Life behind bars
Harbans Singh

My Days in Prison
by Iftikhar Gilani. Penguin.
Pages 148. Rs 195.

My Days in PrisonDedicated to all those who believe that life and liberty, far from being a gift of society, state or Constitution, are inalienable rights of every individual. My Days in Prison is not only a graphic description of Iftikhar Gilaniís experiences in Tihar Jail, but also an indictment of the judicial process, justice as it is meted out and the media that chooses to become a willing tool of the establishment. It is a book that is bound to disturb all those who cherish freedom and who aspire to build a society whose foundations are laid on the principle of rule of law. It is also disturbing because of the fact that when the Fourth Estate is manipulated, however momentarily, it can play havoc with not only an individual life, but also with the fabric of a civil society.

The fact that Iftikhar Gilani, a Kashmiri Muslim and Delhi bureau chief of a Jammu-based daily, Kashmir Times, was forced to incarcerate in prison for seven months on charges that did not warrant even a registering of a case brings out the ugly side of our republic and that the freedom and dignity of an individual can be robbed even in the face of a mountain of evidence proclaiming his innocence, is a matter of great concern. That inmates of jails are subjected to indignities and life in prison is a process that dehumanises is known to all of us, but it happens routinely in the much-celebrated jail of the national capital is bound to generate pessimism.

There is little doubt that Gilani was framed by the Intelligence Bureau working under the Home Ministry, but the motives of this foul deed remain unclear. Was it because Gilani was a Muslim and a Kashmiri to boot? Was it because the country was being ruled by a class that was bent upon righting the wrongs of the past? By a class that blamed the Muslims for the lost ancient glory? And, in this case, did some zealous officers decided to teach a Kashmiri Muslim a lesson so that others fall in the line that they have defined? Or, because of the combination of coincidences at a given point of time that generated a psychosis leading to the unfortunate and unwarranted circumstances? There is little doubt that all this happened when even the Fourth Estate was found wanting but the champions of freedom need take heart from the fact that it did not take too long, though even seven months are long enough to leave a permanent scar, for the system to correct itself. History is replete with the cases of Alfred Drefusí and Iftikhar Gilanis. The strength of a society is to be judged by the alacrity it displays in righting a wrong. In the case of Gilani, if the assurances of the then Home Minister remained empty words then there is also the demonstrable concern of the then Defence Minister and his sage advice to the author to put the nightmare behind him look forward.

Nevertheless, one wishes that this issue was pursued to its logical conclusion, that the responsibility for the heinous act was fixed and the culprit given exemplary and deterrent punishment. Or, else the unscrupulous elements in the society will keep creating Gilanis and the next time this happens, the person may not survive to narrate his ordeal.