“Yeh pellet bullet, na bhai na. Yeh pava shava, na bhai na. PSA Sarkar, na bhai na (No pellets, bullets. No PAVA shells. No PSA government),” this was one of the many rhyming slogans of a man, who became nucleus of South Kashmir during 2016 civilian uprising, while the crowd would cheer on and participate in numbers to match his enthusiasm.
For months, he continued to travel across South Kashmir. But only after a few weeks of him having developed a huge fan base, 39-year-old Sarjan Barkati, also known as the azadi chacha, was arrested on 1 October 2016, and booked under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA). Since then he has been in Kotbalwal jail of Jammu. Barkati has 46 FIRs registered against him. Seven FIRs each at Imamsahib police station and Hirpora police station, eighteen at Shopian Police station, ten at Police station Zainapora and four at Yaripora Police station. In January 2017, his popular slogans even reverberated in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly when National Conference and Congress members raised slogans to corner the then BJP-PDP government.
Now ahead of the festival of Eid, his family is demanding that the government must release him. “We are ready to fight now. We have suffered a lot,” says Shabrooza, his wife. Since the arrest of her husband, life has turned harsh on her. She lives alone in a two room house with her children.
Shabrooza and her family along with some supporters plan to come to Srinagar after Eid if her husband is not released. “We have decided to go on an indefinite hunger strike after Eid, if the government doesn’t release my husband before Eid,” she says with an unwavering determined voice.
Survival of Barkati’s family has become difficult since his arrest. “We have problems in our house, I am a mother of two and I don’t earn a living. With each passing day things are becoming more challenging,” she adds. However, she is thankful to her neighbours and relatives who have been supporting education of her two children – Sugra, 12-year-old daughter and Azaan 7-year-old son.
“We haven’t gone to the authorities again as they have been ignoring us for a very long time. We have made appeal to the public. We know that we can trust them. They have always supported us through thick and thin,” says Shabrooza.
The family’s decision to take this bold step has become the talk of the town when a video of Barkati’s daughter, Sugra, went viral. “My abbu is punished for conducting peaceful rallies. He is being kept in jail for the crimes he didn’t commit,” says Sugra, in the video.
She further requests the authorities to release her father soon enough stating that his extended confinement could worsen the already shipwreck scenario of Shopian district. “The government thinks that people don’t support us. However, they are ignorant about the overwhelming support we get from the people, especially from the youth,” adds Sugra.
In the video that has gone viral, she declares her family’s resolution to fast till death if her father isn’t released before Eid. “The government will be held responsible if the situation goes out of hands. People support our decision and will join us too. Till now our family has been controlling people from raging out, but this time the government has to intervene to monitor the situation,” she says, with a confident look in her eyes.
While speaking to The Kashmir Walla, Sugra expresses about how she misses her father and how his absence has affected her. “My abbu jaan used to teach me English and Urdu. He wanted me to become a poetess,” says Sugra, with a tinge of sadness in her voice. She is now losing interest in things that mattered to her the most when her father was around. “I don’t even enjoy playing now. I only find solace in reading my father’s poems and reminiscing about him.”
Like her father, Sugra is also turning into a poetess. She likes to pen down her feelings in poems and often writes about longing for her father. She recites a few lines from her favorite poem:
“Kusu peu mukhbir chenis watnass
Abu myani lagyou arrest gachnas
Yanhaa mei buzum thak chum ni wadnas
Abu myani lagyoo arrest gachnas”
(Who turned an informer on your nation?
My father, my life in offering to your incarceration
When I heard (of your arrest) I haven’t stopped crying
My father, my life in offering to your incarceration)
Both the mother and daughter are resolute to fight for Barkati’s freedom. They do not intend to pick stones and fight, they say, but they want follow the path that Barkati always advocated, the path of peace. They have decided not to take a morsel of food into their mouth until they accomplish their mission of setting him free.
“Now only two things can stop us, either his release or our death,” vows Shabrooza.