My neighbour, a PSA detainee
By Ikram Ullah
During the raging summer of 2010 in Kashmir, I woke up one night to the raucous growling and snarling of dogs in the vicinity. It was a time when Kashmir was on the boil and the unrest of summer 2010 was greatly in progress. On a daily basis, I would read and hear about the night raids by the Police at the houses of those suspected as being part of the protests. My first reaction to the blustering cries from the neighboring house that night was to rush out and see what disaster had struck home this time. However, thoughts of night blitzkrieg and arrests under Public Safety act (PSA) flashed through my mind and held me restrained. Back to the bed I went with intense thoughts of desaparecidos of Argentina during the late 1970s under President Videla whence I conceived that Pinochet’s dirty policies of arresting whoever raised a voice against the government had its takers even today in places that so shamelessly flaunted their ‘democracy’.
The following morning my ‘waking-up late’ habit was subdued by the curiosity of the events of the last night and when I reached the bakers shop I found people already rambling on about the raid. Someone soon confirmed that three boys: Mohammad Omar, Taffazul and Firdous (names changed) from our colony had been arrested. Immediately after, people started paying visits to the families of the three, invigorating their fathers and consoling their wailing mothers. Somebody boasted of his connections with the police and assured quick release while others simply prayed for their well-being. Eventually, people started to leave and I too departed with the resounding of the wails echoing in my head.
For days the family members of the arrested youth tried to glean information about the whereabouts of their sons. “We went from one police station to another, pleading acquiescence of our loved ones, but they would blatantly deny having any knowledge of our sons!” says mother of Taffazul. Eventually, it was confirmed that they were being held at Parimpora Police Station, Srinagar. After 17 days from that eventful night, while on my way towards home, I heard that two of the boys were released while Mohammad Omar was still in the prison. Changing my route, I found myself at the home of Taffazul. There was a crowd of people gathered, everyone trying to take a look at this spectacle. People were asking him about prison and torture. Some women were crying and enbosoming and squeezing him so tight that he would squeal.
“We were lodged in a cell with another ten people charged with the same offence. Every night they would bring more and more men and boys some as young as fifteen. They would slap us every now and then and if we resisted their beating, more and more men would join their conquest. Together they would kick and punch us like savages,” Taffazul said. With these last words a shrieking voice overtook his rather calm persona and tears started rolling down his cheeks. He unbuttoned his shirt and revealed his bruised back. It was a vivifying force that led to a tumultuous uproar of cries and I too could not hold back my tears. The heart-wrenching, puss filled wounds on his back left a numbness in my legs and I chose to go home rather than paying a visit to Firdous, much against the traditions of Kashmir.
In a few days, the news of Mohammad Omar being booked under the PSA came as loathe to the entire colony. He had been shifted to Kotbalwal Jail in Jammu. It was in August of 2011, after 14 months in prison that he was eventually released pertaining to the conditions put forward by the authorities. “After much pleading and beseeching, they released him. However, we had to provide two sureties into the bond with conditions that he would not indulge into any anti-state/ Law or order activity and that he would not leave the jurisdiction of the concerned District Magistrate without permission,” said Omar’s father.
I met Omar after twenty days of his release. During this time he was undergoing medical treatment for the dislocated disc in his back. I saw a lame and lacerated Omar, lying on the bed, infirmity apparent in his tone. In much a dawdling manner he began to talk to me and started to recount the most horrible experience of his life. “I was shifted from Parimpora to Shaheed Gunj Police Station and then to Kotbalwal. There were many PSA detainees, all in a very pitiful shape. The cells were small and occupied with three times more men than they could hold. It would stink and fetor of the sweat. The stench was so severe that I would convulse but as days passed I became accustomed to it. In summer it contrived many diseases due to the poor hygiene and my health began to deteriorate. Moreover, we had torture sessions there wherein each one of us would be beaten to pulp, sometimes with wooden sticks and sometimes the fists would grapple all over the body,” Omar told me.
As I was talking to Omar his mother entered with a plastic box and started to give him medicine. I was taken aback by a fit of paroxysm when Omar revealed his arms and legs for his mother to apply ointment on the burn wounds. They were a specific type, circular in shape, with a ring of puss due to infection – typical of cigarette burn scars when it is stubbed out on skin.
“I pray to God that these burn wounds do not leave scars on his skin and that God takes care of his dislocated disc so that he can walk again,” his mother, with tears streaming down her cheeks, wished. As I left for home a pang of pain and twinge of horror clobbered my mind for the jeopardized future of Omar and thousands of others booked under PSA. According to news sources almost 4100 men have been booked under PSA from March 2010 to January 2011 alone. In a 70 page report by Amnesty International entitled “Lawless Law”, it says “the Government of India is using PSA as a revolving door to keep people they cannot convict through proper legal procedure”. It further states that “around 20000 persons have been detained under draconian PSA for the past two decades”.
My personal experience with three of my young neighbors arrested for protesting against the inhumane killing of civilians by police and paramilitary forces in Kashmir have left me convinced that some establishments believe in crushing any response against them. But how long can they stand? We witnessed a situation in Egypt where a despot was brought to his knees after he relentlessly tried to break any voice that was raised against his atrocities. I see the latent peace in Kashmir a result of that pulverizing force that quelled the voices in Kashmir standing for a legitimate cause. When a people are subjected to torturous behavior and subjected to blindness and dumbness by force, they start to feel desolated and anger enkindles like unquenchable fire in the heart. Eventually, he gives it fuel when it can be controlled no more. The last summer uprisings in the Middle East serve as a perfect example to us. They were stimulated by the self immolation of Bouazizi in Tunisia. Now, the Government of India should look beyond the façade of peace in Kashmir and attempt to listen well and good to the disgruntled voices of the Kashmiris or a spark – and Kashmir will be up in flames again.