Jailed and honoured

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Iftikhar Geelani’s detention and release from jail is a melodrama that he narrated in a book My Days In Prison. Penguin India published the book and also began their Urdu publications with its translation. Awarded by the Sahitya Akademi for the Urdu version, the AUTHOR narrates the two contrasts – detention and felicitation.

Iftikhar Geelani’

It was a relaxed Sunday when Nusrat Zaheer editor of the Urdu version of my book “Tihar Kay Shab-o-Roz” rang me up and said the book has been short listed for 2008 Sahitya Akademi award, India’s coveted literary prize.

I had nothing but praise for India’s institutions and the strange ways of its democracy, which recognized my work even without asking for it. I even didn’t know that my book was being considered for an award. I am witness to hectic lobbying for such awards in the corridors of power. I was satisfied that excerpts of my original book “My Days in Prison” have been incorporated in curricula at various correctional administration schools training police personnel in jail administration and some media institutions.

But my admiration proved short-lived as soon as I received Mohammad Aslam on that Sunday at my home. Aslam was a barrack mate from my days in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where I spent seven months in 2002-03. An illiterate auto driver, he was convicted for five-and-half years under Official Secrets Act (OSA) for possessing hand-drawn sketches of some roads in Delhi and Agra Cantonments. Besides, police claimed to have recovered from him details of army units located at Meerut and Roorkee and some amateur photographs of ‘vital installations’ like the Delhi Secretariat, the Okhla Barrage and Indian Oil Corporation. Aslam’s ordeal began in May 2002, at an East Delhi bus stop where he had been waiting for a UP roadways bus. Suddenly, a Maruti car came to a screeching halt near him and two persons emerged. One of them asked for directions to an address. As Aslam was explaining the way, another person grabbed him and forced him to smell something that left him semi-unconscious.

As he lost power of resistance, he was bundled inside the car. At that point Aslam had not completely lost his senses. He heard his abductors arguing over whether they had caught the correct man. But one of them finally ended the debate, saying, ‘’This boy is tall and fair and matches the one we want. We can fix him’’. Probably, they had been tailing someone else, who had given them a slip but that did not prevent the abductors from going ahead. Ultimately, at an interrogation centre, Aslam was made to copy the sketches and sign on the paper. This became the ultimate ‘proof ‘ to book and later convict him under the OSA. In jail, Aslam studied hard and passed exams. He was even made coordinator for secondary education. But after coming out of jail where he served a five-and-half year sentence, he was aghast. In a choked voice, he told me that Sunday as Dr Hannef was joyfully reuniting with his family that his third employer has now thrown Aslam out of his job. Aslam was sacked after the employer came to know of his stint in jail. Hardly in his early 30s, Aslam’s future is deeply uncertain. He feels shattered.

In the police lock-up where I had been taken to, I had met Altaf Ahmed, a small time Kashmiri shawl vendor, crying in pain. He had been severely tortured, kept naked in sub-zero temperature; ice-cold water was poured on him and, thereafter, he had been beaten mercilessly.

Police had recovered a million dollar note from him! The note was a novelty note, a souvenir, of no monetary value. On the strength of this novelty currency Altaf was booked for financing a terrorist organization in Jammu and Kashmir. He was convicted and had to spend five years in prison.

Take my case. Had there been no public outcry and some soft hearts within the establishment who ultimately recognized the dirty games of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) sleuths and police, I too, would have been convicted and sentenced to a 14-year long jail term. I know despite assurances from various quarters in the government Mohammad
Ahsan Untoo, Parved Radoo, Ghulam Nabi Najar and scores of other innocent Kashmiri youth are rotting in Delhi’s Tihar Jail.

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