Charged with espionage and detained for four years, photojournalist Maqbool Sahil wrote books inside the jail. He writes about the torture and his helplessness during his incarceration.
I was arrested in Badami Bagh area of Srinagar on Sept 16, 2004, while coming out of the Cantonment that houses the headquarters of the 15 Corps of Indian Army. The then army’s public relations officer, Col Ravi Batra had given me a ride in his car from Mushtaq Press enclave, Residency Road so that I could collect the payment of a bill of my employer (Weekly Chattan) from his office.
After detaining me, the cops in civvies put me in an unmarked white colour Gypsy vehicle and took me to Hari Nivas Interrogation centre. There I was told that I had been arrested by CID/CIK as according to them I was involved in some espionage network, working for Pakistan. For more than 15 days I was subjected to third-degree torture. They charged me under OSA and EOA, which are non-bailable and carry a death penalty.
During interrogation, they would use a wooden roller on my legs, suspend me from the roof, cane my feet, regularly beat me and do so many other vicious things to me. They were seeking information about my “involvement”. As I was unable to provide any, the intensity of the torture increased. I was so wrecked by the physical torture that I was unable to stand on my feet. Other detainees would help me change clothes or to eat. My residence at Barbarshah, was raided thrice and all equipment including computer, books, CDs and dairies were taken by the CID personnel, which have not been released, so far.
On October 1, I was shifted to Central Jail Srinagar, where I was kept for a month. On November 1, I was again taken to Hari Nivas and the next day shifted to Central Jail Kote Balwal Jammu along with a PSA (Public Safety act) detention order for a period of two years. The High Court quashed the PSA after one year. I was brought back to Srinagar and lodged in interrogation centre Humhama (Hari Nivas had been shifted to Humhama during this period). I was again detained under PSA and shifted back to the Kote Bhalwal jail. The process was repeated four times in 40 months up to January 2008.
During those 40 months, I was almost cut-off from my family. I could hardly see my children. I met my aged mother Zenab Begam after two years in Humhama Interrogation centre and her condition was worse. I saw one of my brothers, Abdul Majeed Khokhar, after 41 months. He was the only person, who looked after my family during my detention. He is physically challenged and would repair radios or TVs at home to feed my 8 member family – my five children, wife and mother.
Being a journalist, it was very difficult to pass time inside a strange and tough place like jail. I decided to read and write as there was a lot to read and write around me within the high walls. I started studying the crime and the criminal as the jail housed all kinds of them. I spent my time along with Kashmiri detainees, civil criminals, Muslims, Sikhs, Dogras apart from foreigner prisoners and talked to them in a “free environment”. Everyone would speak the truth and honestly confess his crimes if any but I found that more than 80 percent of the inmates were innocent. During my detention, I was shifted to interrogation centre Miran Sahib (R S Pora Jammu) thrice and returned after 15 or 20 days to Kote Balwal. I was also shifted to police station Amb Ghrota (Akhnoor) in a fake jailbreak case. From there, I was shifted to District jail Amphalla, where I was kept in a dark, lonely cell in the hot summer months of May, June, July and August of 2007 without a fan, water or cooler. I was allowed out of the cell only once in 24 hours just to visit the toilet. For the rest of the time, I was to use a tin canister as a toilet and later clean it in the “main” toilet. That was the toughest time for me but… it passed.
During detention, I almost completed the scripts of seven books, including my jail dairy “Shabistan-e-wajood” which was adjudged as the 2nd best book (worldwide) by France-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) in 2009. The other books I wrote include a story collection, poetry and fiction, which are now in the process of publishing.
The authorities were supposed to file a charge sheet against me before a court within 60 days but I was held without any trial for more than 30 months. When courts quashed the 5th PSA detention order slapped on me, my case was presented before a Sessions Court in Srinagar. The case is still going on and I have to attend the court every month.
I was released on Jan 9, 2008, from Humhama interrogation centre. By then I had lost all my professional contacts and ‘sources’ as a journalist but I was supposed to carry on my old profession. After working as a journalist for 18 years there was no alternative. Shabir Ahmed Shah offered me to join Hurriyat Conference; I rejected it because I liked my previous profession and wanted to be known as a journalist, a writer, an author or as a photographer, more than that I wanted to be along with my old friends in the profession. I missed them badly during my detention.
(The author is the editor of local weekly ‘Pukaar’ and hosts some radio and TV programs.)