For over three years, Fauzia Ansari had been desperately trying to trace her son who went missing in Pakistan while searching for a girl he fell in love with over the Internet. On Thursday, this Mumbai school teacher woke up to the news that her son was in the custody of the Pakistani army.
By evening, she had confirmed the news through her lawyer in Pakistan: the Lahore High Court had been informed that Nehal Hamid Ansari faced a court-martial on unspecified charges. As night fell, it was still not clear why the management graduate was being court-martialled, but a tearful Fauzia finally said, “At least, he is alive.”
As Indian officials confirmed in Delhi that they would “be seeking information and consular access from Pakistan in the next few days”, Fauzia sat at the dining table of their rented fourth-floor apartment in Versova, staring vacantly at the neatly labelled files and folders with documents and photos of her son.
Then, flipping through one of those folders, she said, “It’s been over three years… now there is some closure. Even if he is in military custody, we know he has done nothing wrong and hope he gets a favourable sentence.”
Ansari, then 27, left home on November 5, 2012, claiming he was headed to Afghanistan in search of a job. But his family later came to know from officials and associates that he was in love with a woman from the Kohat region of western Pakistan, and had decided to cross over to prevent her marriage with another man.
According to police, Ansari was allegedly convinced by friends and contacts in Pakistan that he could enter the country easily from Afghanistan. Indian High Commission officials in Pakistan believed he had been arrested by local officials for entering the country illegally.
On Thursday, the Dawn website reported that Pakistan’s deputy attorney general Mussaratullah Khan had informed court that “the defence ministry had informed him that the missing man… was in the army’s custody and was being court-martialled”.
“The bench later disposed of the habeas corpus petition filed by the detainee’s mother, Fauzia Ansari, observing that the petition had become infructuous…” the report stated.
Fauzia and her husband Hamid, a lawyer, said they are now trying to obtain more information on their son’s case — Ansari’s brother is a doctor.
Asked about her son’s disappearance, Fauzia said, “We last spoke to him on November 10, 2012, when he told us that he would be returning soon as the visit to Afghanistan was not fruitful. However, after November 15, when his phone was not reachable, we lodged a complaint at the Versova police station. I then saw his emails and Facebook pages. The last email was sent to a girl identified as ‘Saba’, stating that he was with Attubhai. When I went through his Facebook pages I learnt about his friendship with a few Pakistani nationals. The police probe revealed that the email was sent from Pakistan. This confirmed that my son’s last location was in Pakistan. I tried calling his Facebook friends but they never spoke to us.”
Fauzia said she filed the writ of Habeas Corpus in April 2014 with help “from Abdul Rauf Rohilla, district governor of the Pakistan Rotary Club Midtown”.
“I also got in touch with a Pakistan-based journalist who travelled to the area from where my son had gone missing. She spoke to the people who he had befriended over Facebook. She also met the father of the woman for whom my son travelled to Pakistan. The father told her that his daughter was married to another person but refused to share her contact details,” she said.
Fauzia added that she also suspected “a conspiracy” surrounding her son’s case, claiming that the journalist’s family had informed her that she had been missing since last August.
The Ansaris said they now hope the government would pursue the case with Pakistan. “I would be able to see my son in flesh and blood,” said Hamid.
Breaking down, Fauzia added, “At least give us a visa to travel to Pakistan to see our son. We have applied for a visa more than 20 times but we don’t even know if they even processed our requests.”
Hamid and Fauzia said their son’s case has taken a severe toll on their lives — and not just in the Rs 20 lakh they’ve spent so far on “fees to Pakistani lawyers and the numerous rounds made to Delhi”.
“Once while on the road, reading a message related to the case on my phone, I got knocked by a car and had to undergo surgery. Now, I have a rod fixed in my ankle. We have suffered a lot in the last three years and our only wish is that we see our son once more,” said Fauzia.
(With inputs from Shubhajit Roy in New Delhi)