Un-ending Tragedies IV: To meet her jailed son, this Kashmiri mother is begging door to door

Zamrooda making arrangements to meet her son Asif, who has been detained in Agra jail of Uttar Pradesh.

By TCN Correspondent

SRINAGAR: This year marks a new beginning for 42-years-old Zamrooda. A resident of Batamaloo area of Srinagar and originally a homemaker, now has a new daily schedule.

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She leaves home early every morning, visiting charity and philanthropic organizations in the city to raise money for her travel to Agra. Her early morning expeditions are driven by her urge to see her incarcerated son, imprisoned in a jail in Agra city, Uttar Pradesh.

 Zamrooda’s son, Asif Ahmad Khushoo, 22, was arrested on August 5 last year and booked under the repressive Public Safety Act (PSA) and transferred to a jail 1600 kilometres away from his home. Asif was arrested along with thousands of other youth, political leaders and activists when Hindu right-wing BJP-led Indian government quashed Article 370 of the Indian constitution – that granted limited autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir, bifurcating the state into two federally ruled territories.

The Public Safety Act (PSA), 1978, of Jammu & Kashmir is an administrative detention law that allows detention of any individual for up to two years without a trial or charge. But in some cases, the Act makes provisions for the detained person to be informed about the reason of custody, and also gives them an opportunity to make a case against their detention to the government. However, the detaining authority is not required to reveal any facts “which it considers being against the public interest to disclose”. This Act which extends to the whole of Kashmir has been described as “Lawless Law” by Amnesty International, that has further accused India of misusing it on Kashmiris.

Following the scrapping of the semi-autonomy status of Kashmir, the Union government of India had expected a widespread protest from the people and in their attempt to keep everything under control, the government snapped all means of communication including the internet. The government simultaneously placed restrictions and detained anyone whom they saw as ‘potential threat’ to ‘public order’. As reports suggest, more than 5000 people have been detained during the lockdown across the region.

 “We don’t have any money to travel such a long distance to meet Asif. Ever since I came to know that my son shivers in cold in jail, I have had sleepless nights,” says Zamrooda. She lives in a single-storied house and doesn’t even have money to finish the construction of their house, explains a sobbing Zamrooda. It is her first time that she is struggling across charity and welfare organizations, holding a letter signed and stamped by the local committee certifying her poverty. It was through her neighbour, whose son is lodged in the same jail as Asif’s, that Zamrooda came to know about her son’s condition in jail.

“I just want to meet my son once. He needs warm clothes,” she adds. It has been six months since she has seen her son and every morning she runs from pillar to post to collect money for her trip to Agra, often traveling on foot to different areas in Srinagar seeking monetary help from ordinary people. Asif’s parents had collected warm clothes to send him across but haven’t been able to do so yet. The travel to Agra costs nearly INR 25000 and as of now, Zamrooda has managed to collect only INR 9000.

Asif is a school dropout whose family’s poor economic conditions compelled him to join his father’s work of selling shoes on a makeshift cart in Srinagar. On the best days, the father-son duo would make 1000 INR, which is roughly 20 USD. Today, with Asif’s detention and no work for many months after August 5, his family is helpless.

Asif PSA’s dossier, a copy of which lies with TwoCircles.net, describes him as a threat to “law and order”, invoking old cases registered against him in 2016 – when a massive public uprising erupted in Kashmir following the killing of popular militant leader Burhan Wani.

Un-ending Tragedies series’s other parts are here:

Un-ending Tragedies I- Abrogation of Article 370 Aftermath: How a Kashmiri mother struggles to meet her son in jail

Un-ending Tragedies II: How Kashmiris are struggling to meet their kin detained outside

Un-ending Tragedies III: ‘We embraced and wept’, Father on meeting jailed son after 60 days

“Since then, he hasn’t participated in any protests,” says Mushtaq Ahmed Khushoo, Asif’s father. Denying all charges against his son, Mushtaq says that the current detention is based solely on six old FIRs filed in 2016.He informed TwoCircles.net  that his son was arrested under PSA during the 2016 summer unrest in Kashmir and had spent eleven months in Kathua jail in Jammu.

Struggles of Asif’s family to meet their son in faraway jails in India are not unique to the region. Scores of families whose children have been detained since August last year have been unable to meet them due to their poor economic conditions escalated due to the lockdown. Hundreds of these detained youths who are sent to jails outside the Valley, have rendered it impossible for their families to meet them or, initially inquire of their well-being due to a communication blockade that persisted for nearly six months.

While several political leaders have been released since then, the youths booked under PSA are still lodged in jails thousands of kilometres away from home. Government says they detained 444 people under PSA since 5th August, out of which 389 are still behind bars.

A recent report by the region’s prominent Human Rights groups reveal that nearly 37.4 percent of the detainees in PSA related cases have been shifted to jails in various states across India. The report concludes that the decision to shift hundreds of detainees to jails outside Kashmir was done to ‘break the will of the people’.

Prominent Human Rights activist, Khurram Parvez argues, “The intent of the government was to persecute them. Through this persecution they created fear among the masses so that there is no scope for public mobilization against the abrogation of Article 370.”

Human Rights lawyer Mir Urfi, who works at Srinagar District Court, explains that it is difficult for lawyers in the region to fight those cases of detainees lodged outside the Valley. “It’s difficult to contest the cases because we are unable to talk to them. We contest cases on the narratives of their families. But it’s important for the case to hear the account from the detainees themselves,” says Urfi. She adds that many families can’t afford legal aid. Even if some may afford, the detention outside Kashmir affects the process of redress.