Locked up in the 90s, two Kashmiris, friends from their dark days in prison, finally reunite after decades of separation
Farooq Ahmad was sitting in his living room, looking at his mobile screen as the slow internet was causing the page to load painfully. The roads outside were deserted and so was Farooq’s phone; each byte on his phone loading one by one while the bikes outside were being regulated by the armed forces’ check-post.
Farooq was about to give up, as the phone rang. An unknown number flashed on the screen.
“Hello, kus heaz chuv”
“I told you I would find you once I get out,” a murky voice said on the other side of the phone.
The voice sounded familiar. Could it be?
“Ahnu bey ha chuss.”
Farooq was ecstatic. Was this really his long lost friend, Qayoom?
Farooq and Qayoom had an unusual bond. From his days in prison, Qayoom had been his partner in crime that he never committed.
The year was 1993, and the people in Kashmir had risen in an armed rebellion against the Indian state, that had gone on a rampage to scuttle every voice of dissent. Cinema halls had been turned into torture chambers, where young boys were said to be cut into pieces on bent-saws, only to be buried in unmarked graves as foreign militants. The state turning meadows into mass graves.
Farooq quickly ran up into his room, not knowing what to do.
“Qayooma, yi chukka tsiye? Yuth nah kana mazaak aasihav karaan.”
Farooq hurried back downstairs in excitement, again, not knowing what to do.
Too overwhelmed to fight back his tears, “byei ha chusai yaara, tse oshama waarai?” Qayoom’s quivering voice said as the two friends were overwhelmed, connecting after a long separation.
Qayoom had with him one important memento – a diary, in which they used to write long passages about their time together in prison.
The two recounted the horror of the days in prison when Kashmir was burning, and families were torn apart, as body bags kept piling, and humans became numbers.
Farooq was one of the thousands of civilians imprisoned by the Indian government afterpeople picked up guns, “to fight for what is rightfully ours”.
Thirty years later Qayoom recalls, “scores of people had picked up guns to rebel against the Indian rule in Kashmir.”
A Muslim-majority region claimed by both India and Pakistan had been in the international news then. To crackdown on the rebellion, and to crush the uprising, India launched a brutal anti-insurgency war that resulted in countless deaths, mass disappearances, and massive human rights violations. With the implementation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the men in uniform then had the power to arrest anyone on mere grounds of suspicion, to kill and destroy.
“If you had a young son in those days, you had reasons to be distressed without any apparent cause. Being a mother in Kashmir was not easy. It still isn’t,” says Aisha Bano, Farooq’s mother.
Farooq was ‘picked up’ by the Indian Armed Forces in the year 1993 when he was on his way to a relative’s house.
He was beaten ruthlessly, bundled up in a police vehicle, and taken to a torture center. Those were locally called ‘interrogation center’, either for lack of appropriate vocabulary, or deliberate watering down of terminology by the government, that could have otherwise caused damage.
It was only after many weeks of wait and anxiety, that his family got to know his whereabouts. He was detained in Srinagar’s most feared torture center, PAPA-2 at Hari Niwas.
“The name itself evokes haunting memories. People there were subjected to the most extreme forms of torture,” recalls Qayoom.
A report by Human Rights Watch titled ‘The Human Rights Crisis in Kashmir‘ explains in one of its chapters how detainees were put through inhumane treatment in order to get “information regarding the militants”.
In one of its passages, the report reads, “torture is widely practiced in Kashmir as a means of extracting information from detainees, coercing confessions, punishing persons believed sympathetic to the militants and creating a climate of political repression.”
Aisha Bano recalls the day she received the bloodied clothes of her son and a ring he used to wear. She knew it was going to be a laborious process to see her son again.
Every day she would visit a different shrine in Kashmir to pray for the well-being of her son. After days, she was finally allowed to visit him in PAPA-2.
“He was so thin, I almost didn’t recognize him. They had beaten the life out of him and he kept saying, ‘Mouji, yimehai marnai mei’ (Mother, they are going to kill me),” she says.
Farooq was then transferred to another prison in Jammu which meant lesser meetings with his family members.
It is here that he met Qayoom. “We were inseparable and developed a special bond in the dark cells. Both of us awaited the day we would finally be able to go back home,” Farooq says.
One night when the lights were turned off, Farooq and Qayoom were talking in whispers and the policeman on guard heard them.
“He wanted to know what was going on, and without any warning started beating me. Qayoom stepped in and took the blame. From that day onwards, I knew I could always count on him,” he recalls.
Meanwhile, Farooq’s family did everything to fight for his release, and after struggling for thirteen months he was granted bail. He left his friend with a promise to see him again outside the jail, worried that he might not able to keep the promise.
Farooq says he was one of the lucky ones to get out on time.
To start a new life, his family sold their house and moved to a different place hoping they would rid themselves of the horrific memories.
“Some people take years to get out. Some don’t get out at all. And those who don’t, nobody knows where they are and if they are alive or dead,” he says.
According to APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons), a human rights organization in Kashmir, “there are reportedly over 8,000 cases of enforced disappearances in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir.” These are the people who never made it back home. APDP holds a public protest on the tenth day of every month in remembrance of those who are still missing.
After decades now, Farooq and Qayoom are finally together, as friends, in relatively open-air of Kashmir, and they both plan to meet up regularly now.
“We are with our families now. Three decades ago, inside those cells, this would have seemed more like a dream to us,” Farooq says.
The memory of the humiliation they were put through in prison still makes them shudder with fear and have added on to their trauma. For them meeting each other again is a miracle in itself.
“When I think about what could have happened to us, I get anxious. It was sheer luck that we made it out alive,” Farooq exclaims, as the two friends plan their next meet.
Asma Hafiz is a student of Convergent Journalism at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia and a freelance journalist.
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