‘My husband was trapped by his friends who gave him a visa and used him as a drug carrier’

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Photo: Najeeb Shah

Suhara Kunjalavi was born in a poor family. Her parents got divorced when she was just three and left her in the custody of her maternal grandmother. Since then, she has been at the mercy of others. When she was in Class IX, her grandma arranged her marriage with a local youth.

“I was 14 when I married Kunjalavi, a labourer, in 1987,” recalls Suhara. “After marriage, he went to Saudi Arabia and worked there. Two years later, he returned to Kerala and worked as an auto broker and real estate agent. We had a good life. Our son Ashik was born in 1990 and daughter in 1992.

“Sometime in 1993, he told me that he was planning to go back to Riyadh for work and was getting a job visa through friends. I was not happy with his decision. But he wanted to save money for our daughter. He left home in June 1993. I don’t remember the date. That was the last time I saw him.”

Later, she came to know through his friends that he was arrested for drug trafficking and beheaded in 1996.

“I came to know about his arrest very late,” she says. “I wondered why he never wrote to me. There were no telephones in our area during those days. In 1996, I got a letter apparently sent by my husband. He revealed that he was going to get beheaded for drug trafficking, and asked me to take care of our children. But I don’t think he wrote that letter because the handwriting was different. I received that letter 50 days after his alleged execution.

“I have no idea how he got involved in drug trafficking,” she says. “Some people told me he was trapped by his friends who gave a visa and used him as a drug carrier.”

She kept that letter in a box. But the letter also vanished, just like her husband. Now, she has no proof of his death.

After his death, Suhara’s life was trapped in poverty. She had no job. Feeding her children was her first priority. Initially, she worked as a maid in a school for the handicapped. And later, as a helper in a local hospital.

“Life was never easy after his death,” she says. “Ashik was the worst-affected. He started working at the age of nine. He took up all kinds of jobs to support us. If his father was alive, he would have excelled in studies. He is working all the time and saving money to buy a house.”

She was forced to marry her daughter off when she was just 16. Now, she regrets the decision because her daughter’s marriage is going through a rough patch.

“Poor people have no choice or can’t take decisions concerning their families,” she says. “When you depend on others, they take advantage of your helplessness.”

As Suhara talks about her life, Ashik breaks into a smile. He has never heard his mother talk about her past.

“Mother never told me these stories,” says a soft-spoken Ashik. “Maybe she had no time. I don’t have any memories of my father. I never probed about his death. His friends told me that he was duped by his friends.”

Ashik works at a chicken shop during the day. After dark, he does all kinds of jobs that come his way. He had to sell his house to raise money for his sister’s marriage. Now, he is staying with his mother at a relative’s house.

“If my father was alive, our lives would have been quite different,” says Ashik. “I have learnt one lesson: Never do anything for money. If I work for the sand mafia, I can make a lot of money. But it will not bring peace. It is better to live in poverty than join hands with criminals.”

Suhara has no documents to prove that her husband was beheaded as the Saudi Arabian government had never communicated to her about her husband’s arrest or his execution.

Now, she is struggling to get the pension meant for poor widows as she can’t prove that she is a widow.

“If I get any pension, it will be of great help,” she says.

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Bureau Chief, South

Jeemon Jacob has been a journalist for 26 years both in print and television, as of 2011. He was a Reuters Fellow and spent nine months in Oxford University as visiting scholar in 1994-95. He has headed the political bureau in New Delhi of the Rashtra Deepika group of publications and later joined News Express in Brunei Darussalam as Features Editor. He won the Statesman award for rural reporting in 1987 for his seven articles that exposed a brown sugar racket in Kumily, Kerala.

In 1990, he won the state award for best reporting and in 1992, his article on social alienation of people with HIV/AIDS won the prestigious PUCL Award for human rights reporting in 1992. Jeemon is a graduate in English Literature and Journalism and has exposed the corruption behind the DMK government’s allotting prime land to high court judges, senior civil servants, and the kith and kin of politicians under the government’s discretionary quota. He is based in Thiruvananthapuram.

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