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Greater Kashmir

A Tale of Trauma

PSA, illegal detention, custodial torture; this juvenile has faced it all

RABIA NOOR
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jun 13 2018 12:51AM
A Tale of Trauma

Year 2016. Amid the cool autumn breezes, the Valley of Kashmir was simmering in the backdrop of top Hizb militant Burhan Wani’s killing. On the cold morning of September 30, a teenaged street vendor, Saqib Ahmad (name changed) left his home to earn livelihood. Little did he know that he would instead land in a police station for months together. 

The 17-year-old Saqib of Palpora Noorbagh, Srinagar, was allegedly arrested by local police in wee hours from Parimpora bus stop. He faced the charges of stone pelting, even though “no stone pelting incident was taking place anywhere nearby at that moment.” 

“I was not pelting stones. I had left for work after Fajr (pre-dawn) prayers, when suddenly some police officials started beating me and two other boys ruthlessly, and arrested us for no fault of us,” narrates Saqib, who finds it difficult to interact with this reporter. 

While one of the boys was released soon, the other two were rushed to Parimpora police station. Saqib, who has been the sole bread-earner for his family after his father’s death, would not have thought even in his dreams that he shall have to spend half a year in police custody. 

At Parimpora police station, the minor boy spent three months and 10 days in illegal detention before Public Safety Act (PSA) charges were brought against him. 

“During this period, we would visit the police station every day and stay there till late evening. We were constantly assured by the local police officials that he would be released soon, which, however, they never did,” recalls Abdul Hameed, Saqib’s brother-in-law. 

Hameed’s wife and Saqib’s elder sister, Shakeela, adds that they were many a time asked by police to approach ministers and senior police officials to get him released. “We have suffered a lot during that period. I, along with my husband, mother and sisters, would spend the entire day outside the police station. It has been a nightmarish experience for us,” she opines. 

Saqib was not produced even once during that period before the magistrate so as to verify the legality of his detention. “The law demands that the police must produce a person before the magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest, who then decides whether his detention is legal or illegal,” observes Advocate Mir Shafkat Hussain, who pleaded Saqib’s case at Jammu and Kashmir High Court, adding that his detention at Parimpora police station was “absolutely illegal”. Pertinently, detaining juveniles in police custody is prohibited under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2013.

Saqib’s mother being an illiterate and poor lady has been unaware about the law and the procedures of the court. She has had no idea as to for juveniles all together different set of rules have to be followed. For rest of the family, days turned into months in pleading his case. 

Despite being a minor, Saqib, now 19, was allegedly brutally tortured in police custody. “I still remember how I was beaten once for four consecutive days. So much injustice was being done inside the jail,” reveals a partly numb Saqib. He would not stop weeping even for a while in the custody and would plead his family to help him come out of the jail. 

Lawyers at J&K High Court allege that the local police used to illegally demand money from Saqib’s family during his detention period. 

After being detained illegally at Parimpora police station for over three months, Saqib was shifted to Central Jail, Kote-Balwal Jammu, to be detained under the draconian Public Safety Act.

“We were not even informed that he was being shifted to Central Jail, Jammu. It was a matter of coincidence that we visited Parimpora police station that morning and learnt that he is being shifted to Jammu,” divulges Hameed. 

“We then immediately rushed to Control Room, Batamaloo, Srinagar, and pleaded before them to allow us to see his face at least. He did not have alternate clothes either. We bought some clothes worth Rs 250 from a street vendor at Batamaloo and handed over them to him while he was seated in a police vehicle,” he adds. 

Saqib was detained for another three months in the Central Jail under the PSA order no. DMS/PSA/59/2016, dated October 10, 2016. Shockingly, his age was wrongly stated as 22 on the PSA dossier prepared by the police. The grounds of detention as per the District Magistrate’s order, a copy of which lies with this reporter, were that he was “one of the main instigators of stone pelting at Parimpora and its adjacent areas.” 

To challenge his detention order, a writ petition under Article 26 of the Indian Constitution read with Section 103 of the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution was filed in the J&K High Court.

“We challenged his PSA order in the High Court. When it was proven in the court that he was a juvenile, his PSA was quashed,” says Advocate Hussain. 

Meanwhile, MLA Langate Engineer Rashid had raised Saqib’s issue in the Legislative Assembly. “Afterwards, he was released from the jail. He spent first two days after his discharge in the MLA’s house. And on the third day, he was brought straight to his home,” says Hameed. 

Saqib was barely eight when his father had passed away. Earlier his mother would do household chores at other places for their survival. After he grew up, Saqib took the responsibility of his family on his young shoulders. That is why he could not finish his school and had to fend for his family at a young age. Since then, he has been selling readymade garments at footpath and hardly earns around Rs 300 a day.

Saqib is the only son of his mother. All his three elder sisters are married. He along with his mother resides in a makeshift shack, through which rain water seeps in easily. “It is very hard for us to stay there. But then, we don’t have a good source of income to build a proper shelter for ourselves,” says Saqib with tears in his eyes.  

Saqib’s six-month long detention, especially at Parimpora police station, left a deep scar on his psyche. Even though he was said to be treated “well” in the Central Jail unlike in Parimpora custdoy, the thought of being caged at a tender age badly affected his mental health. “I had thought now I will not be able to do anything in life. I thought my life is over,” opines Saqib. 

Even after he was released, his behaviour depicted the injustice meted out to him. He had to take medicines to treat his depression. “After he was released, his physic as well as mental health had deteriorated. We took him to hospital, where he underwent a complete medical check-up. We also took him to a psychiatrist for treatment,” says Shakeela. 

For over a couple of months after his release, Saqib had confined himself to a single room. “He was psychologically very disturbed. He was scared to move out. That was the kind of mental trauma he was suffering from,” his sister says. 

Hameed adds, “When he would learn about some untoward incident taking place anywhere, he would be scared like anything.” Although his mental health has now improved, some impact is still there. He sometimes suffers from the memory loss instances. 

As per Advocate Hussain, even after the case was quashed and Saqib was released from the jail, the local police would still harass him, asking him to visit police station regularly. “I somehow managed to bring an end to this practice,” he says. 

Talking to this reporter, Director General of Police (DGP), Shesh Paul Vaid, refutes the allegations against the police of detaining youngsters illegally in police custody. Regarding detention of minors under Public Safety Act, he says, once the age of the detainee is found to be below 18, the case is simply quashed. 

Rabia Noor teaches at the department of journalism, IUSTĖ˜

 

(This is a part of the series of stories on ‘Child Rights Violations in Kashmir’ done under National Foundation for India (NFI) fellowship.)