‘It was a family member’: Kashmiri parents sell cow for captive son

Jan 11, 2022 | Brutality by Occupying Forces

For two straight months, Hafiza would come out of her frozen and fraught home to fix her tearful gaze at the distance. She would long for her son’s homecoming silhouette at the horizon.

But Agra was nowhere visible in Bandipora.

She would sit at length, shed helpless tears, before getting up to feed her mooing cow. Feeding the beloved animal was the only solace for the mother caught in the web of woes.

Last fall, shortly after Pakistan beat India in T20 world cup match, Hafiza’s son Showkat, born and brought up in Bandipora, was arrested in Agra along with his two Kashmiri college-mates, for allegedly putting out “pro-Pakistan celebratory” WhatsApp posts.

The charges were dismissed “fabricated” by the families, but “to make an example of cheerleaders”, the trio, many believe, were dragged in the dragnet.

With each passing day, Hafiza, 55, was getting restless for her captive son’s welfare. She wanted to meet him, but the family had no resources to travel to the distant city where a pack of advocates pounced on her son for being an “anti-national”.

Except a cow and a small piece of land, her family had no other support. But the travel expenses and the lawyer’s fee had to be arranged for bailing out her “innocent” son.

Lost in the same emotional thoughts, one day, Hafiza decided to do the unthinkable.

What was a ‘holy cow’ for her family suddenly became a ‘cash cow’ in Hafiza’s mind.

“We should sell our cow to get money because we don’t have any other option,” Hafiza hesitatingly told her husband. “That way, at least, we can know about our son’s situation. We can’t leave him to suffer there. He’s alone. We’re having two times meals, I don’t know if our son is eating anything or not.”

That day, one of the two family income sources, came under serious threat.

“It was like selling kidney for heart,” Mohammad Shaban Ganai, Hafiza’s 60-year-old husband, recalls the “most miserable” moment of his life. “Either way, it was going to kill us!”

Before his arrest, Shaban’s eldest son, Showkat had been studying engineering in Agra’s Raja Balwant Singh Engineering Technical College for the last three years.

“I mostly taught my children in government schools but Showkat secured a scholarship to study in Agra. But after his arrest in a fake case, he was barred from appearing in his last semester exams. To save him and his career, we badly wanted to bail him out, but first we had to arrange for his lawyer’s fees.”

Families of the three incarcerated Kashmiri students had to contribute Rs. 45,000 each for the lawyer’s fees.

Back home when Hafiza proposed the idea, Shaban took his time. He kept thinking about the cow and his family’s welfare.

“This cow was very close to us and letting her go was like losing a family member, but we had no choice,” Hafiza said.

On the day of parting, Hafiza and her two daughters—who were looking after the cow—broke down like small children.

“We hadn’t had anything on the first two days when we sold our cow,” the mournful mother said.

“It was very painful for us but we did it for our son. Having a cow in a home is like having good fortune. She used to feed us two times a day and was our source of income. She used to give 4-5 kg of milk every day and we used to sell most of it in the market to earn our living.”

Shaban eventually sold the same beloved animal for Rs. 60,000 — the amount he spent on his Agra trip and his son’s lawyer.

On December 14, he went to meet his captive son after two months. With moist eyes, he enquired about his wellbeing.

“It was very painful to see my innocent son behind bars,” Shaban said. “He has never in his life indulged in any wrongful activity. Since his childhood he only aimed to become an engineer to support his family. We’ve come across very hard times in life and he always wanted to be our support.”

Back in Bandipora, the distant landscape Hafiza would gaze at length for her son’s possible arrival is now carpeted with snow. Winter has arrived and with it, the chilling desolation making the mood mournful around.

Apart from the frozen landscape, the cold is equally coming from the forlorn corner of her land where her “mooing member” is missing akin to her son.

With two of her members already out of sight, Hafiza’s wait, it seems, is only passing through the long winter in Kashmir.

Bisma Bhat | Free Press Kashmir