Sanaullah was one of 88 prisoners who, in a botched-up escape bid, dug an 88-foot tunnel in Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal jail in 1998

Impressed with his suave manners over the last several years of his transformation process, neither the inmates nor staff at Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal Central Jail had ever thought that the former Harkat ul-Ansar operative, sentenced to a life term for two bomb blasts, would finally die at the hands of a convicted soldier of the Indian Army.

Four days after completing 14 years of imprisonment, Sanaullah (64) was busy with his usual labour of gardening. Vinod Kumar approached him from a flower bed with a request: “Could you lend me a couple of bidis?”

With mud on his hands, the Pakistani prisoner asked Kumar to take the cigarettes from his pocket. Kumar did it quickly. On his first puff, Sanaullah informed him of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh’s death in Lahore.

Mera damaag mat khaau yaar subah subah,” quipped the disinterested ex-serviceman. Pat came a sarcastic remark on Kumar’s religion and the country. And it took him less than a minute to silence the Pakistani prisoner — this time for ever! The seizure report mentions a brick and a geenti (mattock).

Even in the recent past, Sanaullah and Kumar had stayed together inside a barrack and developed “good relations,” according to the jail staff. “Interaction between the Indian and Pakistani prisoners was so encouraging that nobody thought of separating them after the attack on Sarabjit in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail,” said an official. Access to daily newspapers and Doordarshan news keeps the 400-odd detainees, convicts and undertrials informed of the happenings outside. However, reforms introduced in the jail manual, besides pressure from human rights groups, courts and routine visits by the Internal Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), make jail management tough.

Depletion of staff due to retirement and other reasons is yet another problem. The process of recruiting 400 jail warders has not been completed in the last four years of the Omar Abdullah government.

As against the sanctioned strength of 140 personnel, Kot Bhalwal jail has just 70 men and women. The suspended official, Rajini Sehgal, held charge of two posts — Superintendent and Senior Superintendent. For six posts of Assistant Superintendent, there are just two officials.

Communications of distress

Communications of distress from Ms. Sehgal’s office suggest that authorities in the State Home Department have slept over recruitment for years.

For the 400 prisoners, there is just one physician. Three posts of assistant surgeon have been left vacant.

“We are still better off than Amphalla Jail [Jammu] where a dental surgeon has been functioning as a specialist physician for over a year now,” said another official.

Even the courts and the ICRC, according to him, failed to mobilise the authorities.

Spread over an area of 280 Kanals, Kot Bhalwal though has not been in the news since the 2006 infighting among prisoners.

“Segregating the prisoners solves one problem but creates two,” said a former jail superintendent. The decision to mix the inmates was taken when 88 prisoners at an ‘all-Pakistani’ barrack dug an 88-foot tunnel in an escape bid in 1998. Sanaullah was one of them. In the botched-up plot, two of the prisoners, including the then Harkat ul-Ansar ideologue Maulana Masood Azhar’s confidant, Sajjad Afghani, died in the secret operation.

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