IMPRISONED SCHOLARLY

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Thousands of people were jailed in Kashmir since 1990’s. Their miserable lives in confinement notwithstanding; scores of them converted their cells into study centers earning themselves impressive degrees. One prisoner even qualified the Kashmir Administrative Services examination. Hussain Danish Reports. 
    
A long term in jail can be spiritually and physically debilitating for most incarcerated people but not for those who can imagine their lives as productive even in solitary confinement. In embattled Kashmir where detention and arrests are more or less the order of the day, the academic brilliance and perseverance of some incarcerated Kashmiris have proven that confinement has not prevented them from achieving academic pride.

Dr. Qasim Fuktoo, inmate-turned-scholar who earned himself a doctorate while in prison, is one of them.

Before landing in jail, Dr Qasim was known to people as Ashiq Hussian Fuktoo – a B.Com qualified young man from Zaldagar in the old city. He was first taken into jail under POTA in 1992, a year after he was married to incarcerated Dukhtaran-e-Milat chief, Syeda Asiya Andrabi.

His efforts in jail yielded Dr Qasim his first success in 1995 when he qualified M.A in Islamic Studies from University of Kashmir (KU).

“He was from an educated background and that motivated him to study inside the jail. His idea was to utilize the time inside the jail fruitfully,” Dr. Qasim’s brother-in-law, Dr. Taha Andrabi, said. A post-graduate degree was just one milestone in his life behind bars as he went on to qualify Maulvi Fazil in 1997 and M. Phil in 1999. Subsequently, he was awarded a PhD in 2005 for his work on ‘Status of Sunnah in Islamic Thought and Shariah’.

“It was not easy for him to continue the education from within the jail. In all these years he was out on interim bail just for 11 months in 1999. It allowed him to complete his MPhil from the varsity. Dr Taha said. “The coming years were not easy either as we required to get permission from the court for him to do PhD.” Dr Qasim was allotted a guide who, as per the court directions, was to visit him in jail after every 15 days.  

“The biggest challenge was to provide Dr. Qasim with a library which cannot be done away with during research. Therefore, we (relatives) took it onto ourselves to provide him the books and other study material from outside,” Dr Taha said.

During his detention period of 18 years divided between Kotbhalwal and Srinagar central jail, Dr Qasim was appointed as the lecturer at the IGNOU study center inside the central jail where he mentored 125 inmates who did various under-graduate or post-graduate degrees through IGNOU. He was entrusted the job of the in-charge of ‘Total Adult Literacy Programme’ sponsored by KU in the central jail from 2006 to 2007.  He also got a remuneration of Rs 10,000 for this job from the Varsity.  

The Delhi court quashed his POTA detention order in 2002 but the crime branch of the police challenged the decision in the Supreme Court. The yearlong trial concluded in 2003 with rigorous life imprisonment for Dr Qasim.Nevertheless, he continues to teach inmates as part of his allotted daily rigorous work during life imprisonment he has been serving since the Supreme Court ruled against him in 2003.  The decision was in response to the legal challenge by CBI to Delhi court’s ruling in favor of Dr Qasim and against POTA.

Before Dr Qasim Kashmir had already seen G N Var, a detainee at Tihar jail under TADA, coming out as an academician who had earlier established S N Das Gupta College in Kashmir for coaching civil service aspirants.  

Their achievements inside the jail has inspired many an inmate to become dedicated students with an eye to live a stable life after their release.
Thirty-seven-year old Nisar Ahmad Bhat of Arwani Islamabad was a student of higher secondary when he crossed the Line of Control (LoC). For 19 long years his family had no idea about his whereabouts until in November 2008 when they read about his arrest in a newspaper.

Nisar was initially detained at Kotbhalwal jail in Jammu where his family members got a chance to cultivate in him a desire for a stable life.

“He had started learning Hindi initially. We sensed the bent in him for studies and started to urge him to take up studies again and he agreed,” Muhammad Maqbool Bhat, his elder brother said. “Having lost a major part of his life Nisar wants to settle down now and he sees education as the only way out for. He is intent on doing some job for livelihood once he is released so that he can marry and live a stable life.”

Son of an uneducated family, Nisar today is a graduate with a degree from Aligarh Mulsim University, distance mode. Besides, he has completed a certificate course in computers from DOEACC. Now he is planning to go for a post-graduation course from within the Srinagar central Jail where he is presently detained under Public Safety Act slapped on him for the third time.

“He completed BA last year but he does not want stop at that and is now planning to go for MA. Whenever we go to meet him he is busy with books, hoping that he will be released soon to make most of the degrees he would have qualified by then,” Maqbool said.Ashiq Hussain from the volatile Mattan Chowk in Anantnag is another inspiration for many jail inmates busy educating themselves. He is now working at the renowned Iqbal Memorial Educational Institute.

A former member of the Hizb-ul-Mujadeen militant outfit, Ashiq landed up in jail in 2004 and spent six years of his youth in confinement. He was initially detained at Kotbhalwal jail, for 14 months, but a trial court at Anantnag shifted him to Central Jail Srinagar, unintentionally lending his family a chance to be his motivation for education.

“At the time of arrest I was 20 and had qualified 10+2. I was a Hizb militant and was booked under section 302. When I shifted to central jail, my family members motivated me to study. They sent me books and helped me to submit the form at Kashmir University for BA first year,” Ashiq said. During the years of his detention Ashiq was a student of Dr Qasim who, according to Ashiq, taught him well in absence of any help from jail authorities.

“Kashmir University used to send a team to jail for conducting the examinations.  There was no help provided to me by the jail authorities. They did not even help me in submitting the examination forms.”

Rafiq Ahmad ShahAfter completing his graduation, Ashiq decided to go for B Ed during the later years of his detention. But he was shifted to Kathuwa jail “which lacks facilities for education.”

“While in central jail Srinagar,” Ashiq said, “I was selected for the B Ed course. But I could not pursue the course as they shifted me to Kathuwa jail where education was not possible.”

Ahsiq was released in 2009 and got a job in the reputed Iqbal Memorial educational Institute to earn his livelihood and plan a settled life ahead.
The show of determination by these prisoners is now throwing a challenge at the state government by getting themselves jobs and earning respect in the society. The former education minister’s accused killer may become an administrative officer.

The under trial 28-year-old Shabir Ahmad Bukhari of Kreeri in Baramulla made it to the last stage of the Kashmir Administrative Service exams. But he could not cross the line for his supposed inability and some “unknown reasons”.  

Shabir was arrested in 2005. He has four cases registered against him which include charges of hatching a conspiracy of Fidyeen attack at the time of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kashmir during the first UPA government, attack on former chief minister Mufti Muhammad Syed, and the murder of a former education minister.  After completing his degree in law Shabir decided to go for KAS in 2009 choosing Urdu as his main subject.

“He qualified the mains but was dropped in the interview,” said Mir Urfi his counsel.

The journey was not merely a walk the park. Shabir had to struggle hard to be able to sit in the mains examination. “He was not taken to the examination center by the jail authorities and we had to struggle for it,” Urfi said. However, the disappointing finish to his pursuit of KAS seems to have been a morale booster for Bukhari who is now thinking beyond the state civil service.

“He is preparing for Indian Administrative Service examination now. He has already submitted the form for Preliminary examination and is working had to qualify it,” Urfi said.

Shabir is presently detained at central jail Srinagar working hard and hoping he can make it from prison straight to the civil secretariat.  
However, not all other young prisoners have been lucky. Despite untiring efforts by their families some have not been granted clearance by the authorities for education of their wards in detention.

Muhammad Rafiq Shah is the only son of the family—a retired father, aged mother and two young daughters. He had been a student of Islamic Studies at Kashmir University when police arrested him during a raid at his Alesteing residence in 2005. Under trail he was accused of involvement in the October 2005 blast at New Delhi and was lodged at the Tihar jail.

“He was preparing for the fourth semester examination when they raided our house on November 21, 2005 morning. Later we found that he was accused of involvement in the Delhi blast,” Muhammaf Yousuf Shah, Rafiq’s father, said.

After an intense struggle he was permitted to complete his degree at KU but the authorities are allegedly reluctant to allow him to pursue PhD.

“We struggled hard to get permission from the court for him to sit in the examinations at Kashmir University. The same was granted and Rafiq was brought to Srinagar for a short while. Thus he was able to complete his degree,” his father said. “Subsequently, he wanted to go for Ph. D. We completed all the formalities for him to appear in the entrance but the court did not grant the permission. These days he does study in the jail though not for any degree.”
Six years of separation have not consumed the family’s hope to see Rafiq back. In whatever little pension Shah gets, he manages to pursue his son’s case in the court. Like hopes, the family’s struggle to get their son the permission for PhD too is refusing to die down.

“It is difficult to keep on this fight. Every hearing at Tees Hazari every six or eight months costs much and it is difficult to manage the expenses from the pension,” says the father. “But we have done everything we possibly could to secure his release. We have the evidence that shows that he was in the class at the time of the Delhi blast. Yet they are not releasing him.”

Dr Aasit Faktoo“We are still trying to help him get the permission for PhD. Hopefully we will get it.”

The Srinagar central Jail has established for in-mates an in-house library, which jail authorities claim is better than most. It contains around 400 books on academics and literature. Apart from imparting some good job-oriented skills like tailoring, house-wiring and carpentry to less educated inmates, there is a DOAECC established computer lab inside the jail, offering certificate courses to the inmates.

Given the government’s reluctance to take into public sector the prisoners who come out from jails holding degrees, should their hard work remain merely a self-satisfying effort?

“We only have a few exceptional cases where prisoners have qualified the degrees. But the point is how the government is spoiling the career of students. Once these qualified detainees are released they are not considered for government jobs given that they have police records. It rendered their entire hard work useless,” argues sociologist Prof Bashir Ahmad Dabla. “We have many students languishing behind the bars. They are fertile brains which are being spoiled for they are neither able to concentrate on studies nor is the state showing any intent of trying to encourage them for studies.”

Around 70 per cent of youths booked under PSA in recent months, reportedly appeared in various examinations. If their detentions continued, in near future more Kashmiris may have to pursue academics from within jails like Burhan Bashir of Pather Masjid locality in the old city who passed BA second year examinations from central jail.

“He was studying in second year when police arrested him in June. Luckily the University team visiting the jail conducted his examination and his one year was saved,” said his aunt, reluctant to reveal her name. “His PSA detention order was quashed they are releasing him. He has been taken back to central jail. We do not know what next.”

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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