At Bandipora’s Shahgund village, Mohammad Shaban Ganai has taken money from relatives and friends, and even crowdsourcing; a total of Rs 2.50 lakh to release his 22-year-old son Showkat Ahmad imprisoned at Agra jail. Shaban has sold off all his valuables, including his cow who he'd call “companion”; then his goat and recently his meagre patch of land to get his son back home. He is still short of Rs 1.5 lakh.
Showkat is among the three Kashmiri students arrested by the Uttar Pradesh Police following a complaint from a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) youth wing leader for their "celebrating Pakistan’s victory" against India in a T-20 World Cup cricket match. Like Showkat's father, the families of the other two students—Inayat Altaf Sheikh and Arshid Yousuf—are running helter-skelter to bring their sons home.
Hanifa lives along with her two daughters in a small ramshackle dingy room at Checkpora village of Budgam district, Central Kashmir. Her husband is dead. Hanifa does household chores in nearby homes to sustain the family. Her son Arshid Yousuf is her only hope to bring the family out of penury.
To free her son, Hanifa has taken credit from relatives and does not know how she will be able to pay them back.
“The family's condition is pathetic. You cannot imagine how his (Arshid’s) family has managed to collect the money for his bail,” says Arshid’s uncle Latief Ahmad Dar.
Likewise, Mohammad Altaf Sheikh from Budgam’s Dooniwari village has halted his carpentry work to frantically organise funds to get his son Inayat out of jail.
The case and the consequences
After the India-Pakistan match in a T-20 World Cup at Dubai International Cricket Stadium in UAE, scenes of Pakistani and Indian cricketers exchanging light moments had overwhelmed hearts in both countries; many of them saying ‘friendship is the real spirit of the game’.
However, in India, a 'joyous' WhatsApp status about Pakistan's victory landed three Kashmiri boys—Showkat Ahmed Ganai, Inayat Altaf Sheikh and Arshid Yousuf in jail.
All the three civil engineering students at Agra’s Raja Balwant Singh Engineering Technical College were suspended by the college authorities for posting “objectionable content” as their status on WhatsApp, a day after the match. Members of BJP’s Yuva Morcha also held protests and accused the trio of raising anti-national slogans.
The trio was arrested under Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) and 505 (1)(B)(with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public) of the Indian Penal Code. They were also been booked for “cyber terrorism” under Section 66F of the Information Technology Act.
After six months of languishing in jail, the Allahabad High Court granted them bail. In March 2022, the court while granting them bail had said: “The unity of India is not made on bamboo reeds which will bend to the passing winds of empty slogans. The foundations of our nation are enduring. Eternal ideals bind the indestructible unity of India. Constitutional values create an indissoluble union of India. Every citizen of the country is the custodian, and the State is the sentinel of the unity of India and the constitutional values of the nation.…”
The statement added it is the duty of the State "to create enabling conditions for visiting scholars to learn and to live constitutional values of our nation…”.
No help from any quarter
After the trio's arrest in October 2021, several bar associations in Agra refused to fight their case, informs J&K Students Association UP Coordinator Manzoor Ahmad Wani.
"On one occasion, the lawyers beat them up within the Agra court premises. It was horrific. That's when he decided to plead the case in other court,” says Wani.
Moreover, when the court ordered bail in March 2022, no one from Agra came forward for their surety.
“We understand everyone is frightened considering the situation in the country. First, you are a Muslim, and then Kashmiri. No one wants to face the brunt later,” says Wani.
Wani said he presented the trio's financial conditions to various Kashmiri politicians, but has only received false assurances.
“I even approached National Conference MP from Anantnag constituency. He did nothing.”
Wani says help finally came from former Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh, who personally met Home Minister Amit Shah on the matter.
Jammu and Kashmir Students Association, national spokesperson Nasir Khuehami says the trio faced immense problems in view of the financial constraints and kind of “vitiated political atmosphere” in Agra.
“We tried raising money through crowdfunding but received pressure from different quarters. Later, we asked people to help the families individually,” says Khuehami, who adds that he expects the trio will be released in some days after a hectic legal battle.
In October 2022, India and Pakistan will once again lock horns at Melbourne Cricket Ground, Australia. This time Showkat, Arshid and Inayat will not be enthusiastic. After the kind of trauma they have faced, their families say the ‘game is over’ for them.