The newly coated metal dishes are readied and kept aside in the room of Zoona Begum. She is hopeful that one day, she will serve her sons and husband — detained at Central Jail in the capital for the last two years — in them.
Begum has been going to bed with a hope for a bail; every other morning but feels like a “doomsday”. “My sons were flying birds,” said the 70-year-old mother. “They were not meant to be in jails. This was the time for them to play.”
The trio of the Khan family, Bashir Ahmad Khan along with his two sons, 28-year-old Muzaffar Ahmad Khan and 26-year-old Mudasir Ahmad Khan were detained by the police after a gunfight in their locality in central Kashmir’s Budgam, Kanipora.
As per the new policy of the government forces, the owner of the house is often charged too where the gunfight takes place. The police have claimed that the militant was hiding in Khans’ house and a case was registered against Bashir. Another case was registered against the brothers for working and pricing aid to the militant organization.
In the middle of the night, on 28 June 2019, the family heard gunshots from a nearby orchard. The next morning, when they were having tea, a cordon was laid in their village of Chakpora, the government forces hurried inside the premises and started searching the house.
Begum and her daughter, 30-year-old Nusrat Bashir, were taken to a neighbor’s house as the government forces raided their house, she said. Later, the trio was detained.
Speaking with The Kashmir Walla, the family denied the allegations of the police. They argued that if the gunfight had happened at their place, how come there were no bullet marks on their house.
The Covid-19 lockdown has further delayed the judgment in their case as the court premises have mostly stayed out of bounds. Mir Urfi, a lawyer with a specialization in cases of human rights violations, told The Kashmir Walla that the first hearing in the trio’s case was recorded in January 2020. Until now, twenty-two hearings have been recorded.
The duplex house, constructed eight years ago, now lies silent. Ever since Begum’s last meeting with her sons in Central Jail in March this year, she has been hallucinating about her sons at the house.
She said she even listens to them saying, “Bobeh.” “I can hear them call my name but then I realize my pieces of heart are not here,” she said, sobbing.
The longing has made her weak and fragile – with each passing day, she gets sicker and older. Suffering from arthritis, she has not told her husband about it because she does not want him to get upset.
Sometimes, Begum said, she wants to go to a far-off place and cry her heart out. “I feel suffocated here,” she said, pointing her finger towards her heart, with a sigh.
The small dreams of Begum that her sons spend a blissful life remain unfulfilled. “I just want to keep them close to my heart like a mother keeps her newborn babies,” she said, wailing.
The adjacent rooms of the two brothers on the second floor are now lifeless. Inside Mudasir’s small uncolored room, a small mirror and a comb are kept on the shelf along with a decorative flower piece.
Although the room looked clean; the curtain holder that broke when the government forces barged into the house remained unfixed.
The elder son’s room looked somewhat similar. A dressing table with deodorant and a bottle of Ittar organized on it, lies in the left corner of the room. On the right side, a belt was hanging on the wall.
Begum has stopped going to either of the rooms ever since their detention. “I would smell my children in the rooms and it would break my heart to pieces. So, I stopped going,” she further said.
Amid the ruckus, the responsibilities are crushing Nusrat, she said. A tailor by profession is running her house; sometimes she stays up till late to earn a little extra money.
“I have to look after my mother otherwise I would have given up on everything, that’s how tired I am,” she said, sitting across a pile of clothes and her sewing machine.
Nusrat said that the family is in shambles as they feel helpless, unable to depend on anyone, and the absence of her father and brothers has brought them to a desperate state.
Although she tries to make herself understand that this is “a testing time from Allah” and they can’t do anything about it, she sometimes just “wants to cry but then I think about my mother.”
“If she gets depressed, what will I do? We just have each other.”
Begum’s illness has taken a different toll on Nusrat too. Being the only one near her, Nusrat now takes her to a doctor, and to buy medicines. “We wouldn’t have to suffer as much as we are suffering if at least one of our male members were here,” she lamented.
Although it is difficult to come out of a “suppressor’s cage”, Begum said that she is still hopeful that her sons will get justice and that they will come back home soon. “Every morning I wake up and I see my house burning,” she said, adding that she has only one wish: to see both of her sons getting freed and to hug them tight. “I can die peacefully after that,” she sighed.