Srinagar: Until news came of the death sentence given to Muzaffar Ahmad Rather, there was hardly a thought spared for him in Kashmir Valley. Condemnation galore of the death sentence given by a Kolkata court came from prominent faces of the resistance camp; civil society and Jammu and Kashmir Bar Association (JKBA) offered legal help; but no one yet has formally approached Muzaffar’s family.
Between 2007, when Muzaffar was arrested, and 2017, when the death sentence was given, Muzaffar’s case was contested by a government lawyer and not the one hired by the family, said his brother Riyaz Ahmad.
“Nobody offered us any form of help in these years. We approached the state government, local legislators, resistance camp and JKBA. All promised help, but it never came,” Riyaz told Kashmir Reader. “Now, when he has been sentenced to death, there is uproar and everyone is expressing solidarity — through words and not with action.”
Riyaz said only a local human rights lawyer called the family on phone to offer legal help, but never came forward in person. The JKBA, which made public offers of help, has not even approached the family.
General Secretary of JKBA, Bashir Sidiq, told Kashmir Reader that “it could not do anything because the family did not approach the association.”
Riyaz said the family has now approached a lawyer in Kolkata who has filed a petition in the state’s high court for stay of the capital punishment order.
“Stay on the execution order has to be filed within a month. When no one came forward, the family took it upon itself and visited Kolkata. We cannot see him executed without availing of all the options the Indian legal system gives us to get him freed. We met Muzaffar, who himself told us which lawyer to consult,” Riyaz said.
Muzaffar’s case is just a case in point. Resistance leaders, civil society, and the JKBA have made numerous statements criticising the Indian justice system or calling for shutdown against verdicts of Indian courts, but they have not created an institutionalised mechanism for assisting Kashmiri political prisoners, whether languishing in jails within Kashmir or outside.
After Afzal Guru’s hanging, no Kashmiri group could even bring his mortal remains from Tihar Jail. Except launching a shot-term agitation, which had little impact, no legal remedy was adopted. In fact, the pro-freedom groups have time and again asserted that they will develop a mechanism to help prisoners, but years have passed and there is no sign of it. Though resistance groups have their legal cells, they have no institution in place that can offer help to prisoners.
New Delhi-based SAR Geelani, president of Community of Political Prisoners, a voluntary group that provides legal aid to prisoners across India, told Kashmir Reader that no institutionalised mechanism for help of prisoners has been put in place by anyone in the Valley.
“It is the collective responsibility of all the resistance groups to create a mechanism, but there is none. We don’t even know of who is imprisoned in jails outside the state. I was not aware of Muzaffar. There could still be many jailed Kashmiris about whom we have no information,” he said.
Geelani, who has visited various Indian jails, told Kashmir Reader that the number of Kashmiri prisoners in jails outside the state could be less than 50.
“I know there are prisoners in Delhi, Rajasthan, Jaipur, West Bengal, Lucknow, Bombay, Kolkata, but there is little information about them. My organisation has provided legal aid to many but not to all because we don’t have a data base. The absence of a mechanism in place is a problem for the family of incarcerated youth, because they don’t know where to go, whom to approach,” he added.
Mahmood, a youth who was imprisoned in an Indian jail for 12 years before being released in December 2015 on bail, had for ten years a lawyer hired by the family, before his case was taken up by a human rights organisation. His family, which has humble economic background, spent nearly all the money they had to get him released.
Bashir Ahmad Baba is another Kashmiri lodged in a Gujarat jail. Arrested in 2010, Bashir’s family has been fighting his case by themselves in these past six years. Nazir Ahmad, Bashir’s brother, told Kashmir Reader that no one has come to the family to offer assistance.
“Because of lack of resources, we only visit him once a year. The visit costs us more than Rs 50,000 in expenses on travel, accommodation and litigation costs. Though the trial has started, we don’t know how long it would take,” he said.
Muzaffar’s family is also of humble means. The daily expenses are met by his father, who is a mason, and brother, a teacher in a private school. Two years after Muzaffar had left home in 2002, the family had believed that he was dead and had offered collective prayers for his soul. In 2007, policemen told them that their son was in a Kolkata jail.
Kashmir Reader spoke to many resistance leaders about the help they had given to prisoners. Most of them argued that the state did not allow them to set up a mechanism for legal assistance and so they could only assist in other ways. However, former Jammu and Kashmir Advocate General Isaaq Qadri told Kashmir Reader that no law prevents anybody from creating an institution that will help political prisoners.
“Be it resistance, civil society, human rights groups or the Bar association, the law does not stop them from creating a mechanism for prisoners. It only needs their will and determination to work for the larger good of society. The law has enough scope for everybody to be represented,” he said.