Unacceptable

                            મિત્રો સાથે વાતો…સરયૂ પરીખ. ૮.અસ્વીકાર્ય…
ગુજરાતીમાં વાર્તા વાંચવા..ઊપરની લિન્ક પર ક્લિક કરો.

                       Unacceptable                      Saryu Parikh

          I was helping a nonprofit immigration agency with Hindi or Gujarati-speaking clients. One day I was asked to meet a lawyer and a client. I was introduced to a gentle-mannered young man, Salim.

With a faint smile, Salim greeted me and spoke in Hindi.
He said, “Madam, will you tell this lady lawyer to help me to stay in this country to save my life?” My mind started to comment, ‘If you are not here legally, I cannot and will not help.’ But since a pro bono lawyer was helping, I was prepared to hear him out.

Salim started his story. “I am from a rich and well-respected family in a faraway Muslim country. My problems started with my own mother and her side of the family when I was fifteen. They had noticed that I was always in boys’ company, especially one boy.  He and I were inseparable. I just felt that I was in love with him. People started talking and my cousins and other kids openly started teasing me.  The news spread rampantly in our small village.

“The first time I was called ‘gay,’ I cried without understanding its full meaning. I just knew that it was demeaning.

“One day, I was called to the back room of our house, and my mother and her brother, my mamu, started asking questions about the rumors about me and Razak. I told them that he was just a friend, but they did not believe a word I said. My mamu was a violent man, and I was always afraid of him. For him, shooting somebody to teach a lesson was a very common thing. I was shaken up with fear, and my mother and mamu kept on scaring me with various threats. The bottom line was, ‘This kind of behavior, boy to boy friendship, is absolutely unacceptable in our respectable family.’ I was ordered to end my friendship with Razak immediately.

“My father was always very kind to me. He tried to convince me in no uncertain terms. He explained to me that my gay behavior would bring shame to our family. I cried like a little boy and assured him I would try to be better.

“Similar rage was going on in Razak’s household.  We could not break it off but we became more discrete. I was torn inside, ‘Why am I like this? They all are ashamed of me.’ I tried to be like other boys, but teasing and put-downs did not stop.

“I was good in studies and graduated from high school with good grades. My bigger test came when my mother said, ‘I will select a girl and you will marry her.’ I protested by giving many excuses like ‘I want to go to college. I am too young to get married.’ But she said, ‘We know the real reason, and we will convince you by any means.’ They wanted to prove to society that I was a straight, normal guy. The arguments and stern warnings by my mother and mamu turned into slapping and beating. If my father tried to intervene, my mother would order him to ‘Just keep out of our business. You have made him worthless.’” Salim sadly said.

“I got admission to a city college not too far from my village and left my home without telling anyone except my father. My friend Razak also followed me, and we shared a place with some other students. My mother found out where I was from other students in our village and started sending messages to me to return home. My first year at the college was over. They used my father to bring me back home. My mother and mamu were again trying to force me to move back to join the family business and get married. I went on pleading with them to leave me alone. They told me to live my life according to their rules or else.

“It was late one night. My father awakened me urgently, handed me money and told me to run away. He had overheard that, with my mother’s consent, my mamu was going to scare me with the gun, and if I didn’t agree, he would not hesitate to get rid of me.  I called and told Razak what was going on. He said, ‘I will meet you at the station.’ We took the first train and headed for a far-away city. It was not easy to find our way in the strange new city.

“It took several months, but with a lot of financial help from my father, we rented a very modest apartment. We were happy to have each other to lean on. Our life seemed almost normal until that fateful afternoon.

“We had purchased tickets to go to see a hockey game that evening. We were so excited and felt like a couple of free birds. Early that afternoon I left our apartment to do some shopping. I saw Razak smiling and waving good-bye from the window. When I returned, to my horror, I saw a small crowd gathered near our apartment, and among them there were some of Razak’s relatives.  I retreated as fast as I could before anyone could notice me. I was trembling inside. I had a premonition that I would never see Razak alive again.  Later, my father told me that in the village, Razak’s death was explained as heart failure. If I would have been in the apartment that day, I would have been killed too.

“Now I was not left with any other choice but to run for
my life. I made up my mind to go as far away as possible and disappear in a large city. The money I had, I used up to get there. I started doing whatever work possible to get some food. This world is blessed with some good and kind people who were generous enough to give me a space to sleep. At the same time
I came to know some horrible, cruel people. The gang members gave me importance and small favors so I could be used, like many others, as their strong and blind instrument to oppress the weak and ignorant mass. I was systematically tied into the web, and by the time I realized it, it was impossible to get out. My pleas for freedom were retorted, first with temptations like a university degree, then the promise of power, and later with threats. When
I could not convince my soul to pick up a gun and kill any other human being, I escaped. But I got caught and was tortured for three days. But when there is a will, there is a way. I feel that I have traveled through tumultuous oceans to arrive in this country.

“I paid a very heavy price because nature made me different and I was not deemed acceptable to narrow-minded, ignorant people. I was longing to see my father one more time, but I heard through a friend that my father passed away two months ago.

“I cannot describe the feelings of hope because this lawyer lady believes in my life story and is willing to help me. I promise you all that I will never betray your trust.”

According to the lawyer, his case was worth fighting for, due to his entanglement with the gang members, who call themselves “a political party” in his country. If it would have been only his personal battle, he could not be eligible for asylum in America.

As per his story: When he was hiding in the large city and dirt poor, he accepted some favors from that scary but powerful group. They started treating him as if he was one of their own who was devoted to the cause. Salim went along until that day when five gang men came on their motorcycles and ordered him to hop on. He thought that they were going for a fun ride. Instead, they went to a crowded market and announced, “We are here to teach a lesson of obedience to some idiots who did not respect our power.”

The shouting and screaming subsided when one of the gang members shot a person, point blank. Salim was frozen. That was the first time he had seen a murder in front of his eyes. The jovial gang members were telling Salim, “You can do this chore with your own gun next time.” That night, very clearly, he realized that he did not belong there. He could not take the life of another human being, never!

The next morning, he left his stuff except the important documents and went to his routine work. He snuck out and called his father to inform him about the desperate situation. His father guided him to go to another city and promised him that one certain person would help him. At the railway station, in spite of his extreme caution, a party member spotted him and dragged him to a building under construction. The fourth floor was used as a torture cell of that party. He was badly beaten to find out why he was running away. He was cross examined with the assumption that he was defecting to join some other party.  They left him there to die. But he was not dead when they reappeared the second day. There was some more beating but they did not kill him. Salim realized that they wanted to use his death to show that some other gang had killed their party’s member. He was half dead with cruel beating and without food or water.

Soon after their third visit, Salim’s survival instinct motivated him to find any possible escape path. He started to look around; he noticed a hole prepared for the window air-conditioning unit.  He crawled out and landed in some one’s home. He had bruises and his clothes were partially covered with blood. One lady saw him but kept quiet since in that neighborhood this sort of activity was not uncommon.  He went downstairs and came out of the house to go to a nearby hamaam, where men can groom themselves. He cleaned himself and requested use of the owner’s phone. The owner was sympathetic toward this helpless young man.  For the next two days, he helped Salim so he could get out of that town. He embarked on the train, after it had left the platform, without a ticket.

He wanted to go away, far away from his country. His father had to sell land to send him a large sum of money. To sell land is considered very shameful in his country. His father was humiliated in his society. But anyhow he sent enough money for him. Salim told the travel agent to find a faraway country where he would be least likely to run into his countrymen and where he could go without immigration restrictions. Out of a few he chose to go to one South American country, Guatemala.

He was so naively ignorant that only he knew how much he endured to reach his faraway destination and survive. Every morning when he would wake up in a strange place, he used to touch his body to make sure that he was still alive.

Salim had said, “Wherever I lived, they just knew, and as soon I was recognized as a gay individual, some people showered me with favors so they could use me. Even though, my heart sobs for the death of my love, still this feeling tugs to my heart, ‘Razak is alive’.”

He worked for food and shelter. He came to know about the illegal immigrants and the bootleggers. After a few months in Guatemala, he did not see any future in selling incense and cheap toys. One group of African girls and men had paid a human smuggler, and they needed one Spanish-speaking person. Salim was encouraged by the group to go with them since he had learned to speak Spanish. He prepared for a long journey.

The final destination, America!  He had heard about America but had no clue about their laws and regulations. The group was taken first on a dinky boat at nighttime. Then they walked across the jungles of Colombia. Salim was bitten by some poisonous insect while walking, so he was taken to the emergency room at a hospital in Colombia. He would have died without the timely treatments. During that journey, the whole group had to face life or death situations many times. The group sneaked into The USA via Panama. The details were recorded in the court documents.

He had seen death very closely several times in his young life. Now the justice system has to decide where he will go from here. On this journey he has been touched by so many human beings, who are all the same, but still so very vastly different……

Epilogue:  A note from the organization: Dear volunteer, “- –He won his case! Thank you so much for being part of that victory and for all your contributions to our clients, and their cases!!!”

—-
saryuparikh@yahoo.com

saryuparikh@yahoo.com

1 ટીકા (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Abashed Moon. ઝંખવાયેલો ચાંદ. | ગંગોત્રી...www.saryu.wordpress.com

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