sehar shah
Sehar Shah as a child with her father, Shabir Shah, and as teenager now (R). Photograph courtesy Sehar Shah

He called me Shera — a lion’s cub. I’m about eighteen. And I remember the government forces raiding my house when I was just five to arrest my father. I could barely talk straight, but I would shout — “Shah Shah, Shabir Shah!until a rakshak would take him away.

For the most of my life, I have been seeing my father through a window of glass; so small that I could barely see his face; so blurred that I couldn’t picture him but only his shadow-like-thing.

In the jail, I could neither touch him nor see him clearly; instead, I put my hand on the glass-window and so did my father. It felt like we were holding hands. From what I could figure out, he has turned so weak — like a skeleton.

Visiting my father, Shabir Shah, in Tihar Jail, New Delhi, has always been emotionally overwhelming for me; for long, we have been sitting on either side of the big wall – connected through a telephone. Once the jail authorities switch-off the telephone line, I couldn’t hear his voice anymore through the sound-proof glass.

Last time I met him in the jail, he said, “Shera, you’ve grown taller than your mother. You’ve become a big girl. Aap meri bahadur beti hai na? (Aren’t you a brave daughter?).”

But the journey from metro stations to my father in the jail was long. Female forces’ personnel would check me thoroughly at the gate of the jail; they used to grab my face so harshly – that it hurt – to check if I was hiding something in the mouth. And the rude abuses were harsh too.

Lights out. Suddenly, the authorities would shout – niklo niklo, mil liye bhohat! (Get out, the meeting is done).

“Your father will never be released” — I have had heard that innumerable times. I have been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. I have consulted doctors across India; I have been taking heavy doses of anti-psychotic drugs and anti-depressants too.

I was very attached to my father. And his continuous detention, the way they tortured him, interrogated him and kept him with criminals accused of rapes, murders, and thefts — where he couldn’t get enough food to eat — has become the reason behind my horrible medical condition. Now, these summons and suppression by the authorities are adding to my suffering.

My family receives summons by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with a money laundering case of 2005 against my father. But they keep summoning us with no reason. Despite all of that, I know he is locked up for a cause; for which, he has sacrificed his whole life – freedom of Kashmir.

Instead of becoming weak due to harassment, we became stronger; we prepared ourselves for the worst. Once the forces raided our home and took my tab. I had my childhood video and rhymes in that — I don’t know what they will do with that. Because my father has given his life for a cause, I must be strong too.

I recall an incident in 2019 when I had written a poem for him. I kept the paper, with my thoughts inked on it, in my pocket when I accompanied my mother to the jail.

In 2019, during my twelfth standard examinations, I could hear my father’s voice as I wrote the paper. I was so traumatised that, unlike earlier, I couldn’t stay up till Fajr.

At the checking point, a female cop frisked me; she removed my hijab, pulled my hair saying, “Tum aatankwadi ho.” (You are a terrorist). She found my poem. And she handed it over one of her colleagues, a Tamilian officer who couldn’t read English.

In aatankwadiyo or inke gharwalo ko sabse buri saza deni chaiye,” (These terrorists and their families should be punished badly) she said.

“It is a gift for my father,” I had said. Nonetheless, she called another cop and asked him to tear the poem in front of me. And spit on it. They laughed and spoke in the Tamilian language that I didn’t understand.

My mother, being aware of my medical condition took me away.

Back home in Srinagar, I would see my father everywhere. I was hallucinating; I thought my father is here with me.

I broke all the mirrors and glasses in the cupboards. 

In 2019, during my twelfth standard examinations, I could hear my father’s voice as I wrote the paper. I was so traumatised that, unlike earlier, I couldn’t stay up till Fajr. The high doses of medicines would make me sleep. And in the dreams, I would see my father again.

There was a dream I saw recurrently: my mother wakes me up and say, “Sehar, baba ko release kiya.” (Sehar, the father has been released). I would get up fast and cry loudly. I would ask my mother half asleep, “Baba, kahan hai? Niche hai? (Where is the father? Is he downstairs?)

My mother — Dr. Bilquees Shah, a doctor by profession — had to take childcare leave for me as my condition worsened in the first quarter of 2019. Meanwhile, she would also follow up on my father’s court case.

But despite innumerable and continuous miseries brought to my father, he remains steadfast, strong and brave, and unshakable in his commitment towards a cause; his resolve remains as strong as it was about fifty years back when he started his long and just struggle towards a much-cherished goal of resolving the Kashmir issue.

There are, indeed, many more that have valiantly struggled and suffered in different ways for the same cause; for the vindication and realization of the basic right of self-expression and other democratic rights. People languished in jails have encountered untold hardships and have made immense sacrifices. It not only affects them but their families too.

I have had seen months of Ramzan when my father would be under house-arrest, if not the jail. He would always check that our plates are full; and fuller of the policemen keeping a watch on him.

It felt so good when Baba would say, “Shera bhook lagi?” (Shera, are you hungry?) And I would deny saying, “Nahi, nahi. Nahi lagi.” (No, I’m not). A shared laughter would follow.

But this Ramzan, he is not at home. It is just me and my mother; and it feels so empty.

Sehar Shah is a student and will be joining college this year.

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