A Kashmiri child torn between India and Pakistan, and between ‘parents’

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, Saloora (Ganderbal)
  • Updated: Apr 22, 2016 22:55 IST
A photo of Ifthikhar Ahmad. The four-year-old spent a few days in prison after refusing to leave his father, Gulzar Ahmad Tantray, who was jailed after returning from Pakistan on Thursday. (Photo courtesy: Ansar Burney’s official Facebook Page)

A two-storeyed house in a quaint village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district has become a local landmark ever since a middle-aged son of the family, who had crossed over the LoC into Pakistan in 1990, returned with his four-year-old son and was arrested last Friday.

Ask anyone on the road about “Pakistan se bacha leke aaya hai…” and they will point out to you a green house.

Family members says Gulzar Ahmad Tantray (43) had returned to Kashmir from Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, with Iftikhar Ahmad (4) on Thursday and presented himself at the police station a day later.

According to the police, Ifthikhar had refused to leave his father and stay with his relatives, thus spending a few days in the prison cell until Tuesday, when the father was granted bail.

Repeated attempts by HT to meet or speak over phone to Gulzar and Iftikhar went in vain and family members at their home in Saloora village in Ganderbal kept saying that the father-son duo had gone to Srinagar with a relative to complete certain legal formalities and was not carrying a mobile phone with them.

A senior cop at Ganderbal whom Hindustan Times spoke to said that under Section 13 of the unlawful activities act and Section 2/3 of the ingress and internal movement control ordinance.

“He has been released on bail on Tuesday evening and investigations will continue,” he said.

Gulzar’s father Mohd Maqbool Tantray, a 68-year-old retired school master, told Hindustan Times that his son had not crossed over to join militants as written in several local media publications, but because he was hounded by militants on the suspicions of being an agent of the Indian intelligence.

“He had gone to Muzaffarabad when he was a student of class 12 in 1990. We have heard he used to work as a medical representative there. We did not ever communicate with him in these long 25-26 years,” said Tantray.

He added, “We all are now very happy. Our son has returned home after 26 years and my grandson is also back with him.”

Clash of narratives

But Iftikhar’s story is not as simple as that. Because, on the one hand there is a happy Tantray family but on the other we have a prominent Pakistani activists raising severe doubts over Gulzar’s fatherhood.

As a result, Iftikhar, unknowingly, has kicked off a cross-border war of narratives.

Iftikhar has become the centre of a diplomatic spat, after a prominent Pakistani human rights activist expressed his doubts over the four-year-old’s parentage. (Photo courtesy: Ansar Burney’s official Facebook Page)

Prominent Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney was the first to highlight the incident on Sunday by tweeting about the child in prison to the Indian external affairs ministry.

In a press statement carried by Pakistani media, his trust had said that Burney had sent letters to Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, home minister Rajnath Singh and the Indian High Commission at Islamabad requesting them to release Iftikhar from prison.

On Tuesday, however, Burney went a step further and wrote on his official Facebook page on Tuesday that Iftikhar was “kidnapped/trafficked” by a man who is “now falsely claiming as his biological father”. The statement further said that Burney demanded “return of the Pakistani boy to Pakistan without any further delay”.

(Image courtesy: Ansar Burney’s official Facebook Page)

There are also conflicting media reports on Iftikhar’s parents. The BBC reported from Muzaffarabad that Rohina Kayani, Gulzar’s wife, had married him in 2002 and she says that since the couple did not have any biological children, they adopted Iftikar in January 2012.

Gulzar, according to Kayani, had taken the child on the pretext of going to a wedding but then travelled to Kashmir. She has reportedly lodged a police complaint in Muzaffarabad alleging Gulzar of kidnapping the child.

But a member of the Tantray family had told a leading Indian newspaper that Gulzar had two wives in Pakistan and Iftikhar is his child from the second wife who is now dead. Kayani, he told the paper is the child’s stepmother, and that is why his brother decided to bring the boy with him.

But family members with whom Hindustan Times spoke to denied all reports of the child being “kidnapped”.

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