No Country For Kashmiris

  • Wasim Ahmad
  • Publish Date: Dec 15 2017 9:55PM
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  • Updated Date: Dec 15 2017 9:55PM
No Country For Kashmiris

Beating of Kashmiris in Delhi’s Tihar Jail reveals the ugliness that is the Indian prison system

A dozen policemen guard the ward in Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences, Srinagar, where Ehtishaam Malik is recovering from injuries inflicted during a severe beating by personnel of the Tamil Nadu Special Police Force in Delhi’s Tihar Jail last month.

He is one of 18 prisoners, mostly Kashmiris, who were beaten up by guards in the high-security jail on the night of November 21. The victims included Shahid Yousuf, son of Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahudin. Tihar’s security is managed jointly by the Tamil Nadu Special Police Force, CRPF and ITBP.   

Ehtishaam signals his cousin Tawseef he wants to use the toilet. Tawseef picks him up and the prisoner slowly limps towards the bathroom, barely able to walk. He’s not allowed to close the door; four Delhi police personnel keep an eye on him lest he escape from the little window in the bathroom. 

Ehtishaam’s head is bandaged, his broken arm plastered. “I was beaten mercilessly by Tamil Nadu policemen,” he said, speaking in a low voice. “They hit my head about 70 times with wooden and plastic sticks. I tried to shield my head with my left arm but they kept pounding, fracturing my arm. It was as if they wanted to kill me.”

He was taken to a local medical facility, Ehtishaam claims, but they did not treat him. “They treat us like animals, especially Kashmiris,” he said, referring to the jail staff.

What exactly happened on November 21? Sub Inspector Muthu Pandey of the Tamil Nadu Special Police Force barged into their ward, Ehtishaam recounts, and ordered the inmates out. “They had also come the previous day on the pretext of searching wards in Jail Number 1,” he said. 

During the search, Pandey confiscated a pillow from a Muslim prisoner from Uttar Pradesh, Hakim Mohammad, saying it was against regulations. “One Kashmiri prisoner told the police officer that Hakim was allowed to keep the pillow by the court on medical grounds. The officer said he was not scared of anybody. But the prisoners resisted,” Ehtishaam said.

Mutthu fished out his walkie-talkie and spoke to his men in Tamil. Then, he sounded the alarm and in no time around 100 policemen descended on Jail Number 1 and, without warning, started thrashing the inmates with wooden and fiber rods. “The intent was to kill and unleash terror,” Ehtishaam claims. “I was not given even medical treatment afterwards. When I was brought back to Kashmir to attend a court hearing, I cannot describe the pain I underwent during the journey. I have no idea how I reached here.”

“I appeal that all Kashmiri prisoners lodged in jails outside the state be brought back. They have to live the life of pain, torture, suffering and beating every day.”

Ehtishaam, a biotechnologist, said he was arrested in 2012 on “fake charges” of having links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba militant group. “I was in Delhi staying with my cousin and the police raided his home. And they booked me on cooked-up charges.” 

 

At their mercy

No precise figures are available – with the Hurriyat, the Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association or human rights groups – of the number of Kashmiri political prisoners in jails outside the state. According to the government, though, over 900 Kashmiri political prisoners are held in jails across India, including in J&K. 

Tariq Ahmad Dar spent 12 years in Tihar before being released in February 2017. Kashmiris held in Indian jails face daily humiliation and must contend with the communal mindset of jail authorities, the weather and long-drawn cases, he said. “All Kashmiri political prisoners are kept in the high security ward of Tihar,” Dar said. “They are kept with criminals, who make their life miserable. 

“Another problem is the weather. It’s often unbearable,” he added. “About 15-18 people are crammed into one security ward, which is 10 feet by 10 feet. How can you live in such conditions? They give you one blanket and one sheet. It is for both winters and summers. You can have only two salwar kameez, which we pay for,” Dar said. 

The inmates are often denied access to medical facilities, Dar said, and prisoner aid is a problem as well. “If a prisoner needs a pillow or an extra blanket, he has to avail of aid,” he said. “But we’re not provided aid in jails outside Kashmir. The process to get aid is so tedious one desists from even applying for it. You can’t buy fruit without legal permission.”

In his 12 years in Tihar, Dar claims to have known over a hundred Kashmiri inmates. “Now there are 25 Kashmiri prisoners there,” he said. “Ninety per cent of the cases against them are cooked up. In 80 per cent cases, the prisoner spends minimum five years in jail while the maximum goes up to 21 years.” 

Dar, accused in the 2005 Delhi serial bombing case, was himself acquitted of all charges and released early this year. “The biggest problem is the communal mindset,” he said, referring to the jail staff. “They inherently hate Kashmiris, and Muslims generally.”

 

Political blowback

The Hurriyat has long demanded that Kashmiri political prisoners held outside the state should be brought back to Kashmir owing to the hostility they face there.

A few days after the Tihar beatings, the Hurriyat faction led by Syed Ali Geelani decried the barbarity. Kashmiri prisoners in Indian jails face “life threat from criminals as they have been lodged in barracks specified for criminals”, the Hurriyat said, and warned the J&K government “shall have to face consequences” if anything “untoward happened” to the prisoners.  

The other Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq claimed that Kashmiri prisoners were unsafe even in Jammu’s jails. “We want that they should follow their own law when it comes to treating prisoners in jails,” the Mirwaiz said, referring to the government. “They are ignoring even that.” 

He said the Supreme Court of India has ruled that prisoners should be held in their own states. “It is not being followed. They are using Kashmiri prisoners as a political weapon,” he said. “Kashmiri youth are not safe in jails outside Kashmir, not even in Jammu’s jails. They are terrorised and subjected to mental and physical torture. It is an urgent appeal to all rights bodies to immediately intervene and impress upon the Government of India to shift all prisoners back to Kashmir.”

Sensing growing public anger over the Tihar Jail incident, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti too expressed “serious concern” over the harassment and torture of Kashmiri prisoners. She also spoke to Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and asked him to intervene in the matter. Subsequently, the Delhi High Court ordered an inquiry, which confirmed the torture. The media has since reported that all the accused security guards have been suspended although no FIR has been registered so far. 

The Jammu and Kashmir High Court Bar Association sends teams ever year to examine the conditions of prisoners in the state and outside. They report back with the same findings year after year. “Kashmiri inmates are not produced in courts on time,” the Bar’s president, Mian Qayoom, explained. “There is always a ploy to delay court hearings so as to prolong their detention. This causes mental and physical torture.” 

“Kashmiri prisoners in jails outside the state are kept in general wards with hardened criminals,” Qayoom said. “Among them are murderers and blade cutters. They often beat inmates, terrorise them. There have been instances of blade cutters attacking Kashmiri prisoners and injuring them severely. Recently, Abdul Samad Inquilabi was beaten up by criminals in Kathua jail.”

Holding them in jails outside the state also deprives Kashmiri political prisoners’ families from meeting them. “The majority of Kashmiri political prisoners are from poor families. Their relatives often can’t afford to travel to meet them in distant jails,” Qayoom said. 

“There is also no medical assistance for the prisoners,” Qayoom said further. “The Supreme Court has asked the government to provide a sub hospital in every jail. But there’s not even a medical practitioner in most jails. And there are no ambulances. The patient is half-dead before he is taken for treatment.”