200 days of Kashmir siege: A mother’s wait for her jailed son
Hundreds of Kashmiris have been thrown into jail under PSA law that can prolong detention without bail.
Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir – Ateeqa Begum has made several rounds of the courts since her son, Faisal Aslam Mir, was detained on August 6 last year, a day after India revoked Kashmir’s autonomy.
Thursday marks 200 days since the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a crippling security and communications lockdown in the Muslim-majority region, with thousands of Kashmiris locked up as part of the crackdown.
Mir, 22, is among hundreds of people in Indian-administered Kashmir detained under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which has been dubbed “draconian” by Amnesty International. Many of the detainees have been moved to jails across India.
Ateeqa says her son was arrested when he left his home in the Maisuma locality of Srinagar, the region’s main city, to buy medicine.
She longs to meet Mir, who has been moved to a jail in Agra city, about 1,100km from Srinagar. But she can not afford to travel. Her husband, Muhammad Aslam Mir, died more than a decade ago leaving behind two children, including a daughter who is now married.
From the past seven months, Ateeqa says she visits government offices, attends court hearings and visits shrines with a hope her son will be freed.
“He was my whole world and his absence is driving me mad,” she says.
“Everyone – neighbours, relatives – tell me that I should have patience but how much?” asks Ateeqa at her home, where she lives alone. “I just want to see him once so that I can have some peace. I do not know about his condition.”
Ateeqa is fighting multiple battles for her son as her health deteriorates; she suffers from sleeplessness, high blood pressure and mood swings.
“I feel very helpless,” she told Al Jazeera as she waits for another court hearing scheduled for March 2.
“It seems my whole world has collapsed without him. He is the purpose of my life and I will not stop fighting to free him.”
A police dossier says that her son was involved in “secessionist activities and creating large-scale violence in the area”.
In most of the PSA cases, the detainees have been booked under the charges of “creating violence and law and order problems”.
Three former chief ministers of the region, which has witnessed an armed rebellion since the late 1980s, have also been detained under the PSA. The separatists have been fighting for independence or a merger with neighbouring Pakistan. The Muslim-majority region is disputed by both India and Pakistan.
A senior police official defended the detention of young Kashmiri men, many of them accused of stone-pelting.
“An exercise was conducted to identify chronic stone-pelters having multiple FIRs (first information reports or police complaints) registered against them to keep them out of circulation,” the official told Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity.
“Preventive detention law was invoked to deter other such elements and to send a strong message down the line.”
Ateeqa says her son used to take part in protests some years ago, but recently he was living a normal life and worked at a shop as a salesman.
“The government is humiliating our children and not letting them live.”
The removal of Article 370, which granted Kashmir a measure of autonomy, was revoked by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had campaigned to strip the region’s special status.
Kashmiri activists fear that the abrogation of Article 370 changed the geographical realities in Kashmir by removing a seven-decades-old law that had protected the demography of the region.
While some restrictions have been eased, a partial ban on the internet continues with a complete ban on the use of social media.
A report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society says that 412 people have been booked under PSA from August 5 to December 31 last year.
For seven months, the delayed court hearings and the “hopeless justice system” have been taking a toll on their families.
Another case involves Bano, 45, whose youngest son has been detained under the same law and imprisoned in northern Uttar Pradesh’s Agra jail.
Bano, who gave only one name, says at midnight on August 2 last year, her son, Ahmad, 25, was sleeping in his room when the policemen arrived and took him away.
“The police told us that he will be released after an hour of questioning but it has been seven months now,” says Bano, adding that her mother-in-law died of a heart attack a day after Ahmad was shifted to Agra jail.
“She was very attached to him. She got insane when she heard he was taken far away. She went to the whole locality telling people about him and the next day she was sleeping and complained of chest pain,” she says, fighting tears.
The imprisonment of young men in distant jails has been difficult for the families, particularly single mothers like Ateeqa.
Both Mir and Ahmad have been detained for stone-pelting. Police documents say that they have been involved in causing previous violence as well.
Ghulam Muhammad Bhat’s son Aqib Bhat, 27, who sold crockery from a cart outside the region’s biggest mosque in Srinagar, also remains in detention under the PSA for stone-pelting.
“He used to take part in the protests in 2016 but now he was just doing his normal work,” says Bhat, who continues to work at his tailor’s shop despite bad health.
The 55-year-old says his son was called by police before August 5 and later “without any reason” booked and sent to a jail in Agra.
“My son is disabled. He was hit with pellets in his left eye and cannot see properly, still no mercy was shown on him. He has undergone multiple surgeries but the police are not letting our children live even if they stay away from the protest,” Bhat says.