In March 2003, Tabassum got married to the man of her dreams. Then a tenth-grader, Tabassum had fallen in love with Riyaz, a professional taxi driver. “We met through an acquaintance and fell in love with each other,” admitted Tabassum, now a mother of three. “I knew about the police case he had but I was head over heels in love with him”.
Hailing from Chattabal, Tabassum belonged to lower-middle-class family. A student of Queensland School, her father was a driver working for Riyaz’s father, Abdul Salam Hajji, who owned a bus, three taxis and was running a wholesale shop in the Qamarwari chowk. Weakened by the stroke of paralysis, Haji got bed-ridden and their lives turned upside down in 1992.
Riyaz’s mother, Salima had to manage the family. “I spent my life in taking care of my husband and raising my children as a single parent,” recollected Salima.“It was hard for me to run a wholesale shop on my own and to bring up my children simultaneously. So, I sold the shop.”
Disturbed by the family conditions Riyaz dropped out in sixth-grade. His elder brother drove a taxi to support his mother. Many years later, Riyaz started to earn by playing an auto-rickshaw.
KASHMIR OF THE 1990S
By then, Kashmir was completely changed by militancy and counterinsurgency. Arrests were rampantly normal, so were deaths and kidnappings. Crackdowns had become a norm those days. In May 1995, army cordoned off the Fruit Mandi Parimpora.“I was identified by an informer and was caught on suspicion,” remembers Riyaz. “They then handed me over to Parimpora police station.”
Salima felt aghast as her neighbour broke the news of Riyaz’s arrest. She pleaded before cops but she had to hire a lawyer to get him out many days later. The life tried to get normal but the family did not know what the future was holding for them.
For some months Riyaz’s family lived in peace but difficult times were yet to come. “We had no idea about his affairs as an auto-driver,” Salima said. “We were shocked to learn that he was arrested again by Parimpora police.”
In October 1995, there was an attack on an Army jeep near PC Dogra Petrol Pump, in which two personnel were injured, of whom G Pullauiah died in the SKIMS. The area was immediately cordoned off and the searches started. Riyaz was driving a passenger and it was searched.
“I didn’t know who he was but I saw the BSF recovering a pistol from him,” said Riyaz. “I pleaded my innocence but I was arrested and dubbed a militant sympathiser.”
Riyaz was first driven to BSF camp in Karanagar where he alleged he was tortured for two months and then shifted to Papa II in Sonawar. There, he spent many months and then moved to Rangreth, another detention centre. His family was assured that he would be freed after six months. But nothing happened as such. Finally, he was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar for two years. He could only move out of jail on bail in 1998. “Once, I was out I heaved a sigh of relief but my life was totally devastated,” admits Riyaz.
Forced by the situation at home, Riyaz picked up the bits and pieces of a broken life to support his mother. With his brother’s support, he started driving a cab to earn for the family. It was during this period that he met Tabassum and eventually married her in 2003.
It was a long Romeo-Juliet story that eventually both the families reconciled with. However, Salima’s regret was that she should first get her daughter married and then she would think of Riyaz and his run-away bride. But destiny had decided in completely reverse of it.
Young, energetic and cheerful, the bride was in her own world of innocence. She was happy that she managed to achieve the goal of her life by marrying her sweetheart. She was unaware of the harsh realities of started life with a person who was detained and has a case, a fact that started torturing her not many years later.
SPANNER IN LIFE
Within a few years, they became proud parents of a son, Moomin Riaz and daughter, Farheen Riaz. They started thinking about their future. Tabassum was taking care of the home as Riyaz would work for long hours on his taxi, driving usually between Srinagar and Baramulla. Living in a joint family was a great help to the family in sailing through the routine. The only aberration of their routine was when he had to attend the court in Srinagar. That day, he would keep his vehicle parked and attend the hearing.
The major crisis came in December 2009 when they were told that his case has been shifted to Varanasi. Busy in preparations of his sister’s marriage he took it lightly and did not believe. With the celebrations over, life started getting serious. The brothers separated but they lived in their ancestral home. “As usual I went to attend the court hearing but to my utter shock, I was told the same thing by officials,” said Riyaz. He met some lawyers but none assured him of success until seven months passed.
Finally, an arrest warrant issued in his name reached Qamarwari Police Chowki. “Busy in finding a way out, I waited for 15 days more which actually worsened the situation,” Riyaz said. “By then, another arrest warrant reached the chowki”.
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