(By Safeena Wani)
I was with Afzal sahab’s for nearly two-and-a half years in cell number 3 (of Tihar Jail). Currently I am in Jail No. 1, adjacent to the graves of Maqbool sahab and Afzal sahab. Though I feel proud of these martyrs, it saddens me when I realise how they were denied the final resting place in their homeland. Afzal sahab and I used to discuss Kashmir, Quran and literature. He was erudite and had a sound knowledge of many subjects.
I saw him five days before his hanging. He was calm and composed. He had given up the hope that he would ever get justice and that they will hang him one day. Even I dream of a death like him. I consider him as my mentor. He had a great vision for Kashmir and he was determined about Kashmir’s freedom. Tihar jail can kill your spirit. It is meant to do that. Kashmiris are put in high-risk wards where they are monitored 24/7. But as long as Afzal was around, he wouldn’t allow jail authorities to treat prisoners badly. A few months before his hanging, Afzal sahab and others protested against a ditkat in Tihar Jail Manual according to which every inmate has to listen to bhajan and bow his head. He wouldn’t follow this diktat and faced torture. He persisted and the authorities had to relent.
The worst part of Tihar’s stay is the danger of attack by criminals. A gang once breached Afzal sahab’s high-security cell and attacked him and his fellow inmate Showkat Guru.
The gang members had secreted blades under their tongues to attack them. Other prisoners would bad mouth us when we recited Quran. Though we would maintain patience it would become unbearable at times. At such times Afzal sahab would speak up. He wouldn’t tolerate highhandedness. Kashmiri inmates are peace loving. That is why they are awarded ‘A Grade’ every year by the Director General of Prisons. In the heart of their hearts they know that Kashmiris are a different tribe in their jail, absolutely harmless and peace-loving. They find us reading, praying and fighting with anybody. At times, while monitoring us 24/7 from the high-risk ward, they admit that Kashmiris are highly civilised people. Yet they love to keep us caged.
(Narrator Tariq Ahmad Dar, who worked for the Johnson and Johnson before his arrest on November 10, 2005 on charges of financially helping Lashkar-e-Toiba in Delhi blast case of October 29, 2005. (C: Kashmir Reader)