On the afternoon of 15 December, Zamrooda Bano sat on the veranda of her home along with her three daughters, grandchildren, and some neighbors. They were all waiting for a phone call from Bano’s husband, Mohammad Shafi Rather. The phone rang, silencing the gathering.
Shafi had gone to New Delhi just two days ago to meet their son, 24-year-old Reyaz Rather, who had visited the city for the first time. “Our son is taken in remand for fourteen days. How do I come back home now,” he told Bano, crying as he spoke.
Reyaz, along with a relative, was arrested by the Delhi Police in an alleged militancy case. Bano consoled Shafi, told him to be strong but broke down as soon as the phone call had ended.
Her wailing pierced through the stillness of her village, Nasrullahpora in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. Within minutes, neighbors began pouring in to console a visibly distraught Bano. “Ye kya trath peiye khudayoo (Oh god, what calamity has befallen us),” she screamed on the top of her lungs. “Why did they take you my innocent son.”
On 8 December, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell) Pramod Singh Kushwah claimed that “two Punjab based criminals were supposed to receive some money from three Kashmiris”; the five men, all residents of Budgam district, it was further claimed, “were arrested after a brief exchange of fire from the Laxmi Nagar area in Delhi.”
The Rather family, however, insisted that the Reyaz had only gone to New Delhi to make purchases for machinery spare parts — to be used in their small workshop, where they manufacture gas stoves — that are sold at exorbitant rates in Kashmir. “But look at us, this has cost us even more,” said Mohammad Siddique, an uncle and business partner of Reyaz. “We are ruined now.”
“Who should I ask for help?”
On 4 December, Reyaz had left for New Delhi, along with his relative Shabir Ahmad Gojri in his own car, intending to return within four days. That morning, Shaista Jan, 27, made breakfast and packed clothes for her husband Gojri, who trades in used cars and often travels to New Delhi. This time, however, he had also hoped to pay obeisance at the Ajmer Sharif shrine in Rajasthan. But the next morning, Gojri called Jan to say that he was going to return on the following day, 6 December, itself.
By afternoon, when Jan called Gojri at about 1 pm, his phone was switched off — by this time, the phones of all three men were switched off. “I continued calling on the number till 1 in the night.” she said. “I didn’t sleep that night.”
It wasn’t until the next day, 7 December, when Jan was informed by her sister-in-law that Grojri was arrested by the Delhi Police. Jan finally spoke with her husband on 15 December, facilitated over the phone by her brother-in-law who had gone to visit Gojri. “I will return home,” he had reassured Jan. “Take care of the children and don’t worry.” Jan was reserved in the “two minute long conversation” as she didn’t want to “upset him” while he was in detention.
“In this one week, I heard almost seven different news regarding them,” a fearful Jan said. “They can even accept all the charges right now as they will be tortured,” she thinks, but the story is different, referring to the ‘fake charges.’
Married for 11 years, Jan fondly showed a picture of Gojri wearing a white skull cap and their two children in his arms at the Ajmer Sharif shrine. She swiped to show a vehicle surrounded by the police. “This is our car that they hit and took away everything from me,” she said, pushing back tears.
This wasn’t the first time that the Delhi Police had arrested Kashmiri youth. In the past several Kashmiri youth have been jailed on charges of militancy and plotting blasts in various Indian cities — only to be acquitted by courts several years, even decades, later. “Losing so many years of life in jail is not less than a hell,” Jan said. “Where do I go and who should I ask for help?”
“He is an elderly person”
About ten kilometers from Nasrullahpora, in a village called Gandipora, 65-year-old Mohammad Ayoub Pathan, who runs a small wood joinery workshop, had also left his home on 5 December, for New Delhi to purchase electrical supplies for his newly constructed house. Ayoub reached Nasrullahpora at about 8 am, where he joined Gojri, who is a friend, and Reyaz for the journey on to New Delhi.
Like others, his family, too, received the news of his arrest from the word of mouth. A neighbour had panicked after reading the news of his arrest on social networking sites and reached their residence—the “news item” had falsely stated that the three Kashmiri men were killed in the exchange of fire. His wife Naseema Bano had fainted hearing this, said Ayoub’s nephew. Muzamil Bhat, 25. “We didn’t know what had happened,” he said.
It wasn’t until more of their neighbours had told the Pathan family that the three men were arrested and not killed that they had calmed down. “If it was my younger brother or my cousin, I might have believed it considering their age, as young blood boils,” said Bhat. “But he is an elderly person.”
Bhat added: “I would spend most of my time with him. If they tell me, they have had an accident and killed someone, I might have believed it but the allegations that they are putting on him are baseless.”
In one of the corners of the room, the youngest daughter of Ayoub, Iqra Pathan, 21, sat expressionless as she looked at Bhat as he talked about her father’s arrest. “When she heard it the first time,” said Bhat, “she couldn’t sleep. I had to take her to the hospital in the middle of the night as she fainted and we thought we would lose her even before losing our uncle.”
Ayoub’s elder daughter, Shagufta Pathan, questioned the Delhi Police: “If they found the ammunition, drugs or the guns in Delhi, there are many checkpoints from here to Delhi, how is it possible that they didn’t find it anywhere before.”
No one from the Pathan family has gone to Delhi, so far, to meet Ayoub. They said that it would require a lot of money, which they don’t have. Ayoub built his home after selling one kanal from the land he owned in the village. “The same 30 thousand that we would have to spend for meeting him for two minutes,” said Bhat, “would be enough to run their household for almost two months.”
Bhat said that while he couldn’t vouch for the innocence of Reyaz and Gojri, “I can speak for him [Ayoub] only. All I can say is that he is being framed in the wrong way.” He speculated that the vehicle’s Kashmir number plate made it easier for the police to “frame them.”
Ayoub’s youngest child, Idrees-ul-Pathan, 16, hasn’t been able to study since his arrest. “Some people suggest we go to the Governor [Manoj Sinha] and tell him about our problems but I believe only Allah can help us now,” he said. “We don’t trust anyone else. They can keep them for years but eventually truth prevails, that’s what we believe.”