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The Indian Express, July 05, 2001

Pak boy in Indian jail can’t speak, now he can spell hope

Muzamil Jaleel

Srinagar, July 4: HE’S a boy with no name. He doesn’t understand confidence-building measures, has no idea General Pervez Musharraf is coming, perhaps has never heard of him. All he wants is his mother, living across the border, in Pakistan.

He sits in his cell in a two-storey building here, weeping, Amma, Amma, and pointing towards the mountains, where she lives. Everybody knows he is innocent, yet no one will let him leave.

This boy is hearing-impaired, he can’t speak except for that one word Amma, he is among the 52 Pakistanis jailed in a heavily guarded building that once housed the stables of the Dogra kings of Jammu and Kashmir. This is the Joint Interrogation Centre and with today’s announcement that India might release all Pakistani civilian prisoners after due process of law, hopes here have soared.

The boy was arrested last November when he inadvertently crossed over the Line of Control in the Karnah sector while grazing cattle. He cannot explain who he is or exactly where he is from; the only information other inmates have gleaned is that his home is somewhere in Lepa Valley (PoK). Officials identify him wryly as ‘‘Goonga waldi behra (dumb son of deaf)’’.

‘‘He has been crying for days together,’’ says a police officer, seeking anonymity. ‘‘He tries to signal that he wants to go back to his mother and his cattle. He has been trying to show that he didn’t cross over deliberately.’’

The officer admits that the boy has done no harm except the crime of ‘‘crossing the line (the border)’’. ‘‘If the two leaders take a decision to exchange prisoners during the summit,’’ he adds, ‘‘he will be free within a day.’’ A JIC inmate has now taken up the cause of such ‘‘imprisoned innocents’’. Hashim Qureshi, who hijacked an Indian plane to Lahore in 1971, was arrested in Delhi last December when he decided to return to India. According to him, ‘‘law has no meaning’’ at the JIC. ‘‘Saleem Zargar (a militant commander) has spent more than 12 years in jail now. Six months ago, he was lodged here despite being acquitted in all the cases against him...They can jail anybody for any number of years. There are many inmates here who are not even militants.’’

Although the treatment of prisoners at the JIC has improved a lot, its name still sends shivers down people’s backs. Till a few years ago, the centre was located in the neighbouring building. Called Papa 2, it was more known as a torture chamber. ‘‘This place is meant for interrogating people who are involved in serious cases,’’ admits Additional Director General of J-K Police Kuldeep Khuda.

Hammed Ganai hope the Indo-Pak summit will end their tenure here. Ganai doesn’t understand the nuances of the summit, but hope glows on his face as he hears it might lead to the release of prisoners. Ganai was arrested several months ago with ‘‘15 bullets on his person’’, but again JIC officials privately accept he is innocent and was picked up in place of someone else. Qureshi, who is a strong proponent of independent Kashmir, has also pinned a lot of hopes on the summit. ‘‘If it makes a serious effort to extinguish the fires of hatred between the two countries, it serves its purpose,’’ he says.

However, he has an own peace plan to resolve the Kashmir dispute within 20 years. ‘‘Call all military and paramilitary forces to barracks, set all prisoners free, stop religious extremist groups from indulging in hatred campaigns, provide maximum autonomy to Kashmir on both sides of the border, and let people move around freely with an easy permit system,’’ Qureshi elaborates.

Outside the gates of the JIC, an elderly woman is pleading with the cops to let her in. She has brought some food for her son, who is imprisoned inside. ‘‘I too heard that Musharraf and Vajpayee are meeting,’’ she says. ‘‘But how does it matter to us as long as bloodshed continues here? I pray for the release of my son. But at times I feel that inside at least he is safe. Outside, it is worse than a jail.’’

Perhaps they are right. Unless the atmosphere between India and Pakistan improves, a Vikas Singh won’t make a difference, innocents will always end up in prison. And somewhere, a mother will keep waiting for her son to come home.

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