Prison diaries reveal a sordid tale of torture and humiliation

January 21, 2012 02:09 am | Updated October 18, 2016 02:53 pm IST - JAIPUR:

On 9th June, 2002, Iftikhar Gilani's house was raided from 4:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., after which he was arrested and charged under the Official Secrets Act, which carries a potential sentence of 14 years of imprisonment.

After over 18 years as a special correspondent and investigative journalist, Sahil Maqbool was arrested as a spy, imprisoned 300 km from Kashmir and subjected to third-degree torture for 15 days.

Anjum Zamarud Habib, a founding member of the Hurriyat Conference, was implicated under POTA, and spent five years in Delhi's Tihar Jail.

This is not all

With these three names, we have not even skimmed the surface of the hundreds of falsely implicated political prisoners who have been charged and imprisoned for years in jail, facing constant torture and humiliation. But all three of them have one thing in common. They've each documented their experience in the form of diaries. In conversations with the Editor of The Hindu , Siddharth Varadarajan, at the Jaipur Literature Festival's evening session titled ‘Prison Diaries', Iftikhar Gilani, Anjum Zamarud Habib and Sahil Maqbool opened up about the implications and consequences they faced both during and after their sentence, and this particular malaise that plagues the country.

Acting as moderator, Mr. Varadarajan opened the discussion. “It is a matter of great anger and unhappiness that the law goes after individuals who have no connection to violence and targets them, citing national security concerns.”

Mr. Varadarajan said the prison diaries that came out of the years spent in jail by these three authors should be seen as a remarkable narrative form, as well as a political text and the indictment of those institutions that become complicit in the violence of the rule of law.

“It is interesting to note that all three authors sitting are Kashmiris. What does it tell us about the relationship with the State, and the rules and laws which are there to protect the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir,” asked Mr. Gilani. “My experience should have been a lesson to the media, the intelligence agency and the judiciary, but unfortunately, no one has learned this lesson,” he added.

Mr. Gilani's book My Days in Prison was the first Prison Diary to be published after 1975. “It was Gilani's book that provoked me to write my diary in prison,” said Mr. Maqbool, author of his Urdu Prison Diary which literally translates to ‘The Darkness Inside.'

“You might be a good author, but to write a prison diary, one requires extraordinary qualifications. You have to go through those days of utter humiliation and torture, and see the darkness within,” he said.

Mr. Varadarajan added that a disturbing but common thread in the three books was the fact that all three authors found people turning their back on them post their arrests. Ms. Habib, who found herself deserted after her arrest, says: “I don't have anything against the Hurriyat. It is not unfortunate for me that they didn't support me. It is unfortunate for them.”

While Mr. Gilani's case saw a part of the media mobilising in his support, there were also factions that worked against him. “A fictitious story was planted in the papers against Gilani, where he was quoted as saying that Syed Ali Shah Geelani married his daughter to him because of his dedication to the cause of ‘Jihad,'” added Mr. Varadarajan. Says Mr. Gilani: “On the night of the raid, I had a reporter standing outside my house, talking about me absconding, while the entire time I was right inside.”

“Sometimes, as journalists we don't realise the importance of our words and the impact they might have. We take them lightly, while there are many who treat whatever is written in black and white as the gospel truth.”

The horror stories in Mr. Gilani and Mr. Maqbool's books are chilling, but Ms. Habib says: “I have not shared any account of the torture I faced in the prison for those five years. They are painful, but they also made me strong. Those tales are between me and Allah and the stigma I continue to face today will only transform into strength.”

In an earlier version of this story, the Official Secrets Act was wrongly refered to as the Official Securities Act and a false impression created that Iftikhar Gilani was actually convicted of a crime under the OSA and sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. In fact, he was never tried but honourably discharged by the courts after spending seven months in jail.

Also, Iftikhar Gilani was wrongly referred to as the son-in-law of Yusuf Raza Gilani. He is, in fact, the son-in-law of Syed Ali Shah Geelani.

The errors are regretted.

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