'My Days in Prison'
Iftikhar Gilani’s My Days in Prison (Penguin Books, price Rs. 195) is not a prison diary. It is an indictment of an establishment that has not shed its colonial tendency to brand innocent people guilty. It is aided by the draconian Official Secrets Act of 1923 vintage.
Gilani who worked with me in a feature syndicate in Delhi in the first half of 90s, was booked under the said Act, hurled into the dreaded Tihar Jail and made to undergo humiliation, infamy stemming from malicious propaganda, litigation and torture which even people undergoing charges of sedition are not supposed to be inflicted with. He was arrested under the full glare of media for possessing a document which was neither classified nor unpublished. The media attributed to him crimes which he had not committed and attached sinister meanings to his kinship with people in quagmarish politics of Jammu and Kashmir. (He is son-in-law of Hurriyet leader Syed Shah Geelani.) By no stretch of imagination, the possession of a document which was already published and available in several libraries, websites and institutes, should have been seen as ‘an act of treason’. But bizarre are the ways of the establishment. Not only did the Delhi Police bumbled in implicating him, even the judicial process erred in judging his ‘crime’. Serious ‘lapses’ were seen in recording statements, all contributing to delay in collapse of the indefensible case built on flimsy ground. Gilani was finally released in January 2003 after seven months of incarceration and harassment.
In the end, the establishment became a victim of its own high drama enacted while arresting Gilani. There was lot of egg on its face. Nothing that it did to make a criminal out of an innocent man stood the test of truth. The book provides a racy account of seven months in prison, the inhuman treatment meted out to people in jail much before they are proved offenders, the corruption which penetrates the high walls, the consummate artistry with which establishment can ensnare people under its tentacles.
Gilani, of course, was well connected and could secure his release with the help of friendly media and civil rights activists. He works for Kashmir Times from Jammu (Editor Ved Bhasin), and also works for Daily Times of Lahore and Voice of Germany radio. Innocent people with no connections suffer in silence and the book provides a peek into the innards of Tihar.
But thanks to the architects of our Constitution, Indian civil society is equally robust. Gilani found support and sympathy from the fraternity of journalists, lawyers and human rights activists. Even people considered pillars of the former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government such as George Fernandes, Jaya Jaitley and Tarun Vijay, editor of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, quietly worked behind the scene to impress Gilani’s innocence upon the establishment and its own highhandedness. It is but for these people that India remains a vibrant democracy. Gilani’s trauma is over, but the civil society should see to it that it does not visit others, much worse, the helpless.