Living In Conflict: Son Of Kashmiri Political Prisoners Longs To See Parents Out Of Jail

Ahmed Bin Qasim is one of the many displaced children in Indian Administered Kashmir.

Ahmed Bin Qasim understands that the cause for which his parents have sacrificed their lives is important but at the same time, it makes him question his emotions for longing to see them, which he fears might not happen given the current scenario in Kashmir.

For 21-year-old Ahmed Bin Qasim, the idea of a normal life never existed and the warmth of a family was always a far-fetched dream, as he is the displaced child of political prisoners in Indian Administered Kashmir.

Born in the winter of 1999, Qasim is the son of Kashmiri political prisoners Asiya Andrabi and Ashiq Hussain Faktoo — called the “Nelson Mandela of Kashmir” on account of his prolonged imprisonment and academic accomplishments in prison.

Asiya Andrabi is the head of Dukhtran-e-Millat, Daughters of the Faith, a women’s Islamic group in Indian-administered Kashmir, which has been banned by the Indian government.

Speaking to Core Middle East, Qasim narrates how his birth was the only time his father ever embraced him. “I was born in 1999 in the household of two people who were associated with the resistance and political movement in Kashmir. Two months after my birth, my father was detained. Ironically, it was also the year (1999) when he was released from jail after seven years,” he said over a telephonic conversation.

Younger of the two siblings, Qasim was raised by his mother Andrabi, who, while taking care of her children, was also involved in the resistance movement at the same time. She was arrested on 6 July 2018, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s federal anti-terror organization, for allegedly “waging war against India” and other unlawful activities. She is currently locked up in Tihar Jail located in India’s capital, Delhi.

Qasim has never met his father outside the jail and has always felt that this void was filled by his mother. “As my father was jailed, my mother was everything for us. She was the one who tried to fill the void that father had left. I was very attached to her and grew up very fond of her because she was not a father to me and not just a mother. When in 2006, she was arrested for the first time, I still remember that it was perhaps for the first time I felt like an orphan, because both my parents were alive, I knew that. But the state makes you feel as though it is more entitled to your parents than you are,” he said.

Qasim, while explaining the impact the situation had, fixated on the point that everything was happening for the “greater cause”. Known as a hardliner separatist by the Indian government, both Faktoo and Andrabi have been slapped with India’s anti-terror laws Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act – aimed at prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.

The UAPA was introduced in 1967 as legislation to set out reasonable restrictions on the fundamental freedoms under Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution, such as freedom of speech, right to assemble peacefully, and right to form associations. These restrictions were meant to be used to safeguard India’s integrity and sovereignty.

To simply state its objective, the UAPA punishes the commission, funding, and support of “unlawful activities” and “terrorist acts”.

Faktoo has been locked up in Jammu and Kashmir’s Udhampur jail for more than 27 years. “You understand that it is for a cause and that the suffering is not meaningless,” he added.

False cases

Qasim while narrating the life he has lived, said it was when he used to visit his father and mother in jail, did he realize he was not the only one who was in a similar turmoil.

According to data shared by the Indian government in 2019, a total of 3,248 prisoners are lodged in the jails of Jammu and Kashmir and the total number of prisoners belonging to Jammu and Kashmir, within the state as well as outside, is 3,509.

These prisoners include those detained after the Centre, on August 5, 2019, announced the abrogation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution.

Indian paramilitary forces stand on a barricaded street during the Covid-19 curfew in Srinagar, Indian Administered Kashmir on 25 April 2021. (Photo: Muzamil Mattoo)

The cases against those lodged in various jails were related to murder, attempt to murder, culpable homicide not amounting to murder, rape, theft, burglary, dowry death, kidnapping and abduction, cheating, those registered under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Arms Act, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), besides preventive detention.

However, human rights lawyer in Srinagar Parvez Imroz hinted that the number might exclude many non-political detainees, who have been charged in false cases and are still languishing in jails.

If we see since the 1990s, the Kashmiris have been booked under fake cases and had to spend 10 or 14 years in jail. Even last year three detainees were released after 14 years. So, there are a lot of cases but as such, there is no study. But since the 1990s, non-political Kashmiris have been detained because of their identity and as they were at the wrong place at the wrong time,” he told Core Middle East.

Unlike Qasim, many children are unaware as to why their parents have been locked up in jails as they have not been part of the resistance movement. They are called the displaced children of Kashmir.

Speaking about the life children of detainees in Kashmir have to live, Imroz, who is the founder and president of Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), said the children have to endure various additional factors besides the psychological trauma. “Most of the detainees belong to the lower middle class or they are not rich. For these children, it has economic as well as psychological effects. For most of these children, education is the major casualty as they are not able to study with their fathers in jail. Then there are also psychological effects on these children. They are completely on their own and there are no institutions to help them out,” he said.

Experts say that children in Kashmir are being increasingly exposed to violence, which has plagued the region for decades. A report by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) said that 318 children were killed in the region between 2003 and 2018.

“Children in Jammu and Kashmir are living in the most militarized zone of the world, with the presence of 700,000 troops, which exposes them to the risk of all six grave violations against children as laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child,” the 2018 report said.

A man wearing a face mask walks on a deserted street during the Covid-19 curfew in Indian Administered Kashmir. (Photo: Muzamil Mattoo)

Life as a displaced child

While Qasim is the son of political prisoners, the issues he faced were similar to that of other displaced children. Now a student of Political Anthropology, he had to shift to his uncle’s home in Srinagar after his mother was jailed.

He remembers the moments of getting frisked and checked when he used to visit his mother or father in Srinagar’s central jail. “They used to stamp our arms and frisk us, and one might wonder, why am I being treated like this, when I have to speak to my mother. They have the prerogative to determine how long we are going to meet them, who is going to be behind bars, what is going to be the duration, and everything else,” he said.

Post abrogation of Article 370, things have changed drastically. On 6 August 2019, the Government of India revoked the special status, or limited autonomy, granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution to Jammu and Kashmir.

In the agreement with India, Kashmir was given a special status (Article 370) with which it would have relative autonomy. This meant that Kashmir would have autonomy over issues not concerning communications, foreign affairs, and defense.

Qasim, on the other hand, believes that the article was established to create a political discourse in the first place. “In 1947 when it began, article 370, the Indian state allowed the application of the article because it was useful for India’s colonial project in Kashmir. It did not allow it out of generosity. The only reason why article 370 was allowed was that it gave Kashmiris the disillusion that they are free, that they can run their affairs themselves, that the Indian state is going to give them autonomy and they thought that maybe article 370 allows us autonomy that would stay,” he added.

The future

For Qasim, to see his parents out of jail is a far-fetched dream, yet he is determined to try anything in his power to bring them out. In January 2020, Qasim, along with the Pakistan government, approached the UN secretary-general in New York and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva to seek an immediate release of Asiya Andrabi, as he feared for her safety.

My parents are getting old and have health conditions. Things are getting difficult for them inside the jail,” he added.

He further pointed out that the Indian state uses the law as a tool against Kashmiri political prisoners. “The issue is not that they are not being allowed a fair trial, the question is that the law with which they are judged is essentially designed to keep them behind bars,” he said.

While Kashmir stays in the condition of unrest, its future has become uncertain. With a major economic collapse and grave human rights violations, which are denied by India vehemently, Qasim also pointed out the lack of global outrage when it comes to Kashmir. While things have gone for worse post-abrogation of Article 370, there are rumors in the street of Srinagar that a replica of the Israeli model might soon be implemented in Kashmir.

According to Indian journalist Anuradha Bhasin, post-2019, with Article 370 and 35A being removed, the fear has been enhanced, particularly after the landlord rules were changed in October, which actually made it easier for the Indian government to dispose of Kashmiris. “There is a design not just to dispose of them, but to bring in a large population from outside,” she added.

On October 26, 2020, the Ministry of Home Affairs in India, introduced amendments to 14 laws of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir and repealed 12 others. Key amendments were made to four major state laws that governed ownership, sale, and purchase of land in the erstwhile state.

The most evident change has been made to the J&K Development Act, which has removed the phrase “permanent resident of the State” without specifying any substitute such as domicile, or any other clause to regulate land ownership — thereby allowing the purchase of land by any individual.

Qasim is still fighting an internal battle, understanding that the cause for which his parents have sacrificed their lives is important, but still questioning his emotions for longing to see his parents out of prison, which he fears might not happen given the current scenario.

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