Bollywood dreams, curiosity land them in jail

Bollywood dreams, curiosity land them in jail

Behind the customary practice of exchange of prisoners at the Attari border each time lies the harsh reality of young boys straying across porous borders - many accidentally - and eventually spending harrowing nights in jail and juvenile homes.

Incidents of teenagers straying into  Indian side have seen an increase in the last 4-5 months. And given the complexity of securing borders, some like 16-year schoolboy old Nauman Arshad have not been the fortunate ones being branded a potential human bomb. For others like 13-year old Mohammad Alim, his Bollywood dreams were too heavy to handle and landed him in a juvenile home in Amritsar, albeit, this time, the BSF was convinced of his innocence, unlike in the case of Arshad.

Arshad was labelled a potential human bomb by the Border Security Force (BSF) after a handful of almonds were recovered from his pockets on his arrest in January this year. The BSF weaved a theory indicating that the suspect was trained in Peshawar along with Ajmal Kasab, the chief suspect in the Mumbai attack case. The terrorists targeting Mumbai brought dry fruits in bags to sustain themselves during the siege, the BSF then explained hard as it tried to firm up its case against the school boy. Arshad’s arrest, after he inadvertently strayed into Indian territory from the Punjab border, followed a long harrowing ordeal of sustained interrogation, which finally ended on his released from Indian jail a couple of weeks ago. No charges could be proved against the boy. He was repatriated to Pakistan along with 63 others through Attari.

A BSF officer explains the complexity of the situation. Truth is hard to ascertain initially. “We have to go by the rulebook and show the arrest. Some say they have come to meet Shahrukh Khan while  others come to watch the ceremony at the border and stray this side,” he said.

But many of the boys have to wait long in the Juvenile homes before they can
return to Pakistan. The delay at times is  inordinate given that Pakistani authorities do not respond immediately, said a source.

In a recent case, 14 year-old Esju Khan was arrested by the BSF after he entered Indian territory. The boy revealed that he was a resident of Chandpura district of Lahore in Pakistan, belonged to a poor family and left home in anger. The boy is yet to be repatriated since there has been no response from Pakistani Rangers.

For 13 year-old Mohammad Alim, the desire to meet the Shahrukh Khan was too much. A resident of Khangarh in  Mujjaffarnagar, Pakistan, Mohammad crossed over into the Indian side some time back. A routine patrolling along the international border on July 13 got the boy in trouble. He was arrested.

But during questioning, the BSF was convinced that he did not enter the  border with any ulterior intentions. He spent a few months in juvenile home.

Another case was that of Imtiaz Ali and Abid Ali. Both in their late teens, had come all the way from Faislabad to attend the retreat ceremony at Wagha and strayed into Indian side and were arrested.

But Arshad's case was a sordid tale of misjudgment, although justice was finally delivered. Deputy commissioner Amritsar K S Pannu said: “The boy was the happiest among the lot returning to their homeland. He was proved innocent,” he said. Arshad’s case was peculiar in many ways. The boy, a student of Government Higher Secondary School for Boys in Lahore, was in the school uniform at the time of arrest. The boy claimed that that he took a bus from Lahore to the India-Pakistan border following a tiff with his mother. He did not go to school that day and strayed into the Indian side. But, the BSF claimed that it had foiled a repeat of Mumbai attack.

Arshad was handed over to Punjab police for investigation. Besides 150 gram of almonds, a wrist watch, a ten-rupee Pakistani currency and a chemistry book were recovered at the time of his arrest.

The group of human rights activists - Human Rights International (LFHRI) - took up his cause. Navkiran Singh, a human rights activist and an advocate in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, approached his family in Pakistan and assured them of Arshad’s return. “His mother, Tahira Anwar, had sent me documents to prove her son’s innocence and age. He was 16 when the BSF claimed his age to be 18,” Navkiran said. Nauman’s
father is dead and the family lives at Baghbanpura area of Lahore with his maternal uncle Asif.

The BSF theory against Arshad was unsustainable, he said. The BSF earlier claimed that the boy was on a reconnaissance mission at the Attari international border to facilitate infiltration of a squad of seven suicide bombers, including three females. The prosecution did not have any evidence to substantiate the BSF's claim. Advocate V P Singh Bhatia for Nauman Arshad said that the BSF admitted in the court that Nauman Arshad had arrived  in India inadvertently and never claimed that he was a teenager terrorist.

A juvenile court passed down Arshad’s release orders and issued warning to Nauman who was booked under Section 3 of the Indian Passport Act.

Comments (+)