We and Our Prisoners

Almost every fifth male adult in Kashmir has experienced some form of arrest

TUESDAY TAKE

DR SHEIKH SHOWKAT HUSSAIN

Kashmir, like every other conflict situation has experienced large scale arrests and detentions right from 1947. Public Safety Act, and prior to it Preventive Detention Act, provided for detention of anyone merely on the basis of estimation of authorities that he is likely to become a risk for law and order or security of the state. These laws have been abused consistently and almost every fifth male adult in Kashmir has experienced some form of arrest, detention or imprisonment. Those who remain detained suffer in every possible way. They have been subjected to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment and their families harassed. Security instruments of the state often use detentions as an avenue of extraction of money from the families of those who are detained. The situation of detained persons becomes more precarious if their place of detention is outside the state. Within jails they face a hostile atmosphere and their families are unable to meet them.  It becomes impossible for them to arrange any sort of legal defense. What gets arranged the family has to pay hefty and unaffordable amount for it.
   Such a situation demands a collective effort for fulfillment of social responsibilities towards our prisoners. The fact that prisoners are enumerated among the legitimate beneficiaries of Zakat makes it obvious that taking care of prisoners is not only a social obligation but a religious obligation for us.  This dimension needs to be re-emphasized as those running religious madrassas seldom convey it for fear of depletion of their economic resources. All of us know that most of Zakat is consumed by our madrassas and they don’t want that anyone else should share it even at the cost of denial of its Quranic avenues of its expenditure. If this head is emphasized our society has enough resources to take care of prisoners in the same way as they have been contributing towards sustaining of orphans. The avenue of Zakat on this account can be used both for facilitation of legal aid of a detainee as well as fulfillment of his day to day needs which often happen to be petty mundane utilities like provision of appropriate clothing, soaps, toothpastes, towels, etc. Another area that needs to be addressed is the legal assistance to the detained so that they get released. Family care and post imprisonment rehabilitation can be an area worth focusing through such institutionalization.  Locally Bar Associations as well as individual lawyers do it voluntarily and this avenue receives some attention. The problem becomes acute in context of those prisoners who are in jails outside the state, or within state at Jammu. It is impossible for the legal fraternity over here to follow their cases in a sustained manner. We have been a bit indifferent to the idea of utilizing services of lawyers in the vicinity of these detention centers. It is humanly impossible for the families to engage lawyers at far away locations and pay them hefty amounts. Public spirited individuals and groups of lawyers at every place have to be traced out and their services mobilized for Kashmiri prisoners. Most of such lawyers remain associated with groups pitted against status quo. There is no harm in identifying them and utilizing there services. We should try to utilize the services of lawyers affiliated to these groups and develop communications with them.  Most of the cases relating to political offences often end on acquittal of the accused. While at other places once acquitted a person files a case for compensation for the period for which he was unlawfully detained. Despite Indian reservations to the idea of compensation, at international level courts have been granting compensation to those who are illegally detained. We in Kashmir find avenues of celebration in every event from birth of a person to his death. Release of a person from jail is no exception. Instead of getting preoccupied with celebrations on release, let us mobilize all those released to go for seeking compensation. On one side it can create avenues for rehabilitation of the released on the other hand fear of compensation can serve as deterrence for the system against unlawful detentions.
Given the fact that in present judicial system justice eludes victim of oppression, recourse to legal remedies is not the only option.  It is confirmed by the fact that culprits of Sikh genocide in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination continue to roam free decades after the carnage.  Other way of influencing the system remains mobilization of global opinion. This remains the most important area that has remained unattended in Kashmir. Depiction of the prison situation through write-ups of those who have suffered it can help us in this mobilization.  Roodad-e-Qafas of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, My days in Prison by Iftikhar Gilani and Qaidi number 100 by Zamruda Habib remain the only significant works on this subject. Given the enormousness of detentions suffered by Kashmiris there should have been thousands of such write-ups. Not only in Urdu but also translated into English, French, Arabic and other  languages to make them accessible to those who are working for the benefit of detainees at international level. It is unfortunate that those of us who have suffered detentions remain indifferent to this area and tend to focus on history, non-alignment   and those areas which remain alien to them. Result is that even our youth remain familiar with ordeals Nelson Mandela, Che Guevara and others underwent, but they have no idea of sufferings of their own unsung and unknown people who sustained Kashmir resistance against heavy odds. Those engaged in academic pursuits too can contribute by facilitating research in this area. The documentation through systematic academic process has more takers as compared to other write-ups.

The author teaches law at Central University, Kashmir. Reach him at showkat_hussain@rediffmail.com

Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 14 Jan 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 15 Jan 2013 00:00:00 IST




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