Prison Writings A Kashmiri Woman Joins the Club

It would be plagiarism. It would not be an original writing. So much has been written about literature produced inside the jails that any writing on them would smack piracy. The literature written inside the prison is now recognized as separate genre. The ‘prison literature’ as the genera is known by the students of literature is as vast   the literature produced during the Elizabethan or   the Victorian periods.

Prisons have served as incubators for producing the best literature. History testifies that many great classics of world literature were produced behind the high concrete walls. Jails have metamorphosed offenders into writers, leaders into historians and poets into philosophers. Many great works in poetry, fiction and prose would not have been born had not the authors of these works been behind the bars. Sir Francis Bacon would not have emerged as father of English essay had if he not been jailed.  He wrote best essays during his five years confinement. The Adventures of Don Quixote would not adorned the landscape of great world literature had not   Cervantes, spent his youth in behind stone walls. The much sought after book during our childhood Robinson Crusoe would not have been there had not Daniel Defoe been imprisoned. The Russian literature would not have been embellished with great classics like the House of Dead and the Manor of Stepanchikovo had not Dostoevsky been imprisoned for his ideas.  William Sydney Porter would have died an anonymous death as a cashier in a bank if prison had transformed into a short story writer- to be remembered as O. Henry the inspiring story teller.

The jail writings have enriched the world of literature. They have also immensely contributed to politics, philosophy and religion.

Some great political works have been produced inside jails. The Indian Freedom Struggle did not only give some best minds like Rabinder Nath Tagore and Allam Muhmmad Iqbal and some great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Quaid-e- Azam and Jawaharlal Nehru to the world but also made some best contributions to the prison literature.  Gandhi wrote more than half of his biography My Experiments with Truth during his jail days. Three great books of modern India, Glimpse of World History, the Discovery of India and Nehru’s An autobiography were written by Jawaharlal Nehru during his days and nights in different jails. Scores of sub-continent leaders have recorded their days and nights behind the bars and published them as jail diaries. Some of these are classical works of modern literature. The poetry written by Faiz Ahmed Faiz during his days in prison continues to stir the minds of young minds even today. “If I am assassinated” written in his death cell by Z.A. Bhutto is a treatise on politics inside Pakistan.

Kashmir leaders have had distinction of having suffered very long periods in jails. They were incarcerated during the feudal rule. Imprisoned and tried for years after end of the feudal rule. Some of the leaders spent half of their life behind  the high walls stone walls of Srinagar, Jammu , Kud and outside  jails. But it has been ironic that none of the top Kashmir leaders ever wrote a book inside the jail. Some of them were not only eloquent speakers but also had a flair for writing but shied away from writing their experiences in politics.  Many blame them of not writing for their lacking a strong political commitment and conviction. Some are accused of not inking political history of the land for expediency. It is true that ideologically largely top Kashmir leaders have been ‘fence sitters’. It has been the ‘fencing sitting’ that has made to shift from one political stand to another like spring butterflies. The ideological dilemmas not only prevented them from contributed to prison literature but also in taking right decision at the right moment. It has been this dilemma that has been pushing Kashmir from uncertainty to another.

Kashmir has no rich prison literature. None of the top leaders of the yester years have published prison diaries enabling the younger generation to have an insight into the politics that they live through and far. A couple of poets did some poems inside the jail and published them as collections but none to match Faiz. It were some communist youth detained during early seventies who came up with some translation works of the books like Dialectical Materialism and other Marxian literature.

Publishing of prison literature like many other things is a post 1990 phenomenon. Syed Ali Shah Geelani can be called a trendsetter so far as publishing of prison diaries is concerned. He has so far published four book about his prison life, the “stories of prison”, (Roodad-e-Qafas, Two volumes) ‘Kralagund to Jodhpur” and “Return from Gallows”- these books provide an insight into life inside different jails in the state and outside. Geelani is the only political leader who with about thirty books to credit could be called prolific writer. But what could be seen as the book that would inspire the posterity is yet to be written by him.  ‘My Days in Prison’ by Iftikhar Gilani published by Penguin India can be called as major work by a Kashmiri about life inside Delhi Jail. Muhammad Maqbool Sahil a journalist has also published his traumatic experiences inside the jail.

The latest book that has been added to prison literature has been the “Prisoner No 100”, by Anjuam Zamaruda Habib published by Habib Publications Islamabad, Kashmir. The book is priced at Rs. 170.00. The 348 pages book in Urdu is a new contribution to the prison literature from Kashmir.

The women of Kashmir right from 1931 have been making their contributions as active partners to the political struggle in the state. There have been many a women political workers who were incarcerated during the feudal rule and after. C. Bilqees Taseer wife Dr. M.D. Taseer writing about Zuni Begum in his book the Kashmir of Sheikh Abdullah  published by Feroz Sons Lahore says, “She of course is only one of hundreds of women who became awakened, who also made their protests and who were amongst many who were shot while demonstrating during early days of the freedom struggle from Dogra Raj.”

The story of Kashmir women during past two decades has been of chivalry, courage, suffering and innumerable suffering. Zamaruda is the first women prisoner of Kashmir who has published a book on her life inside the interrogation centers and jail outside the state.

There are many books that narrate awesome tales about life inside the Tihar Jails.  But this book is more than a prison diary.

It provides an insight into the hideous politics inside the Hurriyat Conference. The author very subtly exposes the vested interests that been overshadowing the cause that this premier “pro-freedom organization” has ostensibly been professing.

There smells a conspiracy in her arrest but author has not very candidly stated who the real people behind the conspiracy were.  Narrating story about her arrest on 6 February 2003 from APHC office in New Delhi she writes, “I was taken aback, when a women police officer in police station narrated to the dot the conversation that I had three days back at the New Delhi office with the Bureau Chief of the APHC office”.

The book between the lines brings out the callosity of the Hurriyat leadership towards the people under detention in different jails. The insularity of the top leadership towards the suffering of scores of youth under detention is lucidly exposed by the author. There are scores of youth under detention in different jails suffering for not getting any legal support.It tells how the Hurriyat Conference like many others had failed to provide legal assistance to her. In quoting her conversation with her relation Khalid who was pursuing his case at New Delhi during a meeting in jails she presents a vivid picture of her plight. She writes that he told him:  “POTA is a horrifying act; we are all worried about you. We are worried when you will be free from here. Even Hurriyat People are not ready to come to your help at this juncture.”

The book like many other books published earlier bringing out harrowing experiences of the author inside the jail. The author was an outcast amongst the social outcastes and criminal for his political beliefs and belonging to Kashmir. The book is different for bringing out details about the authors life inside the jail. For its lucid style and gripping details it holds readers interest from page one to last page.
It is a good read.

(zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)