Authored by Maqbool Sahil
Reviewed by Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander
Publisher: Meezan Publishers, Srinagar Kashmir
Year of Publication: 2009 | Price: Rs 350 | Pages: 355
Jail Life is altogether a different world where only the supposed guilty are confined for punishment. The word Punishment seems harsh to the State and Establishment, as they brag and boast that Jail Term is only Reformation Period in the life of those who have gone astray from the right path thus posing a threat to the Peace, Harmony and Unity prevalent in the society. In any conflict zone, the role of jail becomes indispensable as number of distracted and youth gone astray boom up thus in need of reformation and guiding light towards 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.
Kashmir since the partition of subcontinent has remained a thorn in flesh of Indian Polity and dissidents, disgruntled and dissatisfied have always found Prison at beck and call but since the last twenty two years when the mass armed Intifada was initiated the prisons became lively, vibrant and necessary for imparting the Gospel of State to these distracted souls. As continues the norm alongwith the guilty innocents are also crushed in the system of justice because Law is blind.
The present book under review is the ordeal of an “Innocent Person” who suffered as an outcome of Rivalry and callous attitude of Justice System. The author is well known journalist, poet and short story writer of Kashmir Valley who was made to spent more than three and a half years in different prisons and interrogation centers of Jammu and Kashmir. This book brings about various facets of Sahil’s life, from his childhood to education, education to career, career to marriage, but the subject matter of the book revolves around the issue of his arrest, his interrogation, days in prison, trial, freedom alongwith excerpts of his vibrant, inspiring and dedicated journalistic life.
Majority of Kashmiris have the experience of Interrogation and Jail life especially the separatist leaders though only the towering among them Syed Ali Shah Geelani has came out with four tomes of his prison diaries Rudad-e-Qafas(2 Volumes), Maqtal Sey Wapsi(Return from Gallows) and Bharat Key Istimarey Harbey Kralagund Sey Jodhpur Tak but others have failed to document the same, even Sheikh Abdullah and his compatriots Mirza Afzal Beg and Maulana Masoodi too have failed on this account. Other lesser known mortals who are mostly illiterate can’t thus be held guilty, though before Sahil published his prison ordeal, another Journalist Iftikhar Geelani had published his experiences in Tihar jail titled as My Days in Prison.
Sahil was charged with being an ISI agent, who used to acquaint with army and government because as a journalist he used to cover their functions and allegedly passed on the information to his mentors i.e ISI. The description of life in prison and interrogation centers is hair raising and a reader can’t believe that even in this age of Human dignity, respect and honour such inhuman practices are carried out. Though Sahil was well known to the high echelons of Power as well as Police Officials but this acquaintance proved to him of no help in easing his interrogation or reducing jail term because he says that Centre enjoys supremacy in case of Kashmir instead of State.
To retain one’s mental balance is very crucial and difficult task when one is in jail because the moment a person enters its premises the convict guilty or innocent becomes target of Senior Jail mates and administrators who pressurize him in every manner and for outside world, 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 much angry at the conscience keepers of Society i.e Journalists, the fraternity to which he belongs for not voicing their concern about his unjust arrest and trail. Instead they accepted the State version humbly as Gospel truth.
The life in Jails especially Kathua, Aphala Jail Jammu (where no rules are followed and convicts kept as Cattle) are described, as well as the stories of many other convicts who have been falsely implicated and many of them on the pretext of renegades who work hand in glove with army and police, or in the process of revenge by enemies in which innocents become scapegoats.
The mutual bickering, politics and exploitation in Jail has been thoroughly discussed. How the undue profits are earned on the basic necessities required by inmates of jail, how Police and jail officers accept bribes to grant concessions and how they cash the helplessness of inmates into surplus profits, and how the Hindutva goons in collaboration with Jail authorities make the life of Kashmiri Prisoners a virtual Hell, and how these communal elements are nourished and supported by those at the helm of affairs.
The Justice Process and Trial too couldn’t 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 and in this process the court dates get extended and Justice delayed. Sahil who was slapped with notorious Public Safety Act(PSA) four times and eventually quashed by the court same number of times witnesses a contrast in its application in the two regions of J&K i.e Jammu and Kashmir, whereas in Kashmir PSA is mostly quashed in courts but in Jammu any appeal for quashing PSA is rejected and convict has to spend two or more than two years in jail.
Whereas Sahil is critical of the Jail authorities or Justice system, he is not too biased or communal so as to not acknowledge the services, good character and humane qualities of some of the Police Officials, staff and inmates, though he seems to criticize the lack of discipline and self abnegation among some 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 them and asking them about their affairs, though the ‘leaders’ never forsake any opportunity to credit themselves as the inheritors of Martyrs Legacy.
This book is a must for understanding what went wrong with our Justice and Reformation System as well as to understand a State’s wrath on a conscience keeper of society, who utilized his time, opportunity and solace which jail offered him so well that he came out with seven books in this brief period of time thus proving a source of inspiration and a role model to be emulated by those who think and believe that jail life can’t be productive. Alongwith his own prolific outpourings he helped other separatist 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).
This book also throws light on various epochs, events and personalities related with the armed struggle and offers a political, social and diplomatic insight into various facets of the armed struggle which till now have remained in oblivion.
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist and presently student of Masters Program of Political Science at Kashmir University