A Review of Maqbool Sahil’s Account of Jail in Jammu and Kashmir

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altUS (Pal Telegraph)–Jail Life is altogether a different world, where only the supposed guilty are confined to punishment. The word punishment seems harsh to the State and Establishment, as they brag and boast that the jail term is only a reformation period in the life of those gone astray from the right path.  Those who have gone astray supposedly pose a threat to the peace, harmony and unity prevalent in society. Kashmir, since the partition of subcontinent, has remained a thorn in the flesh of the Indian Polity.  

In any conflict zone, and especially in Kashmir, the role of jail becomes indispensable for the State.  As the numbers of the distracted and youth gone astray increase, so too does the need for reformation and guidance toward the right track.  Prison provides the ideal place to bring these disgruntled youth to the road of salvation, as described in the Gospel of State.  The Gospel of the State has been fed or imparted over last 22 years, when the mass armed Kashmiri Intifada was initiated and the prisons became lively and vibrant with distracted souls. As continues the norm, along with the guilty, innocents are also crushed in the system of justice.  They are crushed because law is blind.

Maqbool Sahil’s book, titled  Shabistaan e Wajood The Ordeal of a Journalist, deals with the ordeal of an “innocent person,” who suffered from the rivalry and callous attitude of the Justice System. The author is a well known journalist, poet and short story writer of the Kashmir Valley, who spent more than three and a half years in different prisons and interrogation centers in Jammu and Kashmir. This book brings about various facets of Sahil’s life, from his childhood to education, education to career, and career to marriage.  The subject matter of the book revolves around the issue of his arrest, interrogation, days in prison, trial and freedom; and, includes excerpts of his vibrant, inspiring and dedicated journalistic life.

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A majority of Kashmiris have the experience of interrogation and jail life, especially the separatist leaders.  Despite this, only a few have come out with accounts of their time in prison.  Syed Ali Shah Geelani came out with four tomes of his prison diaries, namely Rudad-e-Qafas(2 Volumes), Maqtal Sey Wapsi (Return from Gallows) and Bharat Key Istimarey Harbey Kralagund Sey Jodhpur Tak.  Journalist Iftikhar Geelani has also had published his experiences in the Tihar jail in My Days in Prison. Others have failed to document their experiences.  Even Sheikh Abdullah and his compatriots, Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi, have failed on this account. Other lesser known mortals, who are mostly illiterate cannot thus be held accountable. Sahil’s work, therefore, is rare and an essential read for academics, activists, journalists and other concerned humanitarians around the world, who are troubled by the plight of the suffering at the hands of the oppressors. 

Sahil was charged with being an ISI agent.  He was acquainted with the army and government due to covering their functions as a journalist.  He was charged with passing on information to his so-called mentors, the ISI. The description of his life in prison and interrogation centers is hair raising, making one question how such treatment could be possible in this supposed age of human dignity, respect and honour.  

Though Sahil was well known among the high echelons of power, as well as police officials, his acquaintance proved to be of no help in easing his interrogation or obtaining a reduced jail term.  This is because, as he says, the Centre enjoys supremacy in the case of Kashmir rather than the State.

To retain one’s mental balance is a very crucial and difficult task when one is in jail.  Upon entering its premises, the convicted guilty or innocent become the target of senior jail mates and administrators, who pressure him in every manner.  For the outside world and among friends, relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, he becomes an outcaste to be shunned, though these ‘well wishers’ never loose any opportunity to usurp the property in cash and kind, as well as harass the family of the convict. Sahil is very angry at the conscience keepers of society and particularly the journalists, the fraternity to which he belongs, for not voicing their concern about his unjust arrest and trial. Instead, they accepted the State’s version humbly and as Gospel truth.

The life in jails, especially in Kathua, Aphala Jail Jammu, where no rules are followed and convicts kept as Cattle, are described in Sahil’s account, as well as the stories of many other convicts who have been falsely accused.  Many of them were implicated by the renegades, who work hand-in-glove with the army and police, or out of revenge by enemies.  The innocent became their scapegoats.  

The mutual bickering, politics and exploitation in jail is thoroughly discussed. Undue profits are earned on the basic necessities required by the inmates inside the jails.  The police and jail officers accept bribes to grant concessions and cash in on the helplessness of the inmates.  The Hindutva goons work in collaboration with jail authorities to make the life of Kashmiri prisoners a virtual Hell.  Communal elements are furthermore nourished and supported by those at the helm of affairs.  These are only some of things that Sahil cites.

The justice process and trial too do not escape the vigilant and critical eye of Sahil, who witnesses how the police and other security agencies delay to send the accompanying squad to take the convicts to court proceedings.  In this process, the court dates are extended and justice delayed. Sahil, who was slapped with the notorious Public Safety Act (PSA) four times, which was eventually quashed by the court a same number of times, witnesses a contrast in its application in the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir.  In Kashmir, the PSA is mostly quashed in courts, whereas in Jammu any appeal for quashing it is rejected and the convict has to spend two or more years in jail.

While Sahil is critical of the Jail authorities or Justice system, he is not too biased or communal not to acknowledge the services, good character and humane qualities of some of the police officials, staff and inmates.  He also criticizes the lack of discipline and self-abnegation among some of the convicted ‘freedom Fighters,’ as well as their leaders and torch bearers of this movement, who have forsaken them and let them rot inside the prisons instead of taking care of their families and coming to meet and ask them about their affairs.  The ‘leaders,’ however, never forsake any opportunity to credit themselves as the inheritors of the Martyrs Legacy.

Sahil’s book is a must read to understand what went wrong in the Justice and Reformation System, as well as to understand a State’s wrath on a conscience keeper of society.  Sahil utilized his time, opportunity and solace that jail offered him to produce seven books in this brief period, thus proving a source of inspiration and a role model to be emulated by those who think and believe that jail life cannot be productive. Alongwith his own prolific outpourings he has helped other separatists such as Ghulam Ahmad Mir to compile his reminiscences of life from being an army man to secessionist titled as Meiney Kashmir Jalte Huwe Dekha (I have Witnessed Kashmir Burning).  Finally, the book also sheds light on various epochs, events and personalities related to the armed struggle and provides political, social and diplomatic insights into various facets thereof, which until now have remained neglected.

 

 

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Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist and can be reached at sikandarmushtaq@gmail.com 

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