Illustration by Anis Wani for The Kashmir Walla
Kashmir Valley had been resilient for 6 years. There were voices under the carpet. Half of the 2016 passed, and calendar hit July; after the first week Valley had the killing of rebel commander Burhan Wani, triggering the voice, leading to another mass civilian uprising. Aside from humongous killings, protests, and shutdowns, many Hurriyat activists/leaders were detained and slapped with the Public Safety Act (PSA). Some of them are still in the different jails, while their families are trying hard to get them out.
The Kashmir Walla reached out to the families of three Hurriyat activists, who are behind the bars, where women have taken the responsibility for their families, going through a tough and miserable life, but denying to give up the hope.
Naseema Bano, and Baseerat
Memandar, a village almost 40-kilometers away from Srinagar, where people are known for their struggle and persistence; and here, lives a family of 8 in merely two rooms of a school building for the last five years now. The head of the family, 55-year-old, Mohammad Yousuf Mir, is a prominent Hurriyat activist from Shopian—who has been forced into jail since October 2017. What is left behind of an economically torn family is the mother, 48-year-old Naseema Bano, four daughters, and two younger sons.
Usually, Baseerat*, the eldest daughter of Mr. Mir, starts her day by feeling the absence of her father. She was only 18-months-old when she saw her father being taken away in jail for the first time. Father’s absence came with social isolation, and it made Baseerat*, as she says, adamant and fearless.
Living, and breathing in two small rooms of a school building, Ms. Baseerat is preparing for the upcoming junior assistant exams in one of the rooms, while in a separate small kitchen on the ground floor, the family is waiting for their father’s release. As Ms. Baseerat puts it, “Things would not have been scattered in our lives, if ‘Abbu’ (father) would have been with us.”
To support her siblings economically, who are studying in different classes right now, Ms. Baseerat has also joined a local private school nearby as a teacher.
Ms. Naseema, sitting beside her daughters, recalls the hard, but a daring life, they have been living since more than 20 years.“It has been 25 years to our marriage, and there was hardly any day my husband was home.”
Counting on fingers, she recalls the names of different jails in the valley in which her husband has been detained: “Kathua, Kot Balwal, Harinawas, and…,” continue, “he has spent most of his life in jail.”
The mother has left no stone un-turned in taking care of the children, and to help them achieve to their goal. “It’s the support of our ammi (mother) which keeps us going. She is very strict when it comes to our education,” Ms. Baseerat said. “She keeps us out of the atmosphere where we might come under the shadow of the fact that our abbu is in jail and the overall treatment by the authorities over these years.’’
But, as per Ms. Baseerat, the situations are not normal, “no matter how brave, but in real we pretend in front of other families.” Books were lying in front of her, and she said, “Most complicated thing is not that we don’t own a big house, but it is a life without peace of mind.”
“If abbu would have been with us, we would have had mental peace. We don’t care that we have certain problems at home because when I see other people suffering more than us, I thank God for keeping us alive and helping us to get a proper education.”
Whenever Mr. Mir’s PSA gets quashed, he is being slapped with another PSA, which is an act empowered by the government to declare stringent states of emergency and increased penalties for protesting against or supporting the repeal of a law.
Currently, Mr. Mir is serving his 3rd PSA. He hasn’t been home since October 2017; since then his elder daughter has completed her Post graduation in Islamic studies, and another one cleared her 12th grade with distinction.
She only remembers his farewell words from her last meeting, three weeks back, “Don’t ever lose hope.”
Currently, Dilshada Bano, a 38-year-old woman, is visiting different hospitals for her heart-related problems. Her husband, 40-year-old Javaid Ahmad Falay, is in the jail serving PSA since September 2016. Mr. Falay had joined Hurriyat roughly seven years before, “to join the cause for freedom struggle,” says his 70-year-old mother, Jana Begum.
Living with her two children—Huzaif and Hazif—Dilshada stays with her in-laws.
Ms. Begum, eyes sunken in, recalls how her family was harassed when a local militant, Zubair Turray, was killed in an encounter. “Local police came and broke all the mirrors of our house, and my younger son was held for weeks as he (Javaid Sabah) was not at home, they (police) said unless your son will not address himself in the police station. He will be kept in jail.”
With time, the arrest of Mr. Falay became a schedule, and both of the minor sons, Husaif and Hazif, in such moments, became used to shriek in fear and sit in the laps of their grandparents.
Balpora, a small village that is 3.5 kilometers from Shopian; 35-year-old Shaheena lives with her two children—3-year-old Ahyan, and 9-year-old Ibn-Muslim—in a single-storey building. Her husband, 39-year-old Mohammad Nadeem Malik is locked in the jails since January 2017.
Mr. Malik joined Tehreek-i-Hurriyat in the year 2004, and per family, “since then, PSAs have become a routine.”
In 2008, he got his first PSA and the family fought for him in the court of law. After his release, his house was raided several times by police and the army from the local camp of Balpora. At times, his nephew or his elder brother would be the one, facing the wrath of police when Mr. Malik wasn’t home.
Things became worse for the family after 2016 civilian uprising.
Ms. Shaheena alongside her children moved from the earlier neighborhood after being regularly harassed. She has been the backbone for her children while her husband is serving his jail term.
“In 2017, Jammu and Kashmir police raided our house regularly, and their father usually stayed out of home to prevent the arrests,” Ms. Shaheena said. “He would come home to see his children, that too when we knew it would not be risky.”
After serving five months in different jails, as per her, the FIR was lodged on Mr. Malik in June 2017 and was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar. After more than 750 days in the different jails, Mr. Malik was shifted from Kot Balwal jail to Central jail Srinagar on remand only a few days ago.
The family has been waiting for his release all these years and will continue to do so.
Quratulain Rehbar is a features writer at The Kashmir Walla