A young Kashmiri boy’s ordeal of being falsely framed in a theft case and the extraction of money from his parents by Delhi Police.
That night, I had a wonderful sleep. After a long time, I had no scary thoughts. That night had something in common with the first night of being home after staying away for months. Although it would be unusual for most Kashmiris to equalize the comfort of Delhi and Kashmir that night had something special, at least for me. For some time, worries ceased to exist.
A sense of great relief prevailed upon my family and me. Back home, my parents were cheerful. They were in doldrums ever since they came to know that Delhi Police is looking for their son. A team of Delhi Police had arrived in my hometown to inquire about me, taking money from my parents on the pretext that their son’s career is in great danger.
A moment of freedom indeed!
The script of this drama goes like this:
The cold had begun to recede in Delhi. Light winds along with gentle sunrays replaced murky days of December. Human bodies had started to drop down excessive warm clothes. All this reminded of spring in Valley, where crystal clear water flows in half-frozen streams. The willows on the bank of streams appear lively with tender foliage across their bodies. All this ran parallel in my mind, while I was straightening my messy hair after taking a shower. The sun was slowly climbing up against sheath of white and dark clouds. As I passed a local mosque on a daily route to university, my cell phone began to ring. I took the cell phone out from my pocket and to my utter surprise, found Papa calling. This was unusual than his daily ritual of calling in evening.
“Salaam, beta! How are you,” enquired Papa. As I answered him, he asked me in an unfamiliar tone of voice: “Beta, there is some police verification about you. Let me find clearly what sort of verification it is and I will be back to you.”
The question of police verification filled my mind with myriad thoughts. However, I could not comprehend what police wanted to know about me and most importantly what did they want to inquire? With unsettling thoughts, I entered the university library. I had hardly settled myself that my cell phone buzzed again to Papa’s call. When I picked up, Papa straightaway began to question me.
“Beta, what is your phone number?”
“9560******,” I answered.
“No, not this one,” came the reply.
“Tell me the local one.”
With that, I could recognize a change in voice and the cellphone being handed over someone else, a local policeman. The policeman, who voice revealed him to be a middle-aged man, asked me in a humble tone:
“Where is your local SIM card?”
“It is with me,” I replied.
Then came another question: “When did you last time use it?”
“July last year,” I answered back.
The local policeman candidly said that my SIM card has last been used in December in the suburbs of Jammu in a cell phone which was stolen somewhere in Delhi.
“A team of Delhi Police has arrived here and they are looking for you,” he said.
This sent shivers down my spine. The Police team had travelled more than 800 kilometres and that too when the main road connecting Valley was blocked for days. This meant deep trouble for me.
How could my local SIM card be tracked down in Jammu, when I haven’t travelled to that place or for that matter any other place outside Delhi since last July? This question kept hammering my mind until I was drawn towards a recent event, which had intimate connections with this investigative episode.
On a cloudy morning of December, I received a call from my friend, Ashraf, my batch mate during master’s degree. Ashraf and I had a good rapport with each other. Ashraf informed me that his sister was going to get married in the third week of December in a far-off district of Jammu and he graciously invited me to attend the marriage ceremony. We were the kind of friends who could be honest with each other without the other person minding it so much. I declined his invitation straight away.
“I can’t. You know I am busy with exams,” I said. I knew Ashraf wouldn’t mind it.
Ashraf called me up again the next day and asked for a favour. He needed ‘a local SIM card for Uzair.’ Uzair, an Afghani lad, was enrolled in the same university. Ashraf had acquaintance with Uzair and he had invited him to his sister’s wedding which he had Uzair had happily accepted. Uzair was visiting Jammu and Kashmir for the very first time and in order to have a hassle-free journey, he demanded a local SIM card (belonging to J&K) with which he will remain in contact with Ashraf. I agreed to provide my own SIM card in good faith.
Before disconnecting the call, the local policeman informed me that the Delhi Police would contact when they will reach New Delhi. I was somewhat confident that I had nothing to worry about. I strongly felt that the revelation of the entire episode in front of the Delhi Police would convince them. Nonetheless, I was deeply disturbed by the entire episode and so were my parents. They wanted me to get out this soon as quickly as possible. What really concerned my parents and me were the infamous activities by Delhi Police targeting Kashmiris. There were many cases like this before, which got complex with the passage of time and more often than not enter the realm of ‘national security’, especially when a Kashmiri is at the centre of it.
Almost a week later, I received a call from Delhi Police. They asked me to visit S*** V*** police station. Before leaving for the police station, a thought struck my mind that I shouldn’t go alone. However, I shrugged it off and decided to visit the police station unaccompanied. The concerned head constable, Harish Kumar, lean-in-frame, clean-shaven and dark complexioned, offered me a seat once I entered into his small office. The office was painted in white with a big window in front and a small opening on top of the back, probably for an exhauster. As I sat on the chair, Kumar straightaway asked me to narrate the entire story. I immediately felt this was my moment to come clear. I began to narrate the entire story with great clarity as if I was Stephen King. After I ended narrating the whole episode, Kumar informed me that the stolen cellphone belongs to a lady hailing from Uzbekistan who works in an Embassy. She regularly calls him up to inquire if the phone has been found, Kumar said.
Looking at the stature of women involved, I asked Kumar:
“Which cell phone is it?”
“Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge,” he answered while adding plainly, “I want either a cell phone or price of it.”
“Why don’t you deal directly with Uzair, the Afghan guy?” I asked Kumar.
Kumar didn’t answer and his silence suggested that he did not want his hands to reach Uzair. I immediately felt that I would be exploited for sure, no matter how truthful and honest I would try to be. The cold response from Kumar made me think in ‘exclusive’ terms of greater cooperation between Kabul and New Delhi. I thought the cooperation between two states would save Uzair despite his culpability. It was at this time that I began to strongly endorse the belief of Kashmiris being most vulnerable in cases like these.
Kumar’s demand “I want either a cell phone or price of it” kept resounding in my mind. Dismayed after meeting with Harish Kumar, I felt that I was being pushed into a marshy land. A state of hopelessness enveloped over me. From whom should I seek help and who will help me? Will anyone believe me? I feared no one would. I tried calling Uzair’s phone but I couldn’t reach to him. I dialled Ashraf’s number, who was fortunately in Delhi. Upon revealing to him the entire saga, Ashraf assured me of every kind of support, however, this did not give me any comfort. I asked Ashraf whether Uzair could steal a cell phone? He replied: “I don’t know. You wait, we will handle this.” I felt that Ashraf knew Uzair had the stolen-cellphone and there were far-greater chances of Ashraf seeing Uzair using the cell phone during his sister’s wedding after all Uzair had made several phone calls while being at the wedding and a new glossy cellphone is easily noticed.
For the next two days, both Ashraf and Uzair didn’t make any move. The mounting concern forced me to apply pressure. I told Ashraf that I will approach Proctor Office if Uzair did not accompany me and hand over the cellphone to the police.” The message was conveyed to Uzair and it did play a part in breaking the ice. But a lot more was yet to be done. From offering ‘whatever kind of support you need’, Ashraf’s attitude changed. Ashraf was more concerned about Uzair’s career. Uzair was staying illegally in Delhi because he had failed to renew his visa. An inquiry against him would have gotten him into more trouble. What perturbed was that Ashraf should have been more concerned about truth but instead, he was taking the side of an individual who had not only broken the faith of friendship but was also pushing another person and his family into greater trouble. This attitude of Ashraf I would never forget.
The idea of involvement of our university proctor forced Uzair and Ashraf to accompany to the police station. We took an auto to reach the police station. Before going inside, I called Kumar’s phone and informed him that we are at the police station. “I am not on duty today. You can come some other day,” he said. He was soon proven to be lying. We went straight to his office where we saw him leaned on his wooden chair. He straightened up his back, “Yes, tell me Muneeb.”
My words were precise: “This is Ashraf and this is Uzair. Rest, you deal with it.” Kumar asked Uzair about the stolen cellphone? He said it was with him and he handed it over to him. Kumar undid the belly button of his shirt and slipped the cellphone inside. When Kumar inquired where Uzair had found the cell phone, Uzair said that he had found it outside the hospital. ‘You deserve a harsh punishment.’ Kumar said angrily to Uzair. Apologetic and teary-eyed, Uzaird starting pleading, “Please forgive me, sir!”
Kumar told Uzair that he only had one option to save himself. “You have to pay the price of the cellphone,” Kumar told Uzair, which he readily agreed to. Uzair accepted to pay a hefty amount of 60,000 Rupees by next Monday. While the deal was getting finalized, I intervened: “What about me? My SIM card has been tracked down and if tomorrow a new enquiry is started, it's me who will bear the whole brunt.”
Kumar started assuring me that this case is over. “I’m in charge of this case and who wants to travel to Kashmir again in search of you,” Kumar said that the Uzbek lady had gone back to Uzbekistan and will never return and he will break the phone and close the case. I wasn’t convinced. I felt he’s playing a game. Before arriving at the police station, I had spoken to Ayaz, a scholar of law and taken his counsel. I rang him up again and told him that Kumar has brokered a deal with Uzair. Ayaz told to get Kumar on the phone. It was a decisive point. “I will file a petition against you for extorting money from my client’s parents,” Ayaz told Kumar. This shook Kumar and he told Ayaz that he has to imprison Uzair. “Go ahead,” Ayaz retorted.
The Police team began to file a First Information Report (FIR) against Uzair. Shortly thereafter, an interesting thing happened. A tall lady hailing from Uzbekistan arrived at the police station to collect her cellphone. This came as a hard slap to Kumar. Kumar was a shrewd cop who wanted to keep the case open against me. By keeping the case open, he could have extracted money from me, whenever he wished. Once the Afghani guy would have returned home, I would have never been able to prove my innocence. It was his master plan; to make me a milking cow.
Uzair was imprisoned and so were my agonies. I was relieved.
During this span of time, I felt I was sinking in a vast ocean of despair, hopelessness and fear. Every Kashmiri is intimately aware of the bias against them in India and especially by Delhi police, and this is what bogged me down during this episode. My father’s first visit to a police station where he was told that his son’s career is in danger stands like a momentary shame to me. It was his support and love that finally returned my freedom and happiness - of whatever little is granted to us Kashmiris.