by Cheree Franco
Jumun, a white-haired, leather-skinned farmer belonging to the Thar Desert’s Bhil tribe, described his youngest son, Pehjal Jumun, as mentally unstable. “His mind would start spinning, and he would be angry for awhile. He would refuse to eat, cry for no reason. Then he would become alright again,” said Jumun.
On May 17, 2006, Pehlaj was a loving but moody 13-year-old, attending school and nursing Bollywood ambitions in his tiny hometown of Diplo. That evening, he quarreled with his parents and stormed out of the house. At the time, neither Jumun nor Mulah realized that it might be the last time they ever saw their son.
Jumun has seven children, ranging in age from 18 to 35. His daily life is an agglomeration of the hardships familiar to almost all who dwell in Tharparker District: resources are scarce, water is precious and healthcare is primitive. Pehlaj should most likely be medicated for the seizures he experiences, but a conventional doctor was beyond Jumun’s finances and his education.
“We took Pehlaj to a Sufi pir. He said to give him lots of love,” Jumun said. For the most part, Jumun and Mulah claimed their home life was peaceful and happy.
“Our son was fond of studying, and we all used to take care of each other,” said Mulah.
Initially she and Jumun didn’t worry. Pehlaj took no food or water—they were sure he’d be back soon. But when the night passed and he didn’t return, his family and neighbors began to search. Two days later, a khoji, or foot-tracker, discovered evidence suggesting that Pehlaj had crossed the Indian border, some 30 kilometers from his home.
Now Jumun worries about constantly. For five years and two months, his son has been languishing in an Indian prison. Authorities on both sides of the Indian/Pakistan border seem unable to predict when or if Pehlaj will return home.
“I have cried for so long that I have no tears left,” said Mulah, hiding her face behind her pink dupatta. One of her eyes is visibly murky, a congenital condition that she thinks has been aggravated by her incessant weeping.
The Pakistani Rangers contacted the Indian border police immediately, but they denied any knowledge of the missing teenager. They repeated this claim four times over the next 15 days, at subsequent white flag meetings. Continue reading