Srinagar: Apart from the July 13, 1931 massacre, Srinagar Central Jail is important for three jail breaks that shook three different regimes. Fifteen prisoners walked to freedom. Prominent among them was JKLF ideologue Muhammad Maqbool Bhat.
Khawaja Ghulam Naqui and his friend were arrested for their affiliation with the first militant organization of Jammu Kashmir, Hyderi Column. The outfit was launched immediately after the creation of India and Pakistan. Arms were smuggled from across the border and large number of youth joined it. Naqui and his friend had just returned from Aligarh Muslim University after completing their LLB.
Naqui who rose to the level of vice-chairman Habib Bank of Pakistan narrates the incident in his brief autobiography.
After staying in prison for three years, Naqui and his friend decided to escape from the jail. On April 19, 1951 they gave the jail staff a slip and escaped. Both of them crossed the cease-fire line and settled in Pakistan.
Naqui grew severely home sick and desperately wanted to come back. His family applied for pardon and when the governor of Jammu Kashmir finally granted it, Naqui had passed away.
JKLF ideologue, Maqbool Bhat was arrested for murder. He was detained in the female ward of the jail. Another prisoner, Mir Ahmad gave him company. His associate, Yasin was in another barrack. The holy month of Ramadhan brought incessant rains with it. Maqbool and Yasin communicated with each other through paper slips. A jail official carried these slips in lieu of some consideration. Maqbool had informed Yasin about his escape plan.
A room in the female ward was used by the jail authorities for dumping of blankets. The eastern corner of this room was connected to the outer wall of the jail.
It was the first night of the blessed month of Ramadhan (March 27-28, 1990). An escape planned over the past few weeks was underway in Srinagar Central Jail. Twelve persons escaped and the people celebrated their “freedom”.
The hunt commenced soon after but it was too late. At least 24 employees including the Superintendent and his Deputy were dismissed. Two among them identified as Ghulam Qadir Khan and Muhammad Amin Zarger were taken into custody and severely tortured in Kothibagh Police Station for 17 days. They were shifted to Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC), Hari Niwas, and after a month shifted to Coimbatore Jail in Tamil Nadu.
Interviews with some of the employees, their relatives and the people living in the vicinity of the jail revealed the following story. “The power was off in the jail due to a snag in the transformer. The prisoners had somehow managed hexa blades for cutting the iron rods. They had also made a ladder. The bed sheets were cut in to pieces to make ropes. 12 prisoners, Captain Rashid, Khurshid Ahmad Chalkoo, Abdul Rasheed Shaikh, Nisar Ahmad Paul, Gulam Nabi Shaikh, Abdul Majeed, Azad Ahmad , Ali Mohammed Malik, Bashir Ahmad Najar, Mohammad Amin Sofi, Gulam Nabi and Gulam Rasool Shah made use of the ‘tools’ they had procured and produced and escaped from Khujyarbal side.”
Interestingly Peoples League (PL) leader, Mahmood Sagar, was also in the prison but he stayed back. He was shifted to Jodhpur Jail for security reasons immediately after the jail break.
After a year, Ghulam Qadir Khan and Muhammad Amin Zarger were released on parole. However, they were required to present themselves before the investigating authorities once a week. Later the court ordered their release and reinstatement. However, severe torture had adversely affected Ghulam Qadir’s nerves. He turned mentally ill and died without hearing the good news of his reinstatement. His relatives swear by his innocence. “He was not on duty on that night”, they revealed.