Prisoners’ plight

Iftikar Geelani’s My days in prison tells us what an Indian jail looks like and how much accountable New Delhi is to the international community

An article titled `The Forgotten Prisoners’ was written by a civil rights lawyer Peter Beneson and appeared in Weekend Review section of The Observer on Sunday 28, 1961. The article made a huge difference to political prisoners.   

The arrest of two Portuguese students had prompted the author to write the famed article. Yes, the article had an impact. The Amnesty International owes its birth to this article. “If Peter Benenson could unite the world in a ‘positive anger’ in 1961 to defend the prisoners, there is no legal, political or financial bar in our way to ‘unite in anger’ and start examining the life of Kashmiri prisoners not only in Tihar jail Delhi but in all the prisons in Kashmir and in various other parts of India?  The question was also raised last year by London based Dr Nazir Gilani in a thought provoking article. However, the article went un-noticed.   

Thousands of articles have been written in the local dailies on the plight of political prisoners since 1990 but who cares. Every year, the Bar Association sends at least three teams to different jails in Jammu Kashmir and India. The association has come out with several reports suggesting measures for welfare of the political prisoners. But the woes of the prisoners never end. Why? Because Delhi is not Europe. Torture and persecution of prisoners is the policy of the government and is pursued without fail. In fact it has been used as a tool to break the determination of the dissidents. This stands proved by order of the state home department issued in July 2000.  The order directed the jail superintendents not to honour court orders seeking release of political prisoners. The irony is that the order was issued in black and white. This is the only place one earth where the executive dares to issue such an order. The order was withdrawn after the Jammu Kashmir High Court Bar Association registered protest. The intelligence sleuths of the state implement this order in letter and spirit even today.

People who reject the reports of the Bar association as `packs of paper’ must go through Iftikar Geelani’s My days in prison  to know what an Indian jail looks like and how much accountable New Delhi is to the international community. A reputed journalist was taken into custody for possessing a document that is easily available on the net. He was forced to clean the dirty latrines of Tihar jail with his shirt. A well known human rights activist, Muhammad Ahsan Untoo was sodomised in a torture chamber at Delhi. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

International organizations like Amnesty International and the ICRC have failed to rescue the prisoners. The appeals of Amnesty International seeking release of political prisoners have never been heeded by government of India. Similarly ICRC intervention has not made much difference.  

The shameful role of the OIC is equally condemnable. Its resolutions have been used as toilet papers by New Delhi. The government of India seeks a berth in the OIC but when it (OIC) seeks Kashmir resolution,  the organization of more than fifty Islamic countries becomes untouchable and is told in clear terms to stay away from `internal affairs’ of India. Where does accountability lie? Any deviation from the known Indian stand in Europe or elsewhere evokes a scornful reaction in New Delhi. 

Yes, the leadership has failed to provide the much needed solace to the prisoners but what treatment has been given to them by the authorities?  And who is responsible for the killing of hundred thousand souls? Who must pay reparation for failing to respect the right of life of a Kashmiri? The next of kin of the victims of violence would receive a hundred thousand bucks from the government under SRO 43. Do not commit the mistake of connecting it to the generosity of the government. It was given to come clean at the international level. The victim’s family would get the sum only after soliciting an affidavit stating therein that the victim got killed in cross fire. News reports highlighting the fraud were rejected as “malicious propaganda at the behest of the militants to malign the image of the security forces.”  

Hurriyat bashing has become a fashion these days. Post-retirement columnists, university teachers and so-called human rights activists invited to seminars by the gullible leadership make it a point to bash the leaders.  Late in the evening (on the day of seminar) they sit in a restaurant and receive praise for their utterances from people who miss no opportunity to blame the leadership for all the problems Kashmiris have been facing.  There is no denying the fact that the leadership has miserably failed to deliver, but if there is somebody somewhere who believes he can deliver better, he must come forward to help the leadership with his intellect.   

Peter Beneson has rightly said: “The newspaper reader feels sickening sense of impotence. Yet if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done.”
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