Arjumand Andrabi | Caravan Daily
KUPWARA (J&K) — A Kashmiri song playing on the radio placed on one side of the broad earthen ledge of the window, Naseema Bano stood still, looking out, longing for her husband’s return home.
Shattered dreams, wet eyes, shivering lips, dusty hands holding a photograph, 40-year-old Naseema Bano, is on a long wait for the last four months, and does not have an inkling as to when her husband would return home. She does not know where her husband could now be.
Naseema Bano, a mother of seven children, says that her husband, 45-year-old Mohammad Maqbool Dar of Saiwan Lolab — a small village in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district – had been called over phone several times by the local police for some normal enquiry.
“When we received several calls from the police, my husband went to the station on August 3, after offering the Asar prayers. He never returned home,” said Naseema, putting a log of wood into the Bukhari, the heating appliance used mostly in older times for warming up the room.
Naseema Bano is among thousands of women in Kashmir whose husband has been detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), after the central government abrogated Article 370, which had granted special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and bifurcated the state into two Union Territories on August 5.
The central government’s announcement was followed by a heavy clampdown, imposition of curfew, placement of barbed wires and barricades on roads, a communication blackout, mass arrests and detentions.
According to media reports, almost 4,000 people have been detained under PSA. Among them, more than 100 are said to be between ages 9 and 14. However, local people say the figure might be higher.
PSA allows the forces to detain individuals over age 16 without trial for two years. Earlier, the law was implemented mainly against timber smugglers, and then extended to political prisoners.
Those detained under the act were generally kept within the state. But, after the amendment in law in August 2018, it allows individuals to be detained outside the state as well. Several international human rights organisations have stated that the act went against the basic human rights and the Geneva Convention; and it is considered as the most draconian law.
Wiping the tears dripping down her wrinkled cheeks, Naseema said, “After a few days, we managed to go to the police station amid curfew. There, we were told my husband was shifted to another jail.”
Her neighbour, Mohammad Ramzan, interrupted the conversation to say Dar has been shifted to a jail in Agra and slapped with PSA. Naseema cut him short by saying, “The PSA is imposed on those who are a threat to public life, but my husband is innocent, he has done no wrong.”
While talking, Naseema often gasped for breath. She is suffering from a heart disease for the past three years and dependent on medicines. “I have not been able to take the medicine for the last two months. The medicines are quite expensive and I cannot afford them,” said Naseema, sighing.
Dar is a labourer and the sole bread-winner of the family of nine members. This was not the first time Dar was called by police for enquiry; he was often called up after a case of clash with a neighbour was filed against him.
After Dar’s detention, the family started facing serious financial crisis. Dar’s 15- year-old son Adil had to leave his studies and he took up work for the family’s upkeep. “It’s difficult to get work every day. Many a time, I don’t find work and have to sit back at home for days. This becomes problematic for the family,” said Adil.
Locals took the initiative of helping the family by collecting some money from homes in the neighborhood a few days ago. One of them said, “We are also poor and yet could not ignore their misery. We somehow managed to help them to an extent.”
Meanwhile, Naseema said the family received a letter from Dar on October 24.
Naseema is illiterate and cannot read. Neighbours read the letter out to her, in which Dar asked the family to arrange some money for him. “When neighbours collected the money for us, we took some from it and sent to him,” said Naseema, lamenting over the family’s fate.
Since the abrogation of Article 370, army personals were deployed on a large scale in the Valley. This increased the insecurity level among women. Many a time, army personnel have been accused of harassing and exploiting the local women.
“As Dar is detained and my son is sometimes out for the work, I remain petrified with my three small children including two grown-up daughters at home. I was worried about the security of my daughters and finally decided to send them to their maternal home,” said Naseema, while softly moving her hands through her youngest son Sajid’s hair.
Dar’s two sons, Sajid and Asif, have been told that their father has gone to the city for some work.
Naseema said, “Sajid and Asif used to fight with each other over sleeping with their Aba, but now it has been a period of four months they have not even seen him.”
Sajid said he now sleeps with his mother but never slept with the comfort he got from being with Aba. He kept on asking his mother, “Mama, Abba kab aayenge, mjhe unki yaad aati hai.”
Several youngsters have been detained, some of them with no reason, and they are subjected to torture and later on released after slapping PSA on them, families said.
The 24-year-old Bilal Ahmad Dar, a driver at Cheerkoot Lolab, a village in Kupwara, was detained on the night of August 30, slapped with PSA and released after three months; on November 25.
“It was 10 at night and I was on my bed when army and police personnel knocked on the door. We got apprehensive. After opening the door, they said their vehicle has broken down and sought my help to drive them to the police station by my own vehicle. Since we were facing many problems in terms of money due to the lockdown, we found a ray of hope in them,” said Bilal.
“As we reached the Sumo, they suddenly started beating me up. Before I could say anything, they started abusing me and my family. All I could hear them saying was that “You are a stone-pelter and we are taking you to the police station.” They beat my parents and my sisters in front of me. They didn’t even spare my 60-year-old father. They hit me hard on my back with a thick, long stick. I vomited blood, my whole body got wet and I fell unconscious,” continued Bilal.
According to locals, Bilal was taken away from his home late at night in a hideous way. The security forces treated Bilal and his family like animals, which left the people in the village in a state of shock for days.
Bilal’s 40-year-old mother, Shahmala begum, sat peeling the potatoes. Trying to recount that day, she said, “I kept on screaming and pleading with them not to take my only son away. I kept saying he was innocent. They pushed me aside forcefully, and I fell on the floor and got hurt. Then they dragged my unconscious son to the jeep and took him to the police station.”
Bilal’s two young sisters were still in shock as to whatever happened to them.
“After that day, our life got completely changed. It was really hell. Going to the police station to meet Bilal became our routine. After a couple of days, Bilal was shifted to the Central Jail in Srinagar, more than 100km from Kupwara. Whenever we went to meet Bilal at the police station, we were treated harshly there. Cops harassed us in the name of checking and security,” said Shahmala.
Locals said the police and army often raided the village in the name of search operations. “Whenever they conducted the search, they used abusive language and checked every nook and corner of our houses.” This scared the villagers, especially girls and children.
According to Bilal, there were several people including children in the jail along with him. He said most of them didn’t even know why they were detained. They were in a state of distress and anxiety.
After three months of detention under PSA and torture, Bilal was released on November 25, saying his arrest was a case of mistaken identity. “When I and my parents kept screaming that I was innocent, nobody listened. Now I am released. Who will take the responsibility for all what happened to me and my family? I am not able to drive properly, though this is the only source of livelihood for our family. I am going through a psychological trauma. We feel living in a lawless state, no governance, no leadership, no justice…,” Bilal said.
Police officials confirmed the detentions. According to cops, they picked Bilal up after an incident of stone-pelting in the area. “Bilal was detained under preventive measures and released after some time. His PSA case was quashed on some conditions,” said the SHO of the police station. However he did not comment on the allegations of torture.
“Maqbool was also detained under preventive measures and later on slapped with PSA. He was shifted from here to another jail. We do not have any information about the further custody of the detainees,” police officials said, and cut short the conversation.