Struggling to make ends meet after their breadwinner was detained for his “troubled past” last summer, a Kashmiri family with no support and source is craving for their son’s return.
By Zeenish Imroz
GULSHANABAD, Chadoora – A usual home-like feeling is missing in a ramshackle residence nestled in this unruffled neighbourhood of central Kashmir’s Budgam district.
The single-storey shelter housing three families in three rooms looks like a dingy servant quarter smacking of poverty and pathos. In one of the total three rooms, Sahil’s family struggles with their sorrow and starvation bouts, while waiting for the long gone son to come home.
Inside her 3-feet long makeshift kitchen, Sahil’s heart patient mother is cooking rice her husband just brought for Rs 10 from market. The quantity of rice could only satisfy the hunger of two of her children, but she distributes it amongst all the members so they don’t starve.
Sahil’s seven family members live in 5-feet cubical room. In one corner lies the ailing patriarch. Two of his young kids, yet to experience 10 summers of their lives, are looking blank and battered.
In the kitchen, their 19-year-old daughter is dealing with her own distress. She has been engaged for 6 years now but the family’s dismal financial condition is putting her relationship in grave danger. Amid poverty and pain, there’s no room for privacy.
This is how the grief-torn world of a Public Safety Act (PSA) boy looks like.
Waiting for Sahil has literally become Waiting for Godot for the family. In both cases, the supposed Salvador is yet to knock at the door with help and hope.
The detained son was someone who kept the kitchen running in his young age, when he should’ve been clicking Selfies or playing cricket with boys of his age. In his wait, the family is only withering and going hungry.
“For around twenty days when the pandemic lockdown was enforced, our plates were empty, so were our stomachs,” says Abdul Majeed Dar, Sahil’s father.
Struggling for right words, the frail father continues, “Our son is our sole support they snatched from us last summer.”
As part of a massive anti-dissent crackdown on heels of the abrogation of Article 370, Sahil Majeed was detained and subsequently slapped with PSA. The family says he was 17 when detained, but his custody report shows him 24.
“Sahil is a juvenile but because he was sent to school early, the teachers had changed his date of birth,” says his lawyer cum neighbour.
The boy’s PSA order was only for 3 months, the lawyer informs. “We went to the court when he wasn’t being released but the coronavirus lockdown has halted the activity at the court and therefore he is still under detention.”
Like many others, he was shifted to outside jail in Uttar Pradesh last August. As the “teenage” breadwinner is languishing in jail, his siblings—three brothers aged 17, 14 and 8; and two sisters aged 19 and 2—have been frequently sleeping empty-stomach.
With their 50-year-old headman battling unsound health, the despondency for survival is only deepening inside the family’s one-room home.
“Sometimes we eat chouchwour (local bagel) with tyeath chai (tea without milk),” the disheartened father continues. “But sometimes we even run out of the tea leaves, until someone sends us fresh stock out of pity.”
Peeling green plaster, grimy stack of bedding, tin-roof walls, hanging cloth bags and disarrayed kitchen is the melancholic universe where Sahil’s family cries incessantly, while praying for his homecoming. His prolonged absence is only biting them hard.
Prior to his sickness, Sahil’s father was a local baker. After diagnosed with recurrent typhoid, he was advised by doctors to stop working. For days, Majeed mourned over his lost livelihood.
Soon as the financial condition slumped, his children were forced to drop out from school. During this distressed phase, Sahil, the eldest son, too young to shoulder the family responsibility, stepped into his father’s shoes.
“He had seven mouths to feed and a sister to marry off,” the ailing father continues.
“On someone’s recommendation, he joined Jamkash Vehicleades (a private four-wheeler workplace in Srinagar) where he would earn around Rs 5000 a month.”
Despite being an insufficient income, it had brought some smiles to Dars — until their earning hand was detained “for his troubled past”.
Once he was taken away, the family had no idea what to do. They would mostly sit in their room consoling each other. With each moment, the son’s absence would leave them numb with pain. It was then some uncanny help came.
“One day a person came and handed over some Zakat money to me,” Majeed says with a bare face as if stung by his own remark. “That person accompanied me to the jail.”
But as fate would’ve it, he came back without meeting his son.
He had embarked on the desperate journey against the advice of doctors. He became ill on the way and had to be brought back on medicinal support.
Inside the room, all heads are attentively listening to the sad talk. Sahil’s siblings, grown weary with grief, sigh over their narrated torment.
Just outside their room, kids of their age are defying pandemic guidelines and making playful sounds. Inside, Sahil’s siblings are competing with the street shrill with their screaming silence.
This home agony is aching Tasleema, their 45 year-old mother. A heart patient, her condition has worsened since her son landed in Yogi Adityanath-run UP state jail.
“She can’t make it if she runs out of medicines,” Sahil’s father fears. “Her heart ailment has aggravated since our son was snatched away from us.”
Unable to fit in the tiny room, three of the siblings sleep under the tin-roof which sprays immense heat during summer nights. In the bone-chilling winters, they bind the walls with blankets to save themselves.
From his jail, Sahil had last called on the day of Eid—expressing hardships, like the high temperature and inedible food in detention.
Back home, having no one to earn, his family of seven depends on charity for the basic needs now.
They were once monetarily helped by the Masjid Committee. The family spent the money for 40 days on food. And as soon as they run out of it, their next meal depends on the next pittance from people.
Maybe now, the father hopes, the son should return and come to their rescue.
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