Giving a voice to families of all ‘detained without charges’

Nikhat Perween,wife of Fasih Mehmood,takes up cause of others facing her plight

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Published:September 20, 2012 3:14 am

If you talk casually to Nikhat Perween or text her,she might come across as any 22-year-old management graduate,who means “fine” when she texts “F9”. Those who have known Nikhat,however,are conscious of her sudden graduation to adulthood.

From a cheerful BBA student confident of working her way to an MBA and then the IAS (“my father,being with the Bihar administration,had even bought IAS prelim books for me to study”),she is now on a somewhat unplanned study programme of the Indian Evidence Act and the Indian Penal Code,and not because she intends appearing for the IAS this time.

News items,scraps of information volunteered by a few friendly diplomats or helpful contacts,and Supreme Court proceedings on a habeus corpus petition,now dismissed,are what preoccupy her. The travails of her engineer husband Fasih Mehmood,28,have changed her life. They had been married eight months when Fasih was detained on charges of being involved in terror cases while on a job in Saudi Arabia this May. The chargesheet is yet to be filed and he is currently in a Saudi Arabian prison,awaiting deportation to India.

She quietly observed her first wedding anniversary on September 7. Nikhat is carrying a child,who is due in December. Her mornings — mostly in Patna,her parents’ home — start with a leap towards “the Net” for any fresh update on her husband. An indifferent breakfast and she is off to various “seminars,panels and talks” where she speaks on terror,and on behalf of all those who she says have been detained,not quite charged formally,but pushed into a grey zone that is actually a dark end,from where very few can actually make a blemish-free comeback.

“Look at Amir,acquitted after so many years,and the prisoner from where my sasural is,Barh Samalia,killed in prison.”

In this new role of the travelling ambassador of families of accused — she is heading to Lucknow to speak at a seminar organised by some PUCL activists to “expose ATS” on the fourth anniversary of the Batla House shootout — has she not found people restraining her from speaking on matters beyond her own? “I have been told by some relatives not to pick up cudgels and comment on the prisoner killed in Pune,for example,and only talk about Fasih,” she agrees. “But his detention has alerted me to so much injustice. And I will speak.”

Even her responsibility towards her unborn child has got short shrift. She has been able to visit a gynaecologist just twice in seven months. It does not seem to worry her too much,though she says,“I have applied to be registered at a government hospital in Patna. Let’s see.”

Given her clear and confident articulation,was she a debater as a student? “No,I wasn’t a very activist student,” she says. “I did manage good results,not because I studied through the year but by burning the midnight oil at the last minute. This incident has changed my life.”

Is there any distance between her and her in-laws as she finds herself in a vortex of attention? “Not at all,” she says. “I am with my parents as my father-in-law is busy with his work as a doctor. My mother-in-law is nervous and attending to my brother-in-law,travelling between Delhi to look after him and Patna to talk about what to do about Fasih’s matter.”

She adds,“Fasih would call his mother or receive calls from her at least three or four times a day. She would be so concerned about if he had eaten,had his glass of milk or fruit. Think of what she is going through. I am just the wife; they are parents.

“My saas has responded by spending time with her elder son and somehow keeping herself occupied. My father-in-law rings me almost everyday,asking if I have heard from Fasih. I keep them going by telling them it would be all right. After all,it is nearly five months since he has gone. Time has passed and it has to be resolved. That comforts him.

“Do people hurling accusations without a proper chargesheet,too,realise what even one person’s arrest shrouded in mystery like this does,not just to his family but also to at least 10 or 15 people close to him? My brother-in law,employed with a bank in Dubai,has had to resign and come back to Delhi as leave was just not possible as frequently as he wanted it. Apart from my in-laws’ life,my parents’ and mine too have changed completely.” She doubts if it will ever be the same again.

Cooking suddenly for lots of people,whom Fasih would get home and expect her to host in Saudi Arabia where she had joined him for some time,is a frequent,fond memory. Otherwise,it is “the Net” with hopes of a small news item of his release that keeps her going.

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