Besides MaqboolBhat, 14 prisoners trampled Srinagar Central Jail walls’

JKLF ideologue MaqboolBhat was arrested for murder and detained in ‘female ward’ of the jail. Another prisoner, Mir Ahmad gave him company. His associate, Yasin was in another barrack. The holy month of Ramadhan brought incessant rains with it.The concrete walls of Srinagar Central Jail have failed to hold Kashmir’s freedom fighters and at least 15 of them have trampled its otherwise inaccessible boundaries since 1951, according to witnesses.

The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front ideologue is among 15 prisoners who have walked to freedom from the prison chains. 

Khawaja GhulamNaqui and his friend were arrested for their affiliation with the first militant organization of Jammu and Kashmir—the ‘Hyderi Column’. The outfit was launched immediately after the creation of India and Pakistan. Arms were smuggled from across the border and a large number of youth joined it. Naqui and his friend had just returned from the Aligarh Muslim University after completing their LLB. Naqui, who rose to the level of Vice Chairman Habib Bank of Pakistan, narrates the incident in his brief autobiography.

After staying in prison for three years, Naqui and his friend decided to escape from the jail. On April 19, 1951 they gave the jail staff a slip and escaped. Both of them crossed the cease-fire line and settled in Pakistan. Naqui grew severely homesick and desperately wanted to come back. His family applied for pardon and when the Governor of Jammu Kashmir finally granted it, he had passed away.

JKLF ideologue MaqboolBhat was arrested for murder and detained in ‘female ward’ of the jail. Another prisoner, Mir Ahmad gave him company. His associate, Yasin was in another barrack.  The holy month of Ramadhan brought incessant rains with it. Maqbool and Yasin communicated with each other through paper slips.  

A jail official carried these slips in lieu of some consideration. Maqbool had informed Yasin about his escape plan.  A room in the female ward was used by the jail authorities for dumping blankets.  The eastern corner of this room was connected to the outer wall of the jail. A four-inch brick wall separated the store from Maqbool’s Cell. He made a hole in the wall and used to cover it with blankets. Now he could easily go to the store room make a hole in the wall for his escape. Slowly he succeeded in making a hole big enough to let a man pass through it.  A prisoner, Abdul Ahad—detained for burglary—was assigned the job of taking food to Maqbool’s cell at Sehri and Iftaar.  

Yasin interacted with him one day. “You are lucky. In this holy month, you are taking food to a person who is destined to be hanged. Allah will reward you handsomely for this.”

Feeling that he had struck the appropriate chord, Yasin expressed his desire to take food for Maqbool at least once in the holy month.  After initial hesitation, Abdul Ahad agreed.

It was raining heavily on December 9, 1968. Ahad handed over Maqbool’s food to Yasin. He covered himself with a blanket and walked towards the female ward. The guard on duty took him for Abdul Ahad and let him in. Maqbool escaped along with Mir and Yasin.

It was the first night of the blessed month of Ramadhan (March 27-28, 1990). An escape planned over the past few weeks was underway in Srinagar Central Jail. Twelve persons escaped and the people celebrated their “freedom”.

The hunt commenced soon after but it was too late. At least 24 employees including the Superintendent and his Deputy were dismissed. Two among them identified as GhulamQadir Khan and Muhammad Amin Zarger were taken into custody and severely tortured in Kothibagh Police Station for 17 days. They were shifted to Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC), HariNiwas, and after a month shifted to Coimbatore Jail in Tamil Nadu.

Interviews with some of the employees, their relatives and the people living in the vicinity of the jail revealed the following story: 

“The power was off in the jail due to a snag in the transformer. The prisoners had somehow managed hexa-blades for cutting the iron rods. They had also made a ladder. The bed sheets were cut into pieces to make ropes.  12 prisoners—Captain Rashid, Khurshid Ahmad Chalkoo, Abdul Rasheed Shaikh, Nisar Ahmad Paul, GulamNabi Shaikh, Abdul Majeed, Azad Ahmad, Ali Muhammad Malik, Bashir Ahmad Najar, Muhammad Amin Sofi, GulamNabi  and GulamRasool Shah– made use of the ‘tools’ they had procured and produced and escaped from Khujyarbal side.”

Interestingly Peoples League (PL) leader, MahmoodSagar, was also in the prison but he stayed back. He was shifted to Jodhpur Jail for security reasons immediately after the jail break.

After a year, GhulamQadir Khan and Muhammad Amin Zarger were released on parole. However, they were required to present themselves before the investigating authorities once a week.  Later the court ordered their release and reinstatement. However, severe torture had adversely affected GhulamQadir’s nerves. He turned mentally ill and died without hearing the good news of his reinstatement.  His relatives swear by his innocence. “He was not on duty on that night,” they said.