In October last year, Waheeda’s only son, Inayat Ahmad Sheikh, was arrested in the Agra district of the UP allegedly for a WhatsApp status, celebrating Pakistan's win over an Indian cricket match.
Waheeda was home at Doniwara Budgam when she heard about her son's arrest. “I thought this cannot be true. I just couldn’t believe that he has been arrested,” Waheeda says.
With her daughter on her side, Waheeda seems to have lost the hope of his son's release. After much persuasion, she agreed to talk to this reporter. “So many people came to our house since my son was arrested. So many people took notes of my pleas. I appealed so many times to the governor and others. But nothing is happening. My son is not being released and I am dying to see him,” she said.
In October, Inayat Altaf Sheikh along with two other Kashmiri students, Arsheed Yusuf, and Showkat Ahmed Ganai, were arrested for allegedly exchanging celebratory messages for Pakistan's win over the India cricket team. They were studying at an Agra engineering college under the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme for J&K students.
In 2011 the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs 1200 crore package for students of Kashmir to study medicine, engineering, and other courses in different colleges across the country. Under the Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme for J&K, students having passed class XII examinations and annual family income under Rs 6 lakh were eligible for the scholarship. Under the scheme, the tuition, hostel fee for students who qualified for the scholarship under the general education category was covered.
The students were arrested amid protests outside their college by outsiders over their purported messages. Soon after, the college also rusticated them. The families of the three since then appealed to the UP government to drop the cases against them and sought “forgiveness” for their mistake but the government has not responded.
The students are currently lodged at the Agra district jail. As advocates in Agra refused to represent them, prompting their families to approach Mathura-based lawyer Madhuvan Dutt and shift the case to Mathura. Since his arrest, the family including Sheikh’s father have visited thrice Agra jail to see him. However, Waheeda has not visited Agra so far.
“He is an innocent kid. Why don’t they just set him free,” she adds.
“I am illiterate. My husband is a carpenter and despite the accident he met years ago, he is working hard every day. We would look forward to our son completing his degree and getting a job. And here he is a prison,” she says.
She says her son was fond of cricket and he would even play cricket with the teachers of the college.
When she left for study, he would make long calls to her mother every evening.
“He would have a long video call conversation with us. My sister-in-law has got three children and whenever a plane passes over the village they shout that Inayat has come back. When will he return,” she said and broke down.
“We are broken inside since his arrest. I don’t want to live if I have to go to prison to see him. I would rather die.”
Some five km from Inayat’s house, in Checkpora village, lives the mother of Arshid Yousuf. After her husband’s death in an accident some 20 years ago Hanifa raised her son and two daughters as a single parent. Like other children of the village, Arsheed was also crazy about cricket. After her son got admission, she was looking for his return to do a job and help her from financial burden.
“She has struggled and worked as domestic help to make sure the education of her children, particularly her son. All her hopes are shattered now,” one of Arsheed’s cousins said.
Burdened with meeting the needs of her two daughters and her home, Hanifa is struggling to bail her son out whom she has not met after her arrest thousands of miles away from home.
“She is helpless and alone. Her daughters are too young, she has been completely devastated,” her relatives said.
The hopes of bail for the three families are diminishing with each passing day, On January 25, the Uttar Pradesh police presented the charge sheet to Agra’s chief judicial magistrate charging the three students with cyber terrorism, sedition, promoting enmity between different groups, and making statements likely to cause alarm to the public.
The family of Showkat Ahmad Ganai, who lives in north Kashmir’s Shahgund Hajin village in Bandipora, are desperate to get their son out of jail.
“We are poor people,” Showkat’s father, Muhammad Shaban Ganai said.
“If our children committed a mistake, they should be forgiven. I had to take a loan from neighbours and sell my cow to try for his bail. This is a tragedy for us.”