Kashmiri youth recounts how his boyhood detention transformed his life
By Nusrat Sidiq
Srinagar: Detained as a juvenile on “false charges”, Sahil Zahoor Chonka says his life has never been the same since.
“I was just a kid and was going for tuitions at Khawaja Bazaar when suddenly police bundled me into a vehicle and booked me for stone pelting at Nowhatta police station. I hadn’t done anything. Still they registered an FIR against me and lodged me at Nowhatta police station for eight days.” said Sahil adding that those eight days of detention changed him forever.
“I wasn’t able to forget these eight days of detention.”
Sahil, now 20, was the first youth in downtown Srinagar to be booked under PSA after the public uprising broke out in 2016. Classified by police as a ‘notorious’ stone thrower, Sahil had earlier lost his left eye to pellets in 2015 during a procession at Rajouri Kadal.
“I was admitted at SMHS hospital for 10 days and later on my family took me to Amritsar but my eye couldn’t be saved. When I came back there was a police raid and I was again taken into custody at Nowhatta police station for 15 days,” said Sahil.
In and out of police lockups since 2008, Sahil says, he was “dragged into conflict” after being “falsely implicated” and detained in 2008, when he was just a juvenile.
Today he says he has 15 FIRs registered against him, and despite a quashed PSA, he has to regularly visit police stations to mark his “haziri’.
Sahil says that many youth like him are “dragged into confrontations” by police after “framing them in bogus cases”.
From 2008 to 2016, Sahil says, he has been through hell. He has been detained off and on, beaten, his family harassed, besides being hit by a police car, and injured with pellets.
As a juvenile, when he was first arrested, he had hardly any understanding of the politics and conflict. But over the years, Sahil says, he understood what was going on.
The public protests over the alleged Shopian rape and murders in 2009 had a deep impression on his mind. That year, he says, he took part in public protests for the first time and even hurled some stones.
“After that year, I didn’t do any stone pelting. But once during 2012 I was coming out of a mosque when a cavalcade of CRPF was passing by. As soon I came close to the road, they drove fast hitting my left leg and left me lying on the street with blood oozing from my leg. That kind of oppression made me someone which I didn’t want to be,” said Sahil.
Sahil comes from a business family, and his parents want him to join their business. But they concede that Sahil has been left with “scars that will never heal”.
“He was a kid when he was exposed to something which was beyond him. He was not a stone-pelter. He was just a kid who was going for tuitions,” Zahoor Ahmad, Sahil’s father, said.
A class XII pass-out Sahil left his studies in 2013 when he was booked on charges like giving goggles to stone pelters, setting police station on fire, and beating a NC worker.
“It was the month of Ramadhan when police raided my home. My father, mother and sister were severely beaten. I ran away from my home and went to Mumbai. My father was taken into police custody for nine days without any reason,” said Sahil.
On his return Sahil was arrested and lodged at different police stations for more than three months before being moved to Central jail Srinagar.
A few weeks after the uprising broke out in 2016, Sahil was slapped with PSA and shifted to Kot Balwal Jail where he spent nearly four months.
“(In Kot Balwal) there is pyschological and physical torture. It was like hell to be there. I was put up with Hindu prisoners and they were always pricking that you do this and you do that. It was horrible.”
On the turns his life took from 2008, Sahil says, “The loss is immense. I lost my childhood, I lost my books, I lost my friends and more importantly I lost myself. So there is always a sense of pain which is beyond my control.”