Return Of The Native- A Tale Of Separation
By Qadri Inzamam
23 November, 2012
Mohd Ashraf Jahara standing near the debris of his old house which was demolished by Indian Forces.
Srinagar :In the autumn of 1999, when the militancy was lying low, a 10 year old boy from the central Kashmir was ‘lured' and crossed over to Pakistan Administered Kashmir for arms training. At the tender age, he was separated from his family. He grew up there, fell in love with a girl and married her. In a hope to meet his family again, he returned to Indian side of Kashmir . But little did he know about the series of tragedies he was going to meet. As soon as he stepped in his homeland, he landed in a jail. His wife was also detained. Now this part of Kashmir separated him from his love.
Mohd Ashraf Jahara who hails from Branwar Chadoora has seen the worst of his destiny from his tender age. He wanted to serve his parents in youth. He wanted to get rid of poverty; he and his family were going through. But during a night in the autumn of 1999, a group of Hizb-Ul-Mujahedeen militants, a Pro-Pakistani militant group, took this 10 year old boy with them for the arms training. He was not even given a chance to talk to his family about it, nor even to say a good bye to them. “I had no idea of where I was being taken. They just took me in evening when I was working in the fields. And after another night I was in Pakistan ”, says 23 year old Mohd Ashraf Jahara. He crossed the border via Poonch sector along with other people including militants of Hizb-ul-mujahedeen. “Some of us tried to runaway but they were killed by Indian forces. Later, we were being keenly watched by the militants who were taking us to Pakistan ”, recalls Mohd Ashraf in an old house at Branwar Chadoora where they are staying on rent. He was deprived of parental love, family care, education and above all a peaceful life.
After reaching PaK, Mohd Ashraf did not join any training camp. He studied in an Islamic Madrasa for few years and then started working as a salesman at a grocery shop in Bagh district of Pakistan Administered Kashmir. “I was too small to undergo arms training. I fled from there and went to a Madrasa”, says Mohd Ashraf Jahara, who is now on bail. He, however, underwent arms training for sometime after leaving Madrasa, but soon quit. He was living a normal life with the memories of his family and homeland lingering in his heart and mind all the time. He did not forget any of the moments he had spent in his homeland, with his friends, in his fields and of the night he crossed the LoC separating him from his family. “I remember the days of my childhood when I used to play with my friends. But none of my friends recognizes me now. These years of separation have weakened that bond too”.
He was living in a rented residence at Kacharban area of Bagh district of PaK and also earning for himself till he met Asima Akhtar. Asima Akhtar belongs to Bagh district of Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PaK) and belongs to a Kashmiri Lone family who migrated from Baramulla to PaK in late 1940's. He fell in love with her and finally they were married on 1st January, 2010 . They lived there in a rented residence for 4 months together until they decided to return Indian side of Kashmir .
But they would have never thought of the misfortunes this decision would follow. This decision separated them and brought them the worst of their destinies. “I regret about our decision. We thought we will live happily in Kashmir , but we were disgraced and labelled as terrorists”, says Mohd Ashraf Jahara.
The government's promise of rehabilitating the returned Kashmiris who had went for arms training has turned hollow. Recently this issue was raised by MLC Murtaza Khan in the Legislative Council but the MoS Home failed to properly respond to this issue. Chairman United Jihad Council and Chief of Hizb-ul-Mujahedeen, Syed Salahuddin recently in an interview with an Indian Magazine also criticized the govt's policy of rehabilitating the returned Kashmiris. “The government has not lived up to its promise of rehabilitating them. Instead, their spouses are treated as non-state subjects...” he told the Magazine. He also said that those who have returned are now repenting on their disgraceful return.
Mohd Ashraf Jahara also heard about this ‘Promise' and decided to return his homeland. But after they crossed to this side of Kashmir via Saujian sector of Poonch in May 2010, they were arrested. “Govt had promised that we will not be questioned or harassed. They even had promised a job. But now we are being disgraced here and treated as terrorists”, laments Mohd Ashraf Jahara.
After the couple was arrested they were handed over to the local police by army. Later, they landed in Poonch jail. Mohd Ashraf was slapped with PSA and he spend more than a year and half in Poonch jail. Though Mohd Ashraf has been released on bail, Asima Akhtar still languishes in the Poonch jail for no offence.
During the detention period, Mohd Ashraf was severely tortured. “They would ask me of the reason I had returned to Kashmir . They would say that I was on some hidden mission which they tried to reveal by torturing me. But I would continuously plead my innocence”, he narrates.
“I was severely tortured. They would move roller over my legs. I still suffer from many ailments. Blood passes with my urine, but I cannot express my grief as there is much more grief my family has gone through,” he adds in a trembling voice.
On 6 January, 2012 , Mohd Ashraf Jahara was released from Kot Bolwal jail and handed over to his family.
The family had some relief now as their separated son had returned home after more than a decade, though his return was incomplete without his wife who continues to be in jail. “His return gave us immense joy. All the pain and miseries which we had faced during all these years was subsided with his return”, says his older brother Mohd Shafi Jahara.
But this happiness did not last for long. The shadows of misfortune, perhaps, had not faded away from the Jahara family. In February 2012, Mohd Ashraf was arrested by Chadoora police station on the charges of two murder cases which had taken place from 2001-2002 in the Chadoora and Branwar area of Budgam district. The police was implicating him for the crime which had taken place in Indian side of Kashmir and dated back to the time when he was in PaK.
“I wonder how they charged me of double murder case which I have never committed. I do not know the persons even who have been murdered. How can a person who has been in PaK since 1999 till 2010 murder two persons in 2001 and 2002?”, Mohd Ashraf Jahara anguishes.
He was sent to judicial custody in Srinagar central jail where he was released on bail in May, 2012. But the process of court hearings in Srinagar and Poonch continues till date.
“Each time we go for a hearing we have to spend almost one thousand rupees going to and fro and other expenses”, grieves Mohd Ashraf. “We do not have any source of income now. We cannot make our ends meet now. This litigation process has snatched from us everything we had. We had to sell our land and other possessions to manage the fees for lawyers and other expenses.”
When Mohd Ashraf was released on bail from Srinagar central jail, his family had to pay twenty thousand rupees for the process which they could not manage. “We borrowed twenty thousand rupees from a person and in return he took our younger brother who has to work as a servant in his home for 3 years. He left his studies and works at his home to compensate the debt we have borrowed”, Mohd Shafi, a frail man in his 30's narrates.
The economic condition of the Jahara family is wretched. Many times the relatives collectively helped them with a handful of money. “On the eve of Eid, many relatives collectively helped us by donating two thousand rupees”, says Mohd Shafi. “This is like living on alms but we have no other option”, he adds with wet eyes.
“I cannot work for many reasons. My health has deteriorated. Besides I fear arrests or other threats if I work outside my home,” says the returned son of Jahara family.
During the time Mohd Ashraf was in the PaK, his family was being victimized in the Indian held Kashmir . His home was demolished, his family tortured and harassed by different Indian forces and intelligence agencies. Often Indian forces would raid their house and ask for the whereabouts of Mohd Ashraf.
“When they would find nothing they would ransack everything and beat us”, says Mohd Shafi Jahara, who works as a labourer to meet the needs of his family, despite of his deteriorated health. The Jahara family does not have their own home to live in now. Their home was completely demolished by the Indian forces. They now live in a rented house in the ne
ighbourhood. “This heap of bricks used to be our home”, says Mohd Ashraf Jahara while pointing towards the debris of their house which was demolished by the security agencies.
During all these years nobody from the mainstream or separatist Party has visited or helped the Jahara family. “My mother and younger brothers visited the Abdul Rahim Rather three times to seek help but he never met them citing lame excuses”, anguishes Mohd Ashraf Jahara. “on the second visit to his house they were sent back by his guards saying that the MLA is sleeping this time and cannot be disturbed”, he adds.
At times Mohd Shafi would be taken by army or police and tortured. He would, many times, spend nights at other places fearing the arrests or raids. “I have spent many nights in toilets. Nobody would let me spend a night in their homes”, he says.
When Mohd Ashraf Jahara was arrested by Indian forces, his older brother was arrested too on the ‘false' charges of hiding the ammunition and money which allegedly Mohd Ashraf had brought from Pakistan . “I was also arrested and tortured on the charges of hiding the ammunitions which they alleged my brother has brought from Pakistan ”, says Mohd Shafi Jahara while showing the marks of torture on his arms and shoulders. “They would make wounds on my body and sprinkle salt and pepper on it”, he adds.
The harassments did not only bring fear and restlessness to them but it scratched the wounds of separation in them. “My mother lost senses for almost 3 years. She still lives with a trauma. She all the time fears that her son might be taken again”, says Mohd Shafi Jahara.
It has been more than two and a half years since Mohd Ashraf Jahara and his wife Asima Akhtar returned to this side of Kashmir , but the govt has failed to provide the couple and their family any kind of relief. Asima Akhtar continues to be detained in Poonch jail, his husband goes for hearing to Poonch and Srinagar for the hearings of his cases after every fortnight. His mother lives in trauma and fear.
Two of his brother's, who are in intermediate classes, want to become teachers. But their dreams need to be harnessed by both economic and emotional support which the Jahara family badly lacks now.
His father, who is now in his old-age, requires rest and medication, but the abject condition of his family has forced him to work himself as a labourer. Two of his daughters have attained the age of marriage, which has added to the already caused miseries.
“I do not need any rehabilitation policy now, neither any job. I want a peaceful life with my old parents and my family”, pleads Mohd Ashraf Jahara with tears moistening his sunken eyes. “I do not spend sleepless nights because of the separation from my wife."
Qadri Inzamam is a freelance Journalist based in Kashmir.
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