For over a week, a frail old man, his mentally unsound wife, and their young daughter have been spending time in a police lock-up at Salwa, a village in Mendhar tehsil of Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch district.
It’s a destination 90-year-old Mohammed Aziz had not set out for. When he began his journey with wife Rashida, 70, and daughter Hafiza, 27, on November 9 from Panjera, a town in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, he had hoped to reach his ancestral home in Salwa, and live permanently with his large family of cousins.
He took a long route — via Islamabad, Bangkok, Nepal and Delhi — only to land in police custody.
But Aziz is not giving up. “I have not done anything wrong. I have only come home. I want to die on my soil and get buried next to my ancestors,” he tells Salwa sarpanch Showkat Ahmed, who is at the police station to meet him. “Let them conduct an inquiry or send me anywhere, I will spend the last days of my life here. I have never been associated with any militant activity, I am a peace-loving citizen,” he adds.
Villagers know Aziz’s story, and that he was born in Salwa and grew up there with his brothers, Shukar Din and Nazir Mohammad. A little before Partition, however, Aziz went with his father Maukam Din to Rawalakot, now in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, where his two sisters Iqbal Begum and Shah Bano lived after their marriage. Soon war broke out between India and Pakistan, and they could not return. His father died there in 1948, while his sisters passed away in 1976.
Aziz could not return to Salwa for a long time after that. Settled in Panjera, he got married to Rashida, also originally from Mendhar tehsil, there in 1987. The same year, Hafiza was born. In Panjera, he worked as a labourer, and over the years, bought a tiny piece of land where he built a house.
Back home in Salwa, he had a much bigger, 5 acres of land, in his name, originally belonging to father Moukam Din. Since his whereabouts were not known for a long time, it had been declared evacuee property and allotted to his cousins for maintenance.
Aziz finally visited Salwa for the first time since Partition in 2013, eight years after the reopening of the Poonch-Rawalakot routes for people on both sides of the LoC. He visited Salwa with Rashida and Hafiza with a month-long permit.
By then, his brother Shukar Din had passed away, so the family stayed at the house of his son Gul Mohammad. He visited in March this year again on a month-long permit, and extended his stay by 15 days.
After that visit, he decided he wanted to return permanently. He had no extended family in PoK and was worried about who would take care of his daughter and his mentally ill wife once he died. He was also too old to work. “We advised him to get Hafiza married so that her husband could take care of both of them,” says his nephew Gul Mohammad, 75.
People seeking to move to J&K from PoK often take the longer route as officially they are only allowed under short-lived permits.
So he sold his house at Panjera for Rs 1.5 lakh to pay an agent for getting passports and a visa to Nepal. They boarded an Islamabad-Kathmandu flight via Bangkok on November 9, stayed in Kathmandu for two days and rode a bus to the Indian border. With the help of a local fruit vendor, they hired a rickshaw, which took them to a railway station whose name he doesn’t remember, and from there boarded a train to Delhi on November 14.
The day after reaching the Capital, the family took a bus to Jammu. Once there,
they hired a Tata Sumo and reached Salwa on November 15 evening.
Gul Mohammad was surprised to see his uncle, who visited without informing, and to make sure he didn’t land in any kind of trouble, informed the police.
“The police acted under law and booked them under the Foreigners Act and Passport Act for illegally entering India,” says SHO Mendhar Anzir Ahmed Mir.
While official records confirm Aziz as belonging to Salwa, police are finding it difficult to clear Hafiza without detailed investigations. “She is educated — a postgraduate in Islamic Studies — despite Aziz’s statement that he was a labourer in PoK. There is an inconsistency,” says Mir.
Sleeping on the floor of the lock-up, the family is struggling to come to terms with their detention. “Aziz loses his temper often, while Rashida keeps staring blankly without speaking a word. She can’t walk without Hafiza’s help,” says a senior police officer. On November 17, Rashida had became hysterical and had to be taken to a doctor.
For Hafiza’s safety, women cops have been deployed round the clock outside their lock-up. “A police station is certainly not a fit place to keep a young woman for long,” the officer adds.
Given the old age and poor health of Aziz and Rashida, the police have allowed them food brought by relatives from home and also given them blankets.
While Mir says that they have to face judicial trial for illegal entry into India, Gul Mohammad is “hopeful of getting them released on bail soon”.
The police , meanwhile, have decided to conduct a survey of families whose members were left stranded in PoK after Partition. “This will help keep a watch in case of any such person returning to this side without informing anybody,” says sub-divisional police officer Mendhar Shahid Naheem.