Five-year-old Jami Faesal is missing his father, Shah Faesal. And the Shah family is finding it extremely hard to explain to a child when he can hug his father again.
On August 14 last year, Kashmir’s celebrated bureaucrat-turned politician Shah Faesal was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and sent to Srinagar where he was formally arrested and booked under the stringent Public Safety Act (PSA).
Faesal was about to board a flight to the United States to complete his research study at the prestigious Harvard University when he was denied permission to travel abroad.
Iram, Faesal’s spouse, demands her husband’s immediate and unconditional release so that he can be with his family during these tough times when a lockdown has been imposed to curb the Covid-19 pandemic. She is worried she does not have answers for the many questions her son keeps asking about his father.
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Shah Faesal has now completed 232 days in detention.
Jami, who turned five this February 20, wants his “papa back home” so he can play with him. It was a painful moment for the family to ‘celebrate’ Jami’s fifth birthday in the absence of his father.
“It has been a very difficult time for all of us. More so because we have been finding it very hard to explain to Jami why papa is away. He keeps asking what has papa done to be in jail,” Iram tells The Federal in an exclusive chat, adding, “It is hurting his upbringing too.” She believes it is very unjust on the part of the present government to keep Faesal away from the family in these trying times.
The family is unable to reconcile with the fact that Faesal continues to remain in detention while the Jammu and Kashmir administration has formally released the restive region’s two former chief ministers, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, and shifted another former chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, to her official residence at Srinagar Gupkar’s Fairview.
“My husband is not a criminal,” Iram says.
She believes Faesal’s arrest has been “very unfair” in the first place. “He is a sincere person and he wanted to bring about a positive change in Kashmir. The fabricated charges levelled against him in the PSA dossier are unbelievable,” she says, adding, “All of this has disheartened him to no end.”
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One of the allegations made against Faesal in the PSA dossier is his “support for soft separatism” through social media posts. The dossier also mentions his alleged “provocative statements” made by him last year.
The PSA dossier reads: “The subject advocates the idea of soft separatism through his articles, tweets and social media posts, which on several occasions have attracted response, amounting to a potential threat to public order.”
Interestingly, Faesal has been advocating a non-violent political struggle in all his posts, tweets and interviews. As a peacenik, he has attracted strong reactions from the radical elements across the ideological divide.
It is ironic that some in Kashmir have accused him of being “Delhi’s poster boy” while large sections of the national media promoted him as a “role model” for the Kashmiri youth. But since last August, the same media outlets have been accusing him of being a “soft-separatist”.
A week after Jammu and Kashmir lost its semi-autonomous status and statehood, Faesal wrote in a Facebook post, “There is no Eid. Kashmiris across the world are mourning the illegal annexation of their land. There shall be no Eid till everything that has been stolen and snatched since 1947 is returned back. No Eid till the last bit of insult is accounted for and undone.”
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As a young man, Faesal stole headlines in 2010 when he cracked the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) examinations and stood first. Before joining the bureaucracy, he served as a doctor for several years.
After a decade-long service in the government as an IAS officer he was posted as district development commissioner in north Kakshmir’s Bandipore district and also served in the Jammu and Kashmir’s Education Department as director.
As a fledgling politician, he was booked under the PSA on February 14, the day his six-month-long preventive detention had ended. Under the law that many refer to as draconian, a person can be jailed without trial for up to two years.
Faesal’s wife Iram is unsure when her husband will eventually be released as no official word is forthcoming. “There are rumours about political detainees being freed soon, but no one has told us anything thus far. The official line is completely dead. We are not in touch with anyone on this,” she maintains.
Some weeks ago, Shahnawaz, Faesal’s doctor brother, had met him at the detention centre. He had taken some home-cooked food for Faesal. With many anxieties related to the current lockdown, the family is concerned about the quality of the food that is being served to political detainees.
“At the time of this pandemic we are really concerned about his safety. We are not sure about the food he is getting. We have not met him for around a month now. It’s sad that Faesal is being punished for an offence he never committed,” adds Iram.
Faesal’s mother too has suffered emotionally and psychologically due to her husband’s assassination many years ago. Now, she has to bear a different kind of pain; her son’s absence. “The family already has a low threshold for pain,” Iram says.
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The family is also worried for Faesal’s research study at Harvard since it stands interrupted due to his long detention. “I want him to flourish in academic world rather than wasting his life here,” his wife says. “He has spent almost a year of his life in jail now and never would I want him to be in the same situation again.”
In January last year, he had quit civil services and by mid-March launched his own political party, Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement. His party’s official slogan, ‘Hawa badlegi’ (the winds will change) was coined by a well-known radio jockey considered close to him.
On Kashmir’s turf, he came under severe criticism for launching an unionist political party while some accused him of working for the Centre’s interests in Kashmir.
His PSA dossier has this to say about his party: “A political party launched by the subject with an elaborate agenda was seen as a positive development for youth engagement. However, the reports submitted in the instant case reveal that a number of persons known for their actions of disturbing public in the past joined the organisation with ulterior motives.
“Some cases have also come to fore regarding such involvement. Some aspects of the cases are already under investigation by the concerned agencies and it calls for a very measured response from the enforcement agencies.”
On August 6 last year, Faesal had tweeted, “Unprecedented horror in Kashmir. Everyone is heartbroken. A sense of defeat written on every face. Fall. From citizens to subjects. History has taken a catastrophic turn for all of us. People are numb. A people whose land, identity, history, was stolen, in broad day light.”
Unprecedented horror in Kashmir.
Everyone is heartbroken. A sense of defeat written on every face. Fall.
From citizens to subjects.
History has taken a catastrophic turn for all of us.
People are numb.
A people whose land, identity, history, was stolen, in broad day light.
— Shah Faesal (@shahfaesal) August 6, 2019
Referring to this particular tweet, the dossier terms Faesal a “threat to public order”.
Faesal had created a storm by announcing his resignation as a bureaucrat, citing “the unabated killings in Kashmir and the marginalisation and invisibilisation of around 200 Muslims at the hands of Hindutva forces (in India)” as a reason. Many in Kashmir accused him of being on a mission to give ‘impetus to the less attractive unionist politics’ in Jammu and Kashmir. They saw his JKPM as ‘JKPDP-II minus Mufti Saeed’.
In one of his articles that Faesal co-authored with another Kashmiri writer Mehboob Makhdoomi that was published in The Indian Express on 3 January 2019, the predominant argument was, “At the root of the political problem in Kashmir is the paradox that those who represent the sentiment do not participate in the electoral process and those who participate in the electoral process do not represent the sentiment.
“Elections have been held regularly since 1996, but there is a feeling that the elected representatives are either a disempowered lot, a group of helpless “daily-wagers” with the Government of India or that the elected representatives are misrepresenting their electorate by not speaking out about the basic Kashmir issue. This needs to change.”
How does Iram reconcile with her husband’s political innings and long absence?
“I draw strength from listening to stories of families whose dear ones have been under detention for years. It is very hard to stay sane otherwise,” she says.
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