| Shahnaz with her daughter Mobin at their residence in Janipur on Friday. (Reuters)
Jammu/New Delhi, Oct. 3 (Reuters): It was a split-second decision that changed her life forever.
When Shahnaz Kausar jumped into a Pakistani river eight years ago, she thought death would free her from the daily harassment and taunts of her then husband and his family.
But the desperate suicide attempt was only the beginning of a long spiral of troubles that now sees the Pakistani woman trapped and alone in India with a young daughter.
The Jhelum swept the young woman into Jammu and Kashmir where she was picked up by the army and handed over to police.
Shahnaz was convicted of entering India illegally and jailed for 15 months, where a prison guard raped her, resulting in the birth of her daughter, Mobin.
“I repent what I did in a fit of anger. Our survival is in the hands of God now,” cried the frail-looking Shahnaz, now 30 and living in a bare one-room tenement in Janipur on the outskirts of Jammu.
“I just want to go back to my country and live with my daughter there.”
But going back isn’t easy.
When she tried to return to her village in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir in 1997, Pakistani immigration officials at the border said they would accept Shahnaz but not Mobin, whom they rejected as Indian.
Shahnaz refused to leave without her daughter, then a year old. She was then sent back to prison where she languished for the next few years until she was released in August last year.
“Giving birth to this child has become a big curse for me. It was not my fault. Why am I being tortured now'” she sobbed, sitting in her dingy little room, a copy of the Koran on a shelf nearby. “How can I go without her'”
Shahnaz’s story is a tragic reflection of how tensions between nations can wreak havoc on human lives.
India and Pakistan recently released dozens of each other’s citizens from prison as part of a fresh bid for peace, but increasing Kashmir violence threatens the tentative thaw.
“If this peace process between the two countries goes ahead further, then the prospects of mother and child returning to Pakistan are brighter,” A.K. Sawhney, a lawyer who has been fighting for Shahnaz, said.
“The Indian judiciary has given her relief. Now it is the turn of Pakistan to offer her a healing touch.”
Last month, Shahnaz met Pakistani high commission officials in New Delhi to plead with them to let her go home. “They have taken some documents from me and asked me to wait for their communication,” she said.
A high commission official said her papers had been sent to Pakistan for verification. The decision now rests on whether Pakistani authorities will accept Mobin. “We’re expecting a reply soon. When we receive the verification, we will issue her travel documents and she will be able to travel to Pakistan,” the official said.
Shahnaz spends most of her day reading the Koran and looking after her daughter, who goes to a nearby school. “I don’t want to enter the dark lanes of my past again. I want to leave my past behind for the sake of my child,” she said, pushing back a scarf on her head.
Shahnaz gets by doing odd jobs such as washing dishes, but also thanks to neighbours who have given her many household items, including pots and pans, a sewing machine and a television.
“I requested people to give me a job but it has not materialised yet,” she says. Last year, the high court ordered the state government to give her Rs 300,000 in compensation, which she is keeping in the bank.
And she waits.