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A Kashmiri Woman In An Indian Jail

By Mushtaq ul-Haq Sikandar

20 September, 2010

Qaidi No. 100 Bharati Zindan Mai Mere Shab-o-Roz Ki Rudad (Urdu)
(Prisoner Number 100: The Story of My Ordeal in an Indian Prison)
Author: Anjum Zamrud Habib
Publisher= Habib Publications, Islamabad , Kashmir .
Year of Publication= 2009
Price= Rs 170 Pages= 348
Reviewed by: Mushtaq ul-Haq Sikandar

In any conflict women are the worst victims. It is not a sweeping generalization but a fact which history testifies in every age. Kashmir has been reeling under conflict now for more than four centuries, during which conflict left indelible marks on the society and collective conscience of Kashmiris. Women who ruled Kashmir or produced women of letters like Lal Ded were left to rot in oblivion with no contribution to make in the collective life of the society. With the partition of the subcontinent, the fate of Kashmir came to be associated with India and women too became visible and a voice to be reckoned with, which continued till the mass armed insurgency began in the early 1990’s.

Now the Indian State ’s wrath and Iron fist policy began to spill its bitter fruits in the form of custodial killings, fake encounters, torture, disappearances and unnamed killings. In every case the bread earners, sons, husbands or brothers were lost which victimized the weaker sex even more. As is the norm in every conflict and war women who are considered repositories of collective honor, were dishonored, deflowered and defamed through rapes, gang rapes and molestations so as to discourage, debase and deject the manliness of Kashmiris and make them witness how vulnerable they are!!

The participation of women in armed struggle and political decision making has been an exception, as fairly they are considered Men’s Affairs still out of bounds for women, but still some courageous, valiant and brave women became a part of the same. Anjum Zamrud Habib is one such soul whose prison dairy is under review. Zamrud is one of the founding members of Hurriyat Conference and one of the few souls who remained determined in her hometown of Islamabad which was a bastion of renegades whose open hostility to separatists is well known, whereas others migrated to escape the terror and torture at the hands of renegades.

Her association and concern for freedom of Kashmir ultimately landed her to Tihar, though she alleges that her arrest was staged and executed by a faction of Hurriyat leaders like Prof Abdul Gani Bhat and others hand in glove with the Indian State , and Gani declared to her mother that Anjum would be out after five years. Anjum describes the heart rendering, bone chilling and hair raising incident of her arrest and torture at the hands of Delhi Police whose interrogators threatened Anjum “You are a separatist leader of Muslim Khawateen Markaz, we would just strip you naked, take you snaps and distribute them all over India, thus defaming you forever” (P-16). Anjum directly landed in Tihar and was the only Kashmiri woman lodged in Tihar where inmates and environment both were hostile. Anjum was made a scapegoat between the political tussle of India and Pakistan and she was tortured to confess that she is a Pakistani Agent and the money which they recovered from her at the time of arrest was given by the Pakistani Deputy Commissioner, though the other two persons who were caught with her were let free after sometime especially Shabir Ahmad Dar about whom the Hurriyat delegation when met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapayee for Talks advocated his case but none spoke about Anjum who was left to rot in jail despite being a woman and belonging to a noble family.

Then she goes on describing the alienation which a Kashmiri suffers from the Indian State, the apathy of judges, the reluctance of lawyers to defend the case, even the doctors who are supposed to be Messiahs discriminate against kashmiris and don’t want to touch them even for mere examination, the hurt and agony of being labeled as High Risk prisoner, the taunts of being called a traitor, the hostile attitude of prison staff and administration, communal prejudice against muslims especially kashmiris, stigma of being called a terrorist, the agony of hateful glances whenever there is a bomb blast in any part of India, the punishment when Pakistan wins a cricket match plus the constant fighting, abusive nature and unabated chanting of women make the life a virtual hell and to remain in one’s senses is an impossible task in such an alien and completely hostile environment. Prison as best described by Anjum “is a place where Slave-Master Relationship with its strict rules and regulations is followed earnestly” (P-60), but we can witness the defiant nature and rebellious spirit of Anjum when she raises her voice against the death of Zehra who died due to torture and then medical negligence by the prison staff. Despite serving charges under POTA Anjum was made a scapegoat in other case related to the aftermath of zehra’s death, and then a scapegoat between the animosity of two police officers. (P-139).

Anjum highlights the atrocities of Zehra murder case as well as the human rights violations which are carried unabated by Prison Staff, administration like corruption, bribery, smuggling, fake medical leaves, nepotism and discrimination between Indian Convicts and Foreign Convicts whose embassies take full care of them and who are treated with respect and dignity because they can grease the palms of the authorities. The rich poor divide remains prevalent in jail too. Kiran Bedi who was I.G Prisons Tihar based on her experiences wrote a book titled “It’s Always Possible, Transforming one of the largest prisons in the world”, regarding corruption she writes “I had not seen corruption prevail so widely as an accepted norm anywhere else as in Tihar- that too situated in the heart of the Capital of India. It was a case of ‘fence’ eating the grass”. (P-63)

Anjum describes ordeal of violations being perpetuated on convicts which served double purposes to keep the convicts as slaves as well as to fill the coffers of those at the helm of affairs. Among them was the doctor who prescribed sedatives for every aliment and when the convicts would become addicted to the same, they used to sell the same for hefty amounts, even they tried to make Anjum dependent on sedatives too.

Dr Kiran Bedi tried to facelift the whole system of Tihar about which she surmised as “In fact Tihar Jail was now being addressed as Tihar ashram. It had embarked into a new direction; which would last till posterity” (P-254) and goes on as “When I had joined in May 1993, we had set for ourselves the goal of transforming the jail into an ashram- an institution which enables ‘introspection’ by all its inhabitants, including the managers. It reinforced my personal conviction that certain duties are not mere jobs, but a whole mission by themselves, for they construct future” (P-317) but Anjum rebuffs these claims as “Kiran Bedi tried to make Tihar a rehabilitation ashram but after she left the mission died too, which she had in her mind. Though outside it is claimed that Tihar isn’t a jail but ashram but in reality there is nothing as such, it is a complete jail where there are 100% restrictions on the freedom of convicts, where waves of fear and reprisal are prevalent.”(P-188), though Anjum favors the Vipassana Meditation started and still present in Tihar which helps convicts a lot.

Coming down heavily on the Justice and Legal System Anjum says that convict becomes old till the next court date is announced, delayed justice process, absence of a judge or witness, strike by lawyers and summer vocations prolong the misery and agony of convicts and make them vulnerable for exploitation. The poor convicts can’t even pay for their bail bonds and the illiterate convicts are always at wrong end because they can’t follow the legal proceedings of the case. Anjum describes the free legal aid as a sham and says “The free jail advocates are mostly dull, to make their presence felt they take the thumb imprints of the convicts who come to them for free legal advice and show the register to the jail authorities that we did our best which is altogether wrong. Even if some advocate does a good work for the convict it is only after he has greased his palm though he is supposed to do it for free” (P-300). Similar is the case with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) whose delegates come, relish a lunch, then leave and during their presence in the jail premises no convict can meet them to sought redress of his problems as they are out of their bounds.

This prison dairy is full of incidents, anecdotes and experiences which give an insight to the reader about an altogether unknown world as well as the drastic changes which the jail life induces in the behaviour and character of convicts especially the life term serving convicts. It also makes us feel the avidity, awe and agony of Anjum when her cell was thoroughly scrutinized keenly before 26 January and 15 August and despite her reluctance she was made to sit in its celebrations and programmes, the discrimination with Urdu when Anjum’s Urdu newspapers and magazines were stopped, the superstitious nature of the jail authorities and inmates when they debarred Anjum from taking water from the Kitchen cooler as it would make them impure according to their religion; the love bonds which are formed among the convicts because of the common suffering, rendering of the barren land into fertile vegetation gardens by women while their lives remaining barren as ever and the invitation to Anjum by BJP leader Sushma Swaraj to join their party, and the tactics of survival to overcome the solitariness and depression by Correspondence and Meeting with relatives,Though the duration of meetings depend upon the rapport and the bribe paid by the convict.

Thus Anjum with her prison diary has initiated a new chapter in the history of women’s struggle in kashmir and it would be factual enough to describe her as Zainab al Ghazzali of Kashmir . Now the separatist struggle has entered a new epoch where the suffering is being documented by the victims and especially women need to come on the forefront on this account as their sacrifices and sufferings continue to be marginalized, hence die down unsung.

The book is essential for anyone who wishes to know the reality of farce trails initiated by the state, understand the degradation and internecine rivalry of the ‘saviors’ of kashmiris, acknowledge the waywardness of separatism and is ready to remedy the alienation and suffering of the shadowy inhabitants of the jail life. Anjum hasn’t only documented her ordeal but formed Association of Families of Kashmri Prisoners (AFKP) to fight for the rights of the prisoners.