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^Photograph of Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, who was first arrested and slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA) in 2008, in his mother’s hand. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

When the state of Jammu and Kashmir was drifting away with Amarnath land transfer controversy in 2008, the then-teenager boy sitting in a classroom, passing through the mild summer of the Valley in ‘08 of Motherland School in Nowhatta area of Srinagar — uniformed well — was picked up by a few policemen in civvies. The sun was going beyond the sight, and the lone son of the family was not home; his father, Ghulam Mohiudin, went from alley to lane in his search.

Unknown of his whereabouts, Mr. Mohiudin landed — helpless — in Nowhatta police station. “When I saw my son detained there (police station) in the school uniform, I was shocked. I couldn’t figure out why he was there?” he recalled.

Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, as per family, the then 12-year-old, a resident of Nowhatta, Downtown Srinagar, was slapped with Public Safety Act (PSA) in 2008 and was detained after being charged with the ‘criminal act’ of stone throwing. From there, Mr. Sheikh had no turning back; from police stations to jails — unavailability of Juvenile Justice homes (JJ) to going thirsty for bails — mother, and 7 sisters waited months to catch a glimpse — the beginning of the institutional destroying of youth had started.

In the darkness, through the bails

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Uzma Jan, younger sister of Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, at her one-room home in Srinagar. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

In June 2008, Mr. Sheikh started his journey of being trapped in the darkness of cells, from Kupwara Jail, North Kashmir, and was later sent to Udhampur Jail, finally rested in Kot Balwal jail in Jammu.

In 2010, he was again detained from his home in April and was kept in multiple police stations of the city. This was followed by the 2010 civilian uprising from June, and he was later released on 10 February 2011.

As it happened, he found it hard to continue his studies, due to regular detentions but went ahead with them anyway.

He was again picked up by the forces in 2012 and was forced by the circumstances to quit the studies. “The authorities decided to send him out of the Valley, but we protested hard against it. They hit him with a gun butt on his head and handcuffed him,” said Uzma Jan, Mr. Sheikh’s younger sister. Due to the legal liabilities of his injuries, he wasn’t sent out of the Valley.

Remembering the past, Ms. Jan said, “We held many protests demanding his release; once they even resorted to teargas shelling during the protest, and I had foot injuries.”  

Questioning the “so-called democratic setup of India”, Mr. Mohiudin said, “Forces lodged FIR against my family for protesting the demand of Mushtaq’s release.”

After a couple of years, on 13 September 2013, he was again slapped with PSA, which landed him in Kupwara jail. Though, on 2 January 2014, Jammu and Kashmir High Court quashed it. In the meantime, he continued with his life.

Soon, the Valley was hit by 2016 civilian uprising, and Mr. Sheikh had no choice but sit quietly in his home. But, police forces used to ring their family to get the updates of his whereabouts.

In an infamous incident of DSP Ayub Pandit’s lynching on 23 June 2017, and as per the family, Mr. Sheikh was detained on 25 June 2017 for next couple of months, citing “his false role in the accident.”

Till they lost the last penny

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Parents of Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh at their home, while narrating the story of their son’s ordeal. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

The shrinking stairs leading to a tiny dark room in the Nowhatta, Srinagar, the family of Mr. Sheikh is breathing the last air available amid the clutter of hidden items. At least, when the family has no visitor, the room adjusts itself to make space for seven people to sleep.

Mr. Mohiudin, a daily wage laborer, went under urgent surgery for Hernia in 2009. With his only son behind the bars, four unmarried daughters at home, the family lost their financial spine with immediate effect.

The family consists of a brother, and seven sisters, among them, one is mentally challenged. While elder three have been married, the remaining four stay with the family.

The government forces have raided Mr. Sheikh’s house countless times. “I hardly remember how often they have raided my house. And every time they questioned, where is Mushtaq?” said Mr. Mohiudin. In the mean-years, as per family, in vengeance of not finding Mr. Sheikh during the nocturnal raids, now the elderly looking Mr. Mohiudin was arrested several times as well.

Only dark days were ahead for the family: Shaheena Jan, the then 56-year-old mother of Mr. Sheikh, working as a helping-staff in a private school in Srinagar, went under multiple surgeries due to stones in her kidney in 2010. The infamous civilian uprising of 2010, in the backdrop of the staged encounter of three young men from Nadihal village, Baramulla, burnt the Valley once more — forces raided alleys and, soon, Mr. Sheikh was behind the bars again.

Entire savings ran out in scissors and surgeries, and the in-air kicks to get the last hope of the family, Mr. Sheikh, out of the bars.

We had a dream

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Another sister of Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh, as she can’t go out, due to her health condition. Photograph by Bhat Burhan for The Kashmir Walla

The youngest in the family, Ms. Jan said, “It was my dream to study and support my family with finances; but it remained a dream,” and her childhood went on streets, protesting against her brother’s continuous detention. Amid the unending struggle, the attendance took the last-seat, and the dream went in vain.

Now, when Ms. Jan is not calculating her brother’s detentions, she attends computer classes.

Though born and brought up in an economically weak family, Mr. Sheikh always dreamt of driving a bus. Today, he leaves home at dawn, gives directions to the driver, collects money from the passengers as a conductor with private bus service.

Mr. Sheikh’s family never lost hopes and are still fighting for justice. With the passing time, the regular face-off with the in-jail experience, now 22-year-old has gone silent and doesn’t socialize much.

“Police used to call my son, ‘Mushtaq Don’,” said the father of the teenager — a teenager — who stood handcuffed behind the bars.

His mother, 65-year-old Ms. Jan, now only wishes to visit back to her son — standing in front of the mirror in the same school uniform, with the same up-to-life attitude — the same Mushtaq Ahmad Sheikh.

Bhat Burhan is a Multimedia Reporter at The Kashmir Walla.

This is the first part story of our series PSA: Prisoners of Systematic Abuse

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