Begum Mehrun Nisa's hearing impairment is being perceived as a “blessing in disguise” by her family. The septuagenarian wife of Dr. Khalil Chisty, a Pakistan national now lodged in the Ajmer jail and serving a life sentence, she is unaware of her husband's fate. She thinks the prison term is at best “a legal formality” and worst a “political wrangling.” As her family shields her from the truth, she fervently wishes her husband to be set free.

On her visit to India to meet her husband, who has been unable to leave the Indian soil for the past 19 years, Begum Mehrun Nisa feels hope ebb away. Tears rolling down her face and in a voice that barely conceals her disappointment and anger, she asks: “How long do legal procedures last? How far can they be stretched? An educated man's life has been ruined and he is now old and ailing, how long before he comes home?”

In a small room near the Nizamuddin Dargah, with her daughter Shoa Jawaid and grandson Ali Ghalib Chisty, she recounts her petitions to the almighty and the authorities of both countries.

“We have written and requested the Prime Ministers, the Presidents, the courts,...we want him set free. He cannot even walk anymore. I pray to God, to bring him home...,” she says, her voice quivering.

The Chisty family has decided against telling Begum about the life term that her husband has been asked to serve.

Family feud

Nineteen years ago her husband on a visit to meet his mother got embroiled in a family feud that resulted in a death and eventually led to Dr. Chisty's arrest. A virologist, who has taught in universities in the United Kingdom, Scotland, Nigeria and Karachi, Dr. Chisty was let out on bail with the condition to remain in Ajmer.

“My father is a man of principles, he believes in the justice system; all along he was the one who gave us hope. Even when the case dragged on for 18 years, he kept up the morale. He never jumped his bail, never gave anyone a reason to point a finger at him, yet the judgment was not in his favour. This has left him broken,” says Shoa.

Having met her father on November 19, Shoa says the demoralised Dr. Chisty seems to have given up. “For the first time, he told us that everyone seems to be waiting for him to die, so that the issue is put to rest.”

In 2010, Dr. Chisty was sentenced for life under Section 302 IPC in a murder case by a sessions court in Rajasthan. An appeal was filed in the High Court but his bail plea was rejected.

“The other accused were let off because they are Indian and my father a Pakistani. That is so unfair. All these 18 years he has been living alone with a servant for company in our ancestral house in Hatundi near Ajmer. He even tried to set up a virology institute in Ajmer, but was denied permission because he is a convict. That is the determination he had, and the faith in the judicial system, but now he is mentally drained. He's had two heart attacks and is paralytic. If nothing else, why can't the Indian government release him on humanitarian grounds?” Shoa asks.

Ali who met his grandfather after 8 years was disappointed when Dr. Chisty failed to recognise him. “He asked aunt Shoa about me. So much has happened while he has been away. Two of my aunts were married off, there have been births in the family and the only person who has been conspicuous by his absence has been him [Dr. Chisty]. All our hopes are pinned on the Governor's [Shivraj Patil, Governor of Rajasthan] decision,” he says.

Katju's appeal to Sonia

On Saturday, the family met Press Council chief Markandey Katju who shot off a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi for securing the release of Dr. Chisty.

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