Focus

Eid with Ishrat Jahan’s mother

By Subhashini Ali

Some years ago, I had met Ishrat Jahan’s mother, Shamima, at a meeting in Azamgarh. We did not have much opportunity to speak, but her quiet dignity impressed me. This year, as soon as I knew that I would be in Mumbai for Eid, I contacted her and asked her if I could visit her home and wish her and her children on an occasion that is celebrated with so much joy and festivity all over the world but which can also be an occasion of sorrow and longing for a loved one who is not present. And for this family the sorrow and longing must be so much more intense because of the tragic and brutal way in which their young and innocent Ishrat Jahan’s life was sniffed out.

Shamima welcomed my proposal and Sonya Gill, Maharashtra President of AIDWA, and I reached Mumbra just as the Eid prayers ended. Mumbra is part of Thane district which has become a Muslim-dominated area. It is home to Muslim migrants to Mumbai from all parts of India. Many came here several years ago when they first migrated from their homes; many more followed them after the 1992-93 riots and now it has become a destination for new migrants every year.

When we reached Mumbra, the streets were overflowing with young and old people on their way home from the prayer or on their way to visit friends and relatives or just enjoying walking around with their friends. The sidewalks had plenty of shops selling biryani, kababs, sewain, toys and all kinds of bric-à-brac. The children all around looked especially festive in their new clothes, fancy shoes and many different kinds of dark glasses!

We found the apartment where Shamima has been staying for the last few months with her children. They have had to leave their old and crumbling set of rooms which were too well known and too exposed for their safety. Ever since the CBI court in Ahmedabad started hearings of the encounter case and especially after the CBI filed its first chargesheet against senior officers of the Gujarat police indicting them for their role in the encounter (all the accused have been in jail since 2004 because of their involvement in the Sohrabuddin encounter case), Shamima and her supporters have felt threatened. Once, men claiming to be policemen, tried to force open her door in the middle of the night. On another occasion, the car in which she was returning from a hearing in Ahmedabad was shot at. A deep sense of insecurity forced her and her children to leave their home and take refuge in a flat belonging to a sympathetic supporter for a few months.

Shamima’s face was wreathed in warm and welcoming smiles when we entered. She hugged us Eid Mubarak and was followed by her daughter, Masarrat. Two younger daughters were a bit shy to begin with but soon regained their lively, youthful exuberance. Their brother, Anwar, was very much the young man of the house, conscious of his role as the only earning member of his battered family. Very soon we were eating delicious sheerkhorma and listening to several chattering voices.

Both Shamima and her husband belonged to Patna. Masarrat and one of her sisters were sent to their nani there soon after Ishrat’s death. They have been studying there since. But, like all Mumbai girls, they consider Patna to be little better than a village!

Masarrat has a serious point. She says that for members of a poor family like theirs it is much easier to find work in Mumbai.

Anwar maybe the only family member with a job — he works in a call centre after having given up his education because of lack of money — but everyone contributes to the household. Shamima and her daughters take in sewing and embroidery work and they told us, quite proudly, that, of course, they had stitched their new clothes for Eid.

Speaking of working of course, brings memories of Ishrat flooding back. It was the necessity of finding work to pay for her own education and for her family’s expenses that had made her take up a job with “Uncle Javed”. Two months later, her bullet-ridden body lay next to his and to the bodies of two other men on a road outside Ahmedabad. An AK47 lay next to her. It did not, however, have her fingerprints.

Shamima wipes away just the one uncontrollable tear and composes herself. She says, my daughter could earn only two months’ salary. She gave me all the money she received but made sure that her college entrance fees for the next academic year were paid well in time. Once college started again, she would stop working for Javed and go back to studying and then taking tuitions for the children of the locality. Something she had been doing for several years.

Masarrat will soon finish her studies and maybe getting married after that. She is determined to work, however. The two younger girls too dream of studying and then working. All three girls are determined to lead happy, normal lives and to see at least some of their dreams fulfilled. Anwar is already quiet for his age. He feels the burden of his responsibilities but does not resent them.

Shamima is the quiet and still centre of the family. She is the lightening rod that has absorbed the shock and trauma of her daughter’s cold-blooded murder. From a woman leading a life of seclusion, she has grown into a woman who has faced police interrogation, heart-rending encounters with the cold and unfriendly corridors of justice, the suspicion, indifference and hostility of her neighbours and the intrusive cross-examinations of the media. Through it all she has retained her innate graciousness. Her unshakable belief in her daughter’s innocence and her absolute determination to fight for justice so that the black stain of being a “terrorist” can be wiped off forever from her child’s innocent, angelic face has given her the immense and incredible courage that was necessary to face what were, truly, insurmountable barriers.

Today, justice seems within her grasp but she knows only too well that it may yet prove elusive. Still, the knowledge that millions all over the country are now convinced of her daughter’s innocence fills her with the hope that her sons and daughters will be allowed to live the dreams that were so tragically snuffed out in Ishrat’s young heart.

We take leave of Shamima, happy that we have been able to participate in the celebrations of this brave band of unarmed warriors and humbled by the courage they display despite the cruel strength of the enemy that they know only too well.

A former member of Parliament, Subhashini Ali is president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 September 2013 on page no. 1

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