FROM Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to Bathipora, a tiny village in north Kashmir, it was an arduous journey for Saira Javaid. She was born to a rich Rajput family that owned several jewellery shops in Muzaffarabad. But once she crossed over to the Indian side, even feeding her three children was a daily struggle.
In Muzaffarabad, she lived in a huge house but in Bathipore, a tin shack was all that she could call her home. As days passed, she was convinced that they would never have a house of their own, not even travel documents. She realised she may never be able to visit her parents across the border. Dousing herself in kerosene and setting herself on fire seemed the only way out for 30-year-old Saira.
For three days she battled 96 per cent burn injuries. On April 14, Saira died at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences.
Less than two years ago, her husband Javaid, 37, a former militant, had returned from Pakistan so that they could avail of the benefits promised under J&K government’s rehabilitation policy.
A resident of Bagh district of PoK, Saira fell in love with Javaid, a 25-year-old salesman. But Javaid had another identity. For the villagers of Bathipora in Kashmir, he was Abdul Majeed Lone, and for Saira and people outside his village, he was Javaid — the nom de guerre he had adopted after crossing over to Pakistan for arms training.
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Javaid lost his Indian citizenship in 1994 when he crossed over to Pakistan for arms training. He was only 17 then. In Muzaffarabad, he received training but didn’t return to Kashmir. Instead, he took up a job and married Saira. The couple have three children — son Mohsin is now 10, daughter Munaza is seven and Mehak is five.
Everything seemed fine till Javaid heard about the J&K government’s rehabilitation policy for ex-militants. In 2009, the Omar Abdullah government announced a rehabilitation policy for Kashmiri militants who wanted to return to the Valley. Under the policy, militants who had crossed over to PoK, but did not have serious police cases pending against them in J&K, could return with their families. The policy was sanctioned by the Centre in 2010.
“We were well settled there. I had purchased land and built a house. But my longing for home and the J&K government’s promises brought us back,” says Javaid. Initially, it was difficult convincing Saira, he adds, but finally she agreed.
The crossover wasn’t easy. In June 2012, they travelled to Nepal on Pakistani passports and then crossed over to India. “We had to spend Rs 7.5 lakh to reach Nepal; the amount included air fare and fees charged by agents to prepare Pakistani documents. We had to sell our land and house to raise that amount,” says Javaid. “At the Nepal-India checkpoint, we were allowed to proceed to Kashmir but only after our documents, including passports, were taken away. That day, we lost our identity.”
Back in the Valley, the family couldn’t purchase land, apply for a job or take a bank loan.
“We have nothing to prove our identity. We don’t have a ration card or travel document,” he says.
Life in the village was tough. Saira tried to share the burden by taking up a tailoring job, but that wasn’t enough. The family couldn’t even leave the Valley without government permission. “My mother has a kidney ailment. My parents have been at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, for a month now. I wanted to accompany them, but I can’t leave Kashmir,” says Javaid.
Frustrated by the government’s “broken promises” and the “hard life” in the Valley, Saira took the extreme step, says Javaid. “My wife was forced to do this. We have been deceived by the government. They didn’t fulfil their promises,” he says.
Javaid’s daughter Munazah says, “It was better in Muzaffarabad. We could roam around. We could go for picnics. Here, we can’t go anywhere.”
More than 265 families have already returned to the Valley, but the government is yet to take any concrete step towards their rehabilitation.
The families who have returned say Saira’s suicide is a big setback to the rehabilitation policy. “Most militants who want to return to the Valley have Pakistani wives,” says Abdul Rashid, a former militant from Tangmarg. “They would want to come back but the families of their wives won’t allow them to do so now.”
Those already in the Valley are ruing their decision and want to return to PoK.
“We are ready for another crossover. If the government can’t rehabilitate us, they should allow us to go back,” says Javaid.
With Sara’s death, Javaid is a broken man. “If the government can’t issue me travel documents, it can at least give it to my children. They want to meet their grandparents,” he says.
But that will have to wait till the government allows them to have valid identity proofs.