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Decade in Dungeon

Decade in Dungeon

Inside a downtowner’s detained world where devoured dreams and despondency lay bare a commoner’s helplessness in Kashmir.

It was a striking piece of information from an anonymous cop vouching for the innocence of a wronged downtowner who had landed in then chief minister Narendra Modi-ruled Gujarat jail in 2010. The news came after the man had already spent half a decade in the dungeon.

“Those who closely monitored Baba’s case admit his innocence but State is helpless as it is the baby of Gujarat government,” a certain police officer would tell a prominent Srinagar-based daily.

Since then, another half a decade has already passed, but the captive Bashir Ahmad Baba is yet to take his long walk to freedom.

Baba comes from strife-weathered neighbourhood of Srinagar’s Rainawari where he would frequent the serpentine alleys, before his family traversed them to plead for his innocence.

Bashir Baba with cleft-lip patients in a remote village.

But over the years their disappointed back-walks after knocking all the doors nestled a hopeless response to their wait, yet a hope of return for the innocence of their son.

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The protracted pain took roots in early 2010, when Kashmir was yet to erupt with raging street protests over the fake executions in Kashmir hinterland and a schoolboy’s killing in a playground bearing the name of a prominent poet.

On his business trip to Gujarat then, the son of a middle-class family was rounded up by Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). Since then, he has been languishing in prison there.

Tucked in rundown medieval-style residences of old Srinagar, the captive Kashmiri’s home is downcast with deafening silence. The mood inside is melancholic, so is the vibe wafting from the once vibrant household.

Inside sits a miserable mother, Muakhta. She’s yet to move on from the day when her son called to inform her, “Mouji, workshop sabdou, pagah neari bi wapas Insha Allah (Mother, the workshop is over; tomorrow, god willing, I’ll be leaving back).”

Mother Muakhta is hopeful of her son’s homecoming.

She has not given up the hope for the return of her son even a decade has passed since that last call.

Baba was working as a camp coordinator for Kimaya Cleft Centre associated with a German NGO Maya Foundation. It would run projects for surgical treatment of cleft lips in children.

“My brother was selected for that workshop by his foundation at Gujarat in February 2010,” says Nazir Ahmad Baba, the captive’s younger brother. “He called us a day after the workshop was over and planned to leave for home the following day.”

But hours after that call, Nazir recalls, Gujarat’s ATS squad stormed his hostel room and rounded him up in a dramatic nocturnal raid.

Nazir Baba has stepped into his captive sibling’s shoes as the family breadwinner.

Oblivious of their son’s fate, the Baba family was shocked when sometime later they saw their son handcuffed and blindfolded on TV news channels. It seemed the headlines and the claims by ATS were scripting a nightmare for the family.

Baba was paraded as an alleged Hizb commander “planning to carry out attacks in mainland India and plotting to send young boys across the border for arms training”.

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“That’s a cock-and-bull story,” says Baba’s brother, questioning the circumstances leading to his brother’s arrest in a room full of long faces.

“My brother was arrested during a night raid in a hostel he was staying in at Ahmedabad, but ATS showed to have arrested him from Anand district.”

The script was written weeks after his arrest, Nazir says, and once fixed they came to media with a bunch of allegations.

Since then, the ‘diligent’ son has been fending for himself in his prison cell.

Back home, his reading room full of books has become a restroom for his ailing mother. She silently keeps on kissing and embracing the traces of her humble ‘Bash Lal’ in the room.

Mother finds solace in her son’s reading room.

“It’s hard for her to go upstairs in this age,” tearful Nazir voices his mother’s anguish. “Yet she sleeps and keeps on visiting the room upstairs during the daytime whenever she is alone to meet her son whom she would call ‘Bash Lal’.”

To bring him home, the family exhausted all their resources and strength in the last ten years.

In their struggle-torn world, the long-incarcerated son is being remembered as someone who in his student life had become a helping hand for his father, a smalltime contractor by profession.

Baba graduated in Humanities from Srinagar’s Gandhi Memorial College and was a literature adherent. In prison, he has completed his Masters Degree in Political Science.

“My brother started a computer institution during his college days to support the family and my father would always encourage him, as he was a responsible son,” Nazir, speaking for his nonchalant family members, voices the family’s plight.

But when the same supporting father, Ghulam Nabi Baba, couldn’t take his reliable son’s captivity, he became terminally ill. After making his third and last jail visit in 2014, he was diagnosed with cancer.

“Jigruk doad kass waniha, nati mar’riha ni cancer seth (Cancer consumed him after he couldn’t take his son’s separation),” mother Muakhta finally breaks her disturbing silence.

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Before his demise, Baba’s father was bedridden for months. He kept asking for his son’s last glimpse. Once he passed away, his son wasn’t even allowed to attend his father’s funeral on humanitarian grounds.

Benyan henz meanz ti dechheas ni wechni (They didn’t let him witness his sisters’ wedding either),” the mother says.

Two of his sisters were married while Baba was languishing in jail.

But before their marriage and his detention, the captive son would assure his distressed mother, “Don’t worry, I will get my sisters married in a very grand manner!”

She remembers it and is yet to come to terms with what her fate was to test her with.

“He is innocent and he will come back to me,” the mother reaffirms her belief. “He has to come back to me!”

But as the son’s detention is only prolonging, the family is struggling for means.

Nazir had to leave his studies midway and take up the responsibility of the family that was caught in the middle of nowhere after his brother’s detention.

After losing his brother to dungeon and father to death, Nazir became a sole supporter for the Baba Family.

“After my brother was arrested, I had a mountain in front of me to climb with no support. My father was bedridden, I had to get my sisters married,” says Nazir who has been trying to make the ends meet since then.

Struggling with her silence, Muakhta with a benumbed face grabs a portrait of her son and takes a corner of the room where Baba would spend most of his time reading.

The last time the mother got to see her son was in 2015 when he was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar for one of the cases filed against him in 2008.

According to Nazir, the ATS made that previous case against him as a base to imprison him, otherwise, he says, there is nothing that has been proved against him in these 10 years.

A picture of Bashir Baba from Srinagar’s Central Jail where his family met him last in 2015.

Since last five years, neither Baba’s brother nor his mother has gone to meet him due to financial compulsions.

“I travelled once in these 10 years and after such a long journey I was allowed a 15-minute meeting with my son,” says Muakhta whose eyes have dried up awaiting her son’s return.


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