Weary Voyages

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Since most of the people detained in anticipation of the August 5 decision belong to low-income groups, Umar Mukhtar met a few families to understand the costs they pay to meet their imprisoned members

It took Abdur Rashid and his daughter, Zahida four days continuous travel to return from RaiBareily (UP) back home to Pahoo in Pulwama. They had gone to see his imprisoned son, Fayaz Ahmad Mir, 27.

On August 3, Mir was picked by a mixed contingent of army and police in a midnight raid at his home. Zahida said they felt it was just a routine search.

The soldiers ordered males to come out. As Rashid and Mir came out, they caught hold of the Mir and took him along. “We tried to resist but they said they need Mir to show them the way and promised that he will return in five minutes,” Zahida said. “He did not return. They arrested him.”

Next morning the family members visited Kakpora police station. They were told Mir will go home after questioning. They waited for five days.

On August 8, Zahida and her younger sister went to see their brother in the police station. He had been shifted to Srinagar central jail. They were told that he was in NIA custody. The same day Zahida along with her aged father reached the Central jail but were denied a meeting. Finally, the officials gave in to their pleadings. “We were categorically told not to talk about the political developments,” Zahida remembers. “An officer stayed with us as we met our brother.”

Next day they were informed that Mir was shifted to a prison in UP. For the family relying on Mir’s earnings, the news was back-breaking. His father, a daily wage labourer had given up working, forcing Mir to drop-out from the school. He purchased a tractor on a bank loan to support his family. His tractor had barely worked for a month when Mir was arrested.

Quickly, the worried family decided to travel to Bareily. There were two problems: they lacked money and they had never set their foot out of Kashmir.

Somehow, Rashid managed to raise some money. He took his daughter along and they set for Uttar Pradesh. A relative accompanied them as well. They were about to leave when their neighbour, who was a guarantor to their tractor loan broke the news to them that the bank has deducted Rs 8000 from his personal account!

It took the trio two days to reach their destination. “We could not afford the hotel rooms, so we slept at the railway stations,” said Zahida. “We would eat once a day.”

Finally, they were allowed to meet Mir for 50 minutes. For the second meeting, they were advised to return after 15 days.  They returned home and non-stop journey took them four days. It cost them Rs 25,000.

Now the family is paying Rs 8000 monthly to the guarantor to retain their son’s possession, the tractor, parked in the front yard since August 5.

Authorities made almost 4000 arrests across Kashmir in anticipation of August 5. Most of them were quickly shifted to different prisons in different states.

Barely 4 km from Pahoo lives Irfan Ahmad Hurra, alias Molvi, 24. He was picked up by the Kakapora police when he was travelling from Pampore to Kakapora.

Prior to his detention, when his house was raided on August 8, was out. Mostly, he stays at Dar-ul-Uloom at Kakapora where he teaches. Police left with a piece of advice to the family: send him to the police station. “If he does not come voluntarily, we will not guarantee his safety,” Irfan’s father, Mohammad MaqboolHurra, 75, said the police told him.

Like Mir, Molvi is also the only bread-earner of his family. The communication blockade was already in place so the family could not inform him of the police raid. A few days later, the family came to know about his detention.

Maqbool rushed to the police station and found his son in the lockup. “I told the concerned officer about his ill health, he assured me of his release.” The same evening, Maqbool came home with his son. But the celebrations were short-lived, as only after two days two cops in civvies came and told Molvi to report back to the police station. He was detained again. Maqbool rushed to Kakpora but, this time he was unlucky.

Two days later, Molvi was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar. Molvi conveyed home that he requires a lawyer. A few days later, when the family visited the Central Jail in Srinagar, they were told he has been shifted to Bareily.

Almost a month later, one of Molvi’s uncles, Ghulam Hassan Hurra and his father decided to travel to visit him in UP. They arranged the tickets in a hurry which cost them a good amount of money.

“When he saw me he hugged me and we both cried,” Maqbool remembers. But the jailers ordered Maqbool not to communicate with his son, in his mother tongue but in Hindi. Maqbool, an illiterate, does not know Hindi. He could only see his son’s face all the time while his uncle was talking to him in Hindi.“An officer from a distance was keeping a watch on us all the time. I met my son but I could not talk to him,” regrets Maqbool.

Given the expenditures and the financial conditions, Maqbool and his brother decided to stay at dargah of Ahmad Raza Khan. “My son was not hopeful of our visit because he was well acquainted with the financial conditions back home.” Molvi has also told them that he has seen light almost after one and a half month. Molvi was married just one and a half year ago and has a six-month-old daughter. This trip has cost him almost Rs 20000.

Usually, the prisoners are not allowed to move out of their cells unless some relative comes to meet them. The aged Maqbool has now started to work as a labourer in a nearby band sawmill to support his family.

Shamim Ahmad Gannie, 38, a mutton-seller in Pulwama’sRatnipora village, lives not so far away from Mir and Molvi. Post arrest, he is being held at Lucknow Jail. He was rounded up in a midnight raid during the intervening night of August 3 and 4 by a mixed column of army and police.

Shamim shares the home with his brothers. He lived with his wife and a six-year old daughter. “We pleaded that he has no other male member in his house. We wanted to accompany him,” said Gannie’s nephew, Sajad Ahmad. “But they took him away.”

Next morning, Gannie’s phone that he had left at home, buzzed. It was an unknown number. It was Gannie on the line. “I am here in the Pulwama police station,” Gannie could only talk this much before the call was hung. Gannie’s wife and his two brothers rushed to the police station. “We waited for hours before they let us in. They abused us for disturbing their morning,” said Riyaz, Gannie’s brother.

Since the countdown for Eid had started, mutton sellers were having the best season of the year. Hoping a good Eid business, Gannie too had made an advance payment for 64 sheep that were in transit. The truck carrying the sheep was stuck on the National highway owing to landslides. “You keep all other members of the family behind bars and just release him for just one day, till he will ensure no losses in his business. We even told the officer if there will be a misadventure he cannot again stand up his business for years to come,” pleaded Gannie’s family to the police officer. “I am not responsible for your losses and I will not let him go anywhere,” the officer told the family.

The truck remained stuck in the highway for two more days and 22 sheep died before the consignment reached Ratnipora. It was a net loss of almost three lakh rupees.

Almost ten days later, the family was told that police were making Gannie’s mandatory medical check-up, an indication that he may be sent to an outside jail.

“That time, I was on the shop selling meat and I left the shop open and rushed to Pulwama police station,” said Sajad. He did not find his brother there and police were unwilling to reveal anything. For the next one month, the family lacked an idea where he was.

Tired of the daily to and fro to police stations, Gannie’s brother Riyaz decided to blindly travel to Lucknow Jail to trace his brother. Since a number of people had been shifted to Lucknow his gut feeling suggested he also must be amongst them.

As Ahmad reached there, he told the sentry about Gannie. He checked his name on the register and confirmed his presence. “I wanted to inform the family that I traced him but there was communication gag in place,” regretted Riyaz. For the next six days, Ahmad stayed there and only after he reached home he could inform them about Gannie. The trip cost him around Rs 36000.

Now Gannie’s wife wants to see her husband but the losses they suffered have left them in crisis. She cannot afford travel to such a far off place. She now awaits a miracle to happen so she could see her husband back home.

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About Author

Umar Mukhtar is a Srinagar based journalist. He is covering human rights and the changing political landscape of the valley.

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