He sometimes locks himself in his room for hours. He says, in those moments he thinks of the dreams he had as a child and the nothingness that his life has turned into now.
The youngest in his family, Waseem Ahmed Sofi, just turned 18 a few months ago. Though he looks like any other normal teenager, Waseem doesn’t act like one. Some might say he is too young to have such morbid thoughts at a young age. But when you have been jailed under the Public Safety Act (PSA) for almost a year at the age of 15, when you have witnessed your friends move ahead in their lives, when you have an old and sick father to take care of with little means at your disposal and bleak future ahead, it’s hard, if not impossible to think otherwise.
Waseem a resident of Dangerpora in Pulwama district in South Kashmir was picked up by the police from his home in April 2014 following a minor stone pelting incident in the area. He was a class 8th student back then. Waseem was held at the local police station for two months before being shifted to a Jail in Kathua district in Jammu — 360 Kilometres away from his home, where he spent seven more months in detention.
Just as it happened this year after the valley erupted following the killing of Burhan Wani and years before this, hundreds of civilians mostly youth, and sometimes even minors are arrested under PSA to maintain ‘calm’. They are later released by the regime in power as a show of political goodwill. However, for these boys it doesn’t make things any better. There persecution doesn’t end here. The torment for them, in fact, has just started.
Senior advocate, Shafqat Hussain Mir has been instrumental in quashing over 9,000 PSA cases in the last few years. At his chamber in Srinagar High Court, Mir has files of fresh PSA cases piled up on his desk. Outside, there is a line of anxious parents and relatives waiting to get his help to secure the release of their loved ones detained under PSA in the last five months.
This year alone some 600 people have been arrested under PSA. None of them will be able to go on with their lives normally even after they are released. This law has been designed to make them suffer eternallyShafqat Hussain Mir, Advocate
“I just secured bail for one person who was recently arrested under PSA. When his family went there with the bail order the SHO told them it’s a ‘half-bail’ so he can’t release him. Obviously, he was lying to them as there is no such thing. But by the time I brought this to the courts notice he had already been booked in some other case,” Mir added.
In jail, Waseem found solace in books. He had even maintained a small notebook where he had listed down the titles of books he was reading so that he can read them again once he becomes free. But when he was released eventually even that notebook was snatched from him by the jail authorities. “I can’t recall what I had read during those days. It seems like a long time ago,” he said.
After his release from jail, Waseem has found it really hard to settle back into normal life. He tried going back to school but dropped out only after a month. He says, he couldn’t concentrate in a class where everyone was new to him.
To make matters worse, whenever there would be any incident in his neighbourhood the police would show up at his door and take him away for questioning. Things had become so bad that at one point he had told his family that he will join militants. While that phase has passed for Waseem, he can’t figure out the purpose of his life.
I have hardly gone out of the house during the last five months of protests. I’m scared I’ll be arrested again if they see me on the streets. When I was arrested they beat me up until I passed out, I don’t want to go through that againWaseem
Waseem is not an exception. There are hundreds and hundreds of such boys in Kashmir, who have found it hard to pick up the pieces of their lives after being thrown in and out of jail at a young age.
Mudasir from Srinagar’s Ellahi Bagh locality was 18 when he was arrested and subsequently slapped with PSA in 2010. He spent almost two years in detention under PSA at Kotbalwal jail in Jammu. His mother, Sakina, have been taking care of him and his younger sister, after his father had died of cancer when Mudasir was just 10.
Sakina had high hopes about her son’s future, and so did Mudasir. He wanted to take up science in hopes of becoming a doctor. But his arrest subverted everything. While Mudasir was in jail his mother suffered from depression. “I went to see him in just once during the two years he was there. Our financial position didn’t allow me. I had a daughter to look after,” said Sakina.
After his release, Mudasir had little choice, but to find work to be able to sustain his family. He started working as a salesman at a shop in Jamia Masjid complex. But every Friday he would get a call from police to be present at the station.
Whenever there is a protest in the area they will call me. If there is some politician coming from Delhi I have to present myself at the police station. It became so bad that the shop owner asked me to leave. It has happened at least three timesMudasir
“Sometimes, I switch off my phone to get away from all-of-this but then they (Police) show up at the house. My mother gets really worried when that happens,” he continued.
Mir explains how the entire business works. The police never arrests any from the point of where an incident has happened. Instead, they just register an open FIR in which they name as many people as they want under various sections, Mir alleges.
Eager to earn money for his family during the ongoing phase of strife in Kashmir, Waseem wanted to go to Saudi Arabia to work as a motor mechanic. A guy in his neighbourhood has promised to fix things, given that he gets a passport. But there he was told to get a letter of approval from concerned police station first. Waseem never dared to go there.