The story of 13-year-old Pakistani runaway boy Kashif Ali could be straight out of a Bollywood movie — down to the happy ending — courtesy, a sessions judge of Faridkot, a human rights activist-cum-theatre personality of Lahore, “divine intervention” and responsive governments.
Kashif Ali — known in his village near Okara as “Ajay” because of his fascination for Bollywood star Ajay Devgan —fled madrassa life about a year ago to chase his tinsel town dream. Arrested near the border at Faridkot, he was kept at the Child Observation Centre there and would have remained for years but for the concern shown bysessions judge Archana Puri.
She saw an opportunity when Lahore’s Ajoka Theatre was invited by the district administration of Faridkot to perform last month. She sought Ajoka’s Madeeha Gauhar’s help in tracing Kashif’s family.
Ms. Gauhar met Kashif who told her that he had fled because he did not want to be in the madrassa where his widowed mother had put him, the youngest of six children. This was not the first time Kashif had fled the madrassa. Ms. Gauhar said she was intrigued at how he could have crossed over, given the border fencing. She added that upon enquiry she came to know, since the fencing was on Indian territory, anyone reaching it would be picked up.
Since time was crucial as a date had been fixed in September itself for granting consular access to Pakistani prisoners in Punjab, Ms. Gauhar brought back with her a video recording of Kashifwhich she released to the local media. His family was tracked down. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan was also roped in to fast-track the paper work.
It was completed with lightning speed. The sessions judge herself escorted Kashif to the border for handing over to Ms. Gauhar. The boy was full of praise for his Indian custodians despite repeated questions from the local media on whether he had been beaten up or ill-treated.
Now back in his village, Kashif still harbours the hope of meeting his idol. Due to fears that penury would force his mother to again send him to the madrassa, efforts are on to make alternate arrangements to educate him and provide him an opportunity to act, even if, only, on stage.