1. The case of Shehnaz Akhatar that gave birth to Kaafir's Kainaaz Akhatar
“Wo aese haath bahar nikal rahi thi from behind the bars of a jail jaise zoo mein bandar ko hum kuch dete hai aur wo aata hai bhaag ke,” advocate A.K. Sawhney describes his first meeting with Mobin, Shehnaz Akhatar’s daughter. If not for lawyer Sawhney, Pakistani Shehnaz and her Indian daughter Mobin would have withered away as time almost became a notion in their lives. A moving story wrapped in the stillness of the snow-capped mountains in Jammu and Kashmir inspired ZEE5 Original web series Kaafir. Written by Bhavani Iyer and directed by Sonam Nair, Kaafir is a tale of two neighbouring countries with a shared past. In an exclusive conversation, advocate Sawhney gives a lowdown on the details of Shehnaz Akhatar’s case and what actually happened vs the fictional parts of the digital drama.
Shehnaz is a Pakistani woman from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) who attempted suicide after a dispute with her family. After jumping into the river to take her own life, she unknowingly and unintentionally reached India. Found by the Indian Army, Shehnaz was sentenced to one year in jail for traveling without a passport. Unable to produce valid documents in the court, where she was offered to contest her case, Shehnaz was sent to a jail in Poonch district of J&K state. In Kaafir, we see Bollywood actress and former beauty pageant winner Dia Mirza bring to life Shehnaz’s character on the screen but under a different name, Kainaaz Akhatar.
2. Shehnaz was first found by the Indian Army and later handed over to the police
In Kaafir we see Dia’s character Kainaaz being found by the Indian Army alongside a river. The reluctant officers would have let go off her if not for Mohit Raina’s Vedant Rathod. Mohit essays Sawhney’s role in the web series, as a lawyer-turned-journalist. The part where Vedant loses his brother and in a fit of rage tells the army men to detain Kainaaz is all fictionalized.
Advocate Sawhney recalls the matter as follows, “Shehnaz found unconscious by the Indian Army. They interrogated her for any illegal and spying activities and then handed over her to the police after nothing was found. The police then later found after further investigation that she belongs to PoK and she didn’t know she had entered India. The police were compelled to issue a challan and an FIR was registered that she had come to India without passport. That was the first instance the police notice, the challan then went to court. A judicial magistrate sentenced her for one year and he offered her to contest the case. He told her that you can show the valid documents and we will let you go scot free. She said ‘I don’t know where I am, there was a dispute in my family and I ran away and I don’t know how I reached India.’ She was illiterate, she was not educated. The judge had no option but to give her a one-year sentence. She was sent to Poonch, the extreme border.”
He further adds, “There she was raped by the jailer himself. Thereafter she conceived in the jail itself, during periodical medical check-up she was found to be pregnant. The matter then came into the limelight, it became trouble for those prison people as to how this happened. It was reported to Director General of Police, Zeran Haveli. We call him as Director General of Prison. He came to Poonch via a helicopter and then he met her for the first time. She narrated her story for the first time to that officer. She told him that she was alone in the jail, the jailer raped her one night and there was nobody else in the cell at that time. He then took the initiative, taking the sensitivity into consideration, and transferred Shehnaz to Jammu district jail Amphala.”
3. A.K. Sawhney first met Shehnaz after the first deportation had failed
As shown in Kaafir, Vedant sees footage of a girl walking to school with a guarded officer and gets suspicious. His investigation leads him to the jail where the little one Seher has been staying with her Pakistani mother Kainaaz. Vedant is being asked by his boss to submit a human interest story for the channel. After requesting the jail officer, he is allowed a meeting with Kainaaz where he hears her story. However, in reality, Sawhney only met Shehnaz after her first deportation had failed.
“Mobin, Shehnaz’s daughter, was being raised in the same prison cell as her mother. For the first time, this matter came to my notice during the first deportation. When the daughter-mother were brought to the Wagah border, the negotiations started at the table and J&K police handed them both over to Pakistani officials. But they said there is only one person’s name in the list, the child is Indian and mother is Pakistani. They said you hand over the Pakistani citizen to us and keep the Indian with you. The deportation failed because the mother refused to leave behind her daughter and go to Pakistan. She preferred being in jail for her child. After the deportation failed, this thing came to my notice the next day. Normally, such matters are published in newspapers. I had published it too in my legal journal Journey Line. I was sensitive after publishing the story, as a lawyer, as to why the deportation failed. Shehnaz and her child were sent back to Amphala jail,” narrates Sawhney.
Adding further, “My son Aseem Sawhney, an advocate then now an additional advocate general, accompanied me to the jail. We requested the jail superintendent and asked why the child had to be left behind and Shehnaz couldn’t take her to Pakistan. I then asked them to show me the place where the child was born and also where Shehnaz was being put then. As a lawyer, when I first looked at that child, wo aese haath bahar nikal rahi thi jaise zoo mein bandar ko hum kuch dete hai aur wo aata hai bhaag ke. I was so moved, I told the authorities there that this child is a jailbird, why are you raising her this way? It is inhuman. I couldn’t control myself, I told the superintendent of jail that this child could be kept unlocked, she should be playing in a playground and not be behind the bars. I met Shehnaz and told her that I’d like to take her case pro-bono. I took the vakalatnama after she agreed. I asked her why she didn’t try to get out earlier, ‘she said I am uneducated, what will I do after coming out, who will feed me? She asked me that how will she take care of her daughter, how wills he feed herself and her child and moreover, how will she send her girl to school? We then published the story that she is a jailbird. We filed a petition in the J&K High Court and told them that the lady and her daughter are being kept beyond the sentence. The order to detain her further was quashed.”
4. A.K. Sawhney was moved by the 'jailbird'
Vedant and Kainaaz’s love story is a fictional segment of the story. For, in reality, Sawhney was happily married and had kids when he met Shehnaz. The lawyer only took up her case as an act of humanity and was moved by the ‘jailbird’ as he called Shehnaz’s daughter Mobin. His relationship with Shehnaz and Mobin was truly out of humanity and the romantic angle shown in the web show is a fictional take.
5. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reached out to A.K. Sawhney
After Shehnaz’s incident of failed deportation was published in the media, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reached out to advocate A.K. Sawhney through fax. He described their role in the case saying, “After seeing on media, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reached out to me through fax. They asked me to guide them legally to bring Shehnaz and her child back to Pakistan. I was unaware of Pakistani law, so I asked them to get Pakistani citizenship for Shehnaz’s daughter Mobin. Because Shehnaz won’t leave without her daughter. They told me that they have spoken to the law departments and the citizenship couldn’t be granted, they still kept writing to me asking for a way out.”
However, in Kaafir we saw that Vedant kept struggling alone for Kainaaz and her daughter Seher’s freedom. He even reaches out to the various Pakistani officials but all in vain.
6. A.K. Sawhney received help from ex-Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf
A.K. Sawhney received appreication and immsense support from retired four-star army general who was the 10th President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf. “I told the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan to directly talk to Pervez Musharraf, put the file before him and tell him this is a human act.”
Sawhney continues, “It cannot be done according to the law, you will have to mend it to create a new one because this is an extraordinary thought. Nobody imagines these situations when laws are made, but they can always be amended when something like this happens. I told them that I will take care of all the legalities in India, you provide us support from Pakistan. When Musharraf read the file, he had said then that he will grant Pakistan’s citizenship to the child and asked for the procedures to be carried out. All the credit goes to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan,” he asserts.
7. A.K. Sawhney had admitted Mobin, Shehnaz's daughter to a public school
After Shehnaz was granted freedom and was released from jail, she had nowhere to stay until Pakistan accepted her daughter Mobin. Sawhney then accomodated the mother-daughter duo in his own house and took care of all their expense. “After consultation with my wife and family, I decided to take care of all her expenses and thought of putting her up as a paying guest. But not a single person in my society came forward to help, they all refused because the child is illegitimate. Then the next day I went to meet Shehnaz and told her to come to stay at my place, I assured her to take care of all her expenses, educate her girl and even get her married and was ready to take care of them both for a lifetime. I got my servant quarter vacated and made arrangements for her there, we shared the same kitchen. Her only condition was that she wanted to read namaz five times a day. I got Shehnaz’s daughter admitted to a public school, the first day Mobin went to school, Shehnaz stood outside waiting for her to come home. She was worried as to when would she be back. It was a very extraordinary experience for me, these small incidents were a new experience for me.”
Kaafir started streaming on ZEE5 on 15 June 2019. Catch the web series on ZEE5 now! Share your views about Kaafir in the comments box below.
Now carry your entertainment with you everywhere with the latest collection of movies and series on ZEE5!