A few policemen came down from. Checking the surroundings, they pass on a signal, a simple nod, to their fellowmen in the bus. After few minutes a huge queue of handcuffed men came out.

After the police bus was parked hundreds of people from all corners of the court premises came and surrounded it. Most of them probably came to see and meet their loved ones who could be brought here in the bus.

“My son is kept in Udhampur and it is not possible for me to manage a frequent visit there, so I try to meet him here only,” says Rashid, a carpenter. He got up on his toes, shouted a name and waved his hand. A smile appeared on his face and he started making way for himself to meet his son.

Rashid reached close to his son and hugged him tightly. After sometime sobs could clearly be heard, both were crying. They had met each other after three months. A policeman interrupted angrily, “ye kya disco loguwi tohi yati? (What is this dsco you started here?)”

“Finish it up fast and move…come on…move,” the policeman commanded.

The bus was left empty. After sometime a few men who were not wearing uniforms boarded the police bus. People around said they are policemen in civvies.

“Many of the people present here who look like us are actually policemen, not in their uniforms. They are here to keep an eye on the happenings in the premises of the court,” says Farooq, who was resting under a Chinar and is waiting for his turn to be presented before the judge. He is here to settle some family dispute.

The long queue that came out from the police bus is directed towards a room guarded by a few state police personnel. Here people are kept under temporary judicial custody known as judicial lock-up.

It is a small room with a heavy iron gate which most of the times remains closed. It has a corner window from where a face appears if anyone knocks at it.

A policeman came, knocked and a face appeared. “What is it?” he asks. “It is about Hassan, a drug peddler from South Kashmir. Send him out. It is his turn,” the other replies.

He repeats the same name inside in a high-pitched voice. It was clearly audible outside. After a few minutes, a bearded man, handcuffed, came out. The other end of his chained handcuffs was handed over to the policeman waiting outside, keeping his head down, Hasan proceeds.

Accused people brought in from different jails on the day of their hearing are kept in these judicial lock ups. Beside, some who are punished by a judge for a day are also kept there, says Fahmeeda Jan, a lawyer.

It is a small room where they are kept like cattle, she adds.

This judicial lock up is only used during the day and for night they all are shifted to Central Jail, Srinagar.

On coming out of the lock-up, Hasan had a hasty glimpse around and put his head down, probably in disappointment.

He approached the courtroom. His case is listed next. A woman came and hugged him tight. “You thought we haven’t come?” she asks. It is Hasan’s aunt and she explained to him that his mother was not keeping well and couldn’t come to see him. His brother and sister are also here.

A policeman without interfering in their chat took a newspaper in his hand and pretended not to hear anything. They all started talking but Hasan without saying anything put his head up. His brother came in and claims that ‘Hasan will today come out on bail’.

Hasan reacts angrily, “it has been two months and every time I come here you tell me the same thing. You think I am a kid?”

His brother moves out and comes in holding the arm of their lawyer. “It is this man not me who on every hearing promises to apply for your bail but nothing happens.”

Their brief time of meeting was over in 20 minutes. Hasan was called in the courtroom and the date of next hearing was announced.

He was again put in the judicial lock up and his family waited outside the lock up to have his glimpse at the time of his leaving in the evening.

Meanwhile, an elderly woman accompanied by a young boy came and started talking to a policeman guarding the lock-up. The conversation for a few seconds was peaceful but later got heated up.

The people around suggested her to wait and be calm.

She was holding a tiffin in her hand. “I got something for him cooked from home. God knows what do they give him to eat? And this policeman is not allowing me to give it to him,” says Shakeela.

Shakeela settles down under a Chinar near the lock up and waits to meet her brother.

The policeman tries to clarify, “we allowed them to meet their family but what happened last month was something that now hinders us from allowing them to meet.” His colleague nodded in agreement and said, “leave it, they won’t understand”.

Last month packets of drugs were recovered from a detainee in Central jail who was earlier that day brought to the court.

“It is now a restricted area, especially eatables are avoided,” says Fahmeeda.

About Author

A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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