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Mainstream, VOL LI No 22, May 18, 2013

India and Pakistan Must Exchange Prisoners

Saturday 18 May 2013, by Humra Quraishi


To mark or start new beginnings, Dr Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif should not send mangoes to each other, but exchange imprisoned men. Yes, Indian prisoners held captive in Pakistani jails ought to be sent back, to be tried and imprisoned here. And Pakistani prisoners languishing in our jails here, ought to be sent back, with a footnote that they’d serve those remaining years of their sentence in the jails of their home country.

The killings of Sarabjit and Sanaullah inside the so-called secure prison cells should pave the way for some rethink on the very concept of prisons. On the very condition of prison cells. On the very condition of humans sitting caged. Research studies should get-set-going on what goes on within those high walls. Killings are the extreme outcome of hatred-cum-revenge but what about those daily torture sessions ...the sessions getting compounded by religious and regional biases, whipped to lethal levels by hate speeches and communal politics holding sway.

Books by two former Tihar Jail inmates—senior journalist Iftikhar Gilani and Kashmiri activist Anjum Zamarud Habib—detail and describe how the Kashmiri prisoners are treated. And lawyer-activist Nandita Haksar again minces no words on this aspect. In her book and essays she has focused on the imprisoned lot languishing in Delhi’s Tihar Jail and the biases that come into focus.

Other jails and prisons of this country couldn’t be much different, not holding out any exceptional positives, unless, of course, the jailor and the staff under him carry a humane outlook. As I mentioned in last week’s column, it’s time to do away with jails and in their place reform centres ought to come up. And also the concept of that much needed ‘second chance’, for all those wrong-doers who are remorseful and want to change course.

And though in one of my earlier columns I did mention a couple of instances from the jailed days of Mahatma Gandhi but even at the cost of sounding repetitive let me re-focus on them, in the hope the our jailors and those jailed read them and try to grasp the more peaceful ways to co-exist.

These two are particular instances, from Faith And Freedom: Gandhi in History (published by Niyogi Books and written by historian Professor Mushirul Hasan).

“It was Id, the festival following a month of fasting. Gandhi was in Yeravda Jail, sharing to the full the festive spirit of Mr Ali (full name is not known), a friend from Rangoon, and other Muslim prisoners. Throughout the day, he exchanged greetings with co-prisoners that he could see across the barbed wire fence and exuberantly blessed Ali. In the evening, he appeared to be even more anxious than Ali to catch a glimpse of the crescent moon during the few minutes it was visible hanging, as it were, in mid-air just above the trees, peeping over the high stone wall of the inner prison. His joy knew no bounds when he eventually sighted it. The warmth of life seeped through his veins. Eager for a clearer view of the digit of the moon, he actually over-stepped the boundary of the barbed wire fence ...”

Also this, which relays that bond between Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan—“On 4 December, Ghaffar Khan returned to Wardha with his twelve-year-old son and fourteen-year-old daughter. Often, he read the Quran in the evening prayer and joined in reading Tulsidas’ Ramayana. He loved the tune and listened intently. ‘The music of the bhajan fills up the soul.’ he once proclaimed. He served the sick, and, what is more, helped Gandhi wash his feet. Once Badshah Khan came along with his two sons. At the midday meal, one of them asked: ’Isn’t it your birthday today?’ ‘Yes, it is. Why?’ ‘Well, you see, I thought ...there might be something special to eat—cake and chicken pilau perhaps. Bur there is simply plain boiled pumpkin, just as usual!’ Gandhi chuckled and made the children laugh. Afterwards he took the Frontier Gandhi aside and suggested that, ‘We ought to get something they would really enjoy; some meat or something.’

“‘No, no, they were only joking; we always eat gladly whatever our hosts provide.’

“The children agreed. The affectionate parental-like tie; a young boy or girl turning for advice and the Bapu, in turn, showering his affection and blessing!”

Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash Hits Out, Once Again

I simply marvel Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash
for his guts, his courage, his very confidence to take on the political might of his State—Gujarat. This priest runs a human rights centre ‘Prashant’ in Ahmedabad, and right from 2002 I’ve heard him at various meets. This week, he has once again lashed out against Modi.

I quote him—

“It is More Than Just a Rotten Tooth...!” says Father Cedric Prakash. And with that take off, there’s more from him—“As the poll results of the Karnataka Assembly elections trickled in on Wednesday, 8th May, the one person who was in the eye of the storm was Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat... Over the years, the BJP in Karnataka had done everything possible to make certain their defeat: the terrorising of the minorities, the bashing up of youth who didn’t conform to their cultural ‘traditions’; the bringing in of a legislation that was directed at harming the minority comm-unities, the support to Right-wing Hindu fundamentalism and much more; this was besides the corruption and scams of immense proportion. However, the BJP party workers were confident that Narendra Modi would campaign in Karnataka, wave his magic wand and cast a spell over the State to ensure that the BJP would come back to power!....Modi himself was a frightened campaigner; one who had no guts to campaign in difficult terrain. From his track record, it is obvious that Modi goes to places where he can either win or is confident of fooling the people. In Karnataka, he did become the BJP’s star campaigner, making forays to three areas—Bangalore, Mangalore and Belgaum. When he did so, he was able to attract crowds and throw barbs at the Congress party and the UPA. In the rally he addressed in Mangalore, he struck the Hindutva chord and tried to rake up the ‘cattle slaughter‘ issue clearly targeting not merely the UPA but also the Muslim minorities. However, all his rhetoric did not pay dividends. The BJP has lost miserably in the places where he campaigned and was considered to be the main vote-getter! ... After the election results were out, Modi developed a ‘sudden toothache’ and neither his many spokespersons nor his highly paid public relations agencies were at hand to give his point of view. One does not have to be very intelligent to know that Modi like a little school boy easily ‘falls sick’ when the going gets tough. Even if he did have a toothache, why did his spokespersons not speak up on behalf of him? And how did this ‘very painful toothache’ suddenly disappear when he addressed the Gujarati diaspora in the US through a video conference on Sunday, 12th May? Yes, one can surely, fool some of the people some of the time, but NEVER all of the people all of the time!”

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