Ateeqa Begum, a widow in her late fifties and a mother of two, offers namaz on a prayer rug laid down in a corner adjacent to the wall, hanging on which is a picture of her only son, Faisal Aslam Mir.
Locked behind the bars since August 5, 29-year-old Faisal is among thousands of young men who were detained in the Kashmir Valley following the revocation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir that triggered tension in the disputed region. “He had gone to a pharmacy to buy me medicines and was on the way back when he was bundled into a police jeep,” said Ateeqa who lives in Maisuma, a volatile locality in the main city of Srinagar.
On the day of his arrest, she was convinced to stop Faisal from going out at any cost but her son wanted to make sure she got her medicine on time. It was when a woman from her neighbourhood came screaming to her house that her apprehensions proved true. “I was told that my son has been picked up,” said Ateeqa while narrating the arrest of her son.
On the midnight of August 5, when the Indian government led by the right-wing Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) scrapped Article 370—a law that had protected the demography of the Muslim-majority region over the last seven decades—it carried a massive crackdown arresting over 4,000 people.
Among the detained were allegedly over 100 children as young as nine. And 350 of them were booked under the controversial Public Safety Act (PSA), a law under which a person can be detained for up to two years without a bail. Amnesty International has described it as a “lawless law”. Faisal too was detained under PSA and shifted to a jail in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, leaving his mother alone at home to fight loneliness and a legal battle to challenge the detention of her son.
After the death of her husband nearly a decade ago, Ateeqa has been living with her son, a school dropout who works as a salesman in a local shop to earn a livelihood. According to police records, Mir has been involved in stone pelting in 2013 but his mother insists he had been leading a normal life from the past three years.
“He had a case against him and he was jailed in 2013. But then he started normal work and this time, when he had zero involvement in disrupting the order, they picked him up and booked him for two years,” recalls Ateeqa carefully. “Faisal, in fact, was jailed several times for disrupting law and order but that was before I took an oath of not letting him get involved in such things and assured the concerned officers about the same.” And according to Ateeqa, her son had obliged and never looked back.
Yet the “unreasonable detention” of her son, as Ateeqa puts it, came as a betrayal to her son’s honesty and has eroded her faith on democracy and the system.
“The authorities are forcing our children to extreme paths. In Kashmir, they don’t let our children live a normal life, they force them to pick up a gun.”
Despite that she has not given up and has been challenging the arrest legally.
Despite there being no other person at home to help her out, Ateeqa—who is not educated and does not know how to use a phone—managed to file a habeas corpus petition in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court challenging the detention of her son. Every week she goes to the court to check the status of the case, the court hearing for which has now been listed to December 25.
“I have not seen my son in the last three months, I cannot travel outside to see him because I cannot afford it,” she said. “When I cook food, I hardly eat thinking what he must be doing in the lockup, whether he would be eating. I face sleeplessness, then I talk to the picture of my son.” Faisal being the sole breadwinner of their small family, Ateeqa is facing financial hardships, too. “I have to visit multiple doctors to get treatment. The latest one I visited was a psychiatrist because I am in deep depression and I have no one to share my grief with,” she says, adding that she has now left it to God to pray for the release of her son.
In the police dossier of Faisal, the order says that through “his profile and past activities, it can be safely inferred that subject is main disgruntled element at the forefront in implementing programmes that disrupts public peace and cause law and order problem”
Three kilometres away from Ateeqa’s home, Kousar, 45, feels the same anguish that Ateeqa does as her husband, Bashir Ahmad Bhat—associated with the banned Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF)—has also been detained under PSA and shifted to a jail outside Kashmir for his “secessionist activities”. Kousar has not met her husband in the last three months.
Living in a rented house of two rooms, Kousar, a mother of three school-going children, is paying for the rent of her house through her mother-in-law’s pension money. “We were hopeful for father’s bail before the abrogation and awaiting him on Eid,” said Zainab, Bashir’s 18-year-old daughter who is appearing for her class 12 exams this year, a defining year in a student’s life.
Eid came and went but Bashir could not return to his family, his daughter says. Ever since his arrest, Kousar is struggling to meet their basic living requirements as well as to keep her emotional stability intact. “It is not easy to concentrate on my studies while my father is in jail. Every day, I see my mother going through hell while playing the role of both, a father and a mother,” said Zainab. “Due to the current tension and absence of public transport, I wish that like the other children, my father would've been with me, but I go to my exam centre alone.”
Bashir’s absence has taken a toll not only their finances but also the physical and mental health of his family members. Kousar has stones in her gall bladder and the doctor had advised to get them removed. “She decided to delay it further after my father was shifted to the jail outside the state and her health has been deteriorating more and more,” said Zainab.
While Ateeqa’s only hope is pinned on her god, Bashir’s family wait for November 11, his next court hearing. Both remain shattered, yet hopeful.
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