Ishfaq with his wife and child in his house.
One night, Ishfaq, lodged inside the Agra Central Jail, had an unusual dream. He clearly remembers that, he says, he thought the dream portended an inevitable event in his life for which he should prepare. He had dreamt someone gifting him a newborn male baby and suggested a name for him.
He got up in the morning, grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the name which was suggested in his dream. The next thing was to find a way to send the paper from the jail, where he was lodged, to his wife’s home in Hitigam village in Southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district. His wife’s delivery was due in a week. “But for the following one week no one came from my home (to meet him). So, I handed over the paper to a family member of another inmate who had come to visit and asked him to give the message to my wife,” he says.
Ishfaq’s wife was pregnant for three months when he was picked up by the armed forces from his accommodation in Akkad village of Southern Kashmir’s Anantnag district, provided by the mosque management where he preached. He was arrested ahead of August 5, 2019, before the abrogation of Article 370 which revoked the constitutionally granted special status to Jammu and Kashmir. He was slapped with charges under the draconian Public Safety Act.
On January 10, his PSA was revoked by the Jammu and Kashmir administration along with 25 individuals after the Supreme Court came down heavily on it over the continued internet ban and prohibitory orders in the Valley. The list included 11 people from North Kashmir and 14 people from South Kashmir.
He finally reached home after 11 days on January 21. A day after, his wife gave birth to the baby who was given the name which was suggested by "someone in the dream".
Sitting with his wife and newborn child, Ishfaq recounts his worries while he was under detention in Agra. He says, “As my child grew in his mother’s womb, my worries also mounted. I kept wondering, whether the pregnancy would be alright? What kind of care would she (his wife) and the foetus receive in my absence? What would be the conditions under which she will have to give birth?”
The reason behind his anxieties was the fact that his wife had conceived a child after being married for five years. She had also suffered from a miscarriage previously. “It was a special moment for me. I had prayed a lot for this child and God had bestowed us with this blessing. But I was not sure whether I would see my child’s face or not,” he says.
Meanwhile, his wife was very scared that she would have deliver without her husband. She says that she would often console herself with the hope that he would arrive on time. She kept waiting for a message for her husband, however, she says, “I never received any paper nor did the name of my child reach me. I had not even thought of any names. I just kept hoping that he would reach here whenever I needed him.”
Even though there were a lot of difficulties, she tried to face everything bravely, she says. “I had no other option but to wait for his return. It was not our fault. We did not choose this,” she adds, “I thought of writing a letter but could not muster the courage to do it.”
Ishfaq’s mother Saja, who works as a cook in a primary school, says she had to sell her cattle to visit her son in the jail located in faraway Agra. “I sold my cow to pay a visit to the jail. After seeing the huge walls of the jail I fainted and fell down on the road,” she says. “After his father died, he had taken over the responsibility of the home. I never knew I would have to see this day,” she says with tears in her eyes, adding, “I sold my cow and goat to run the house. My whole time would be spent running from home to school. I did not know what to do. I was running from one police station to another.”
Ishfaq, though, is one of the luckier ones. His story finds an echo in a number of homes in Kashmir, where several people are still awaiting the release of their family members who had been arrested prior to the fateful date of August 5.