Named in more than 50 FIRs, meet Kashmir's jail bird Aatif Hassan
Meet Aatif Hassan Sheikh, aka Babloo, the young man from south Kashmir’s Anantnag district who has the distinction of being named in more than 50 First Information Reports (FIRs) - a record of sorts.
Dating between 2007 and 2010 and then 2016, the Sheikh family alleges that their son Aatif has 50 plus cases registered against him. He stands accused of participating in stone-pelting incidents and of professing pro-Pakistan ideology on social media.
A history of defiance
The story of his long arrests and detentions and short releases began in 2007.
Aatif is currently lodged in Srinagar’s Central Jail after being booked under the notorious Public Safety Act (PSA) in July last year for “promoting secessionist ideology” and refusing to “join the mainstream” politics.
It is the third PSA detention that he is facing at present. Before being brought to Central jail Srinagar, he was put in Kot Bhalwal and Kathua jails in Jammu.
Intriguingly, the PSA dossier under which the 31-year old Aatif was arrested in July 2017 had been prepared and signed in August 2015. He was arrested outside Anantnag district court where he had gone for a hearing in an old case.
Aatif’s lawyer Mir Shafqat Hussain believes that at the time of his client’s arrest, the period of his detention was technically over. “It is ironic that someone is arrested a year after the case is registered,” he said.
'A normal life'
Ghulam Hassan Sheikh, Aatif’s 71-year old father, is a retired government employee. Aatif’s mother, who retired as a nursing supervisor, is currently bed-ridden due to various ailments which include diabetes and arthritis.
In 2009, the senior Sheikh, after seeing his son Aatif behind the bars every now and then, decided to get him married when he was only 23.
“Unfortunately, the police did not allow him (Aatif) to lead a normal life,” the old and broken father told Catch at his residence in Deva Colony, Janglatmandi in old Anantnag.
Aatif, according to his father, was also picked up by the police when he was a three-day old groom. He was accused of participating in pro-freedom protests and stone-throwing incidents. He remained inside Anantnag police station for about three weeks before being released.
In 2010, Aatif’s young wife Sami Jan delivered a baby girl but the father was again in jail. The baby girl died soon after and Aatif was not allowed to meet his daughter.
“Aatif never met his baby girl. Never saw her. Neither alive nor dead,” Ghulam Hassan Sheikh said with a deep sigh.
Before being arrested during the 2010 summer agitation Aatif was working with the Bharti Airtel and then also secured a job with the HDFC bank. However, owing to the adverse reports from the local police he lost his job, first with the cellular company and later with the bank, too.
After his release in 2011, the father persuaded his son to open a hosiery shop in the neighbourhood. Due to regular summons by the police and routine court hearings Aatif’s newly-started business did not pick up as desired.
Aatif’s parents persuaded their son to lead a normal life after his marriage and death of a baby girl.
“Yes, my son espouses a political aspiration but he does not participate in any violent activities. Why is my son being imprisoned for having a view on Kashmir’s political question?” Ghulam Hassan Sheikh enquired.
Beyond the viral hug
Meanwhile, after some time, the Sheikh family from Anantnag was blessed with a baby boy. The grandfather named his grandson Ahrar.
Five-year old Ahrar has not met his father often. It is now getting increasingly tougher for the family to evade some uncomfortable queries from Ahrar about Aatif.
“It is not easy to face him (Ahrar). And it is painful to answer Ahrar’s questions about Babloo (Aatif),” Ghulam Hassan Sheikh said.
Recently, a picture of the father-son duo hugging each other outside district court Anantnag went viral. In the picture, a chained Aatif can be seen taking Ahrar in his arms and kissing him.
The Sheikh family is hoping that their son, now a pharmaceutical dealer, will be released soon so that he is allowed to settle down with his wife and a son like a normal family.
“Mera beta Aatif sangbaz nahin hai, pathar baz nahin hai. Uska sirk ek siyasi nazariya hai, (my son Aatif is not a stone pelter. He only has a political view, that’s it)," the senior Sheikh told Catch.
“In Kathua jail, Aatif was kept with hardened criminals”, a friend of Aatif told Catch on the condition of anonymity.
He further added that once he asked a senior police officer why Aatif was being continuously harassed and imprisoned for making his political view public on social media space. The officer, he said, responded with these words: “Well, isn’t that enough?”
Altaf Khan, Senior Superintendent of Police Anantnag, told Catch that most of the cases registered against Aatif are regarding his alleged participation stone pelting incidents.
SSP Khan, however, denied that over 50 cases are registered against Aatif. “Not more than five or six FIRs,” he said.
“I believe there are five-six FIRs registered against him (Aatif), all of them before I joined as SSP Anantnag. These are mostly about stone pelting. The talk about 55 plus FIRs is an exaggerated one,” SSP Anantnag added.
“More than 50 FIRs for sure,” the family and friends insist.