India and Pakistan, to the utter misfortune of their citizens, were born neighbours, and were born enemies. Whether their being blood enemies is worse or their being first neighbours, remains debatable. Unfortunate surely it is, even for the most fortunate sections of society on both the sides of the borders. Be it politicians or businessmen, celebrities or cricketers, the elite or the common people; all have felt the sting of the enmity through the history of the two nations. And it goes without saying that the weaker sections of the society and the common people have suffered the most from this long war and the bitter sentiments that accompany it.
One such section is that of the prisoners. The plight of the prisoners – at times the most notorious, and at others, the most wronged members of society – mostly remains unheard of. Nothing short of outrightly brutal, inhumane, cold blooded murder, has succeeded in getting them to the limelight now. As a general rule, if your government cares to demean and malign its enemy, even though it cares less than a particle for you, you can have high hopes of being used as a trump card. On the other hand, if your enemy has the ability to rise above (read sink below) any and all moral values and humanitarian considerations, and you happen to be in their hands, you have to be in a fairyland to still hope for good.
India happens to be very much experienced in using all sorts of trump cards. Be it prisoners belonging to the other side of the border – Ajmal Qasab and Afzal Guru, whose judicial murders were carried out at the most appropriate time to render them politically efficient; or Indian prisoners – Sarabjit Singh, whose life and rights suddenly turned out to be most precious, while countless Indian citizens were dying the most brutal and painful deaths at the exact same time. A spy and a terrorist, as confirmed by Indian officials as well, had become such a celebrity that all the great celebrities in India fought for his freedom from the Pakistani jails; and when he died unjustly, he was declared a martyr and made into a hero. His heroism lay in spying and carrying out 4 blasts, which might turn out to be nothing when compared to the heroism of some of the Indian soldiers; but he was The Hero, just because the government needed this trump card!
Pakistan seemingly still has much to learn. Everybody knows the value of the life of a single citizen in the whole of the subcontinent, and yet, these countries do care that no matter how inhumane the conditions their citizens face, they should never be afflicted by a third party. India has proved it time and again. Sarabjit Singh was killed in a jail, by prisoners, who were locked up for being criminals in the first place. The law enforcement agencies had done their duty by locking them up and not letting them loose in the society; and yet, the government and the whole country had to be held responsible for a crime committed by a few locked up criminals. The brutal death of Sarabjit Singh was immediately avenged, in spite of the serious actions taken by the Pakistani government; a Pakistani prisoner, known for his good and calm conduct and love for gardening, was attacked by a former soldier in the Indian army. This was followed by an attack on another Pakistani prisoner, who has already spent 9 years in Tihar jail because his visit visa to India had expired, and efforts were made to keep the incident away from the media limelight.
Sanaullah was not the first Pakistani prisoner to be treated inhumanly in Indian jails, nor was he the last. India has a long history of torturing Pakistani prisoners, be they lodged for charges of terrorism or merely the expiry of their visit visas. No ‘crime’ is petty enough to keep them safe from the brutality so common for the foreigners in Indian jails. Most of the stories remain untold, since India only occasionally bothers to inform Pakistan after arresting its citizens, and many of them remain in the jails, even years after the end of their terms. One story that came to the limelight was that of Khalid Mahmood, a young man who had gone to India to watch a cricket match, but came back to Pakistan as a dead body bearing the marks of torture that led to his cold blooded, brutal death. And this happened just a few days after Pakistan pardoned an Indian spy, Kashmir Singh, who went back to India with a cheerful face and sound physical health, carrying with him memories of a humane treatment in Pakistan, in spite of being a spy as he confessed as soon as he crossed the border back to India.
And after all this, India – even as it handed over the body of Sanaullah to Pakistan – had the audacity to call for better treatment of its citizens in Pakistani jails. It invited both the sides to urgently comply with the recommendations of the Indo-Pak Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners, submitted by them after visiting Indians lodged in Pakistani jails this year. The said committee comprises of eight retired judges, four each from India and Pakistan. It is supposed to be examining the conditions of Indian and Pakistani prisoners lodged in each other’s jails. And the recommendations of the committee, again, show the same scenario that is seen on the governmental level.
The said committee on prisoners, formed to help prevent such incidents, hardly ever lodged a strong reaction to the Indian brutality towards Pakistani prisoners. After the members of the committee visited Pakistani jails this year, faults were found with the treatment meted out to the Indian prisoners, and they went on to urge the government to allow Indian prisoners to make international calls to their families in India; in contrast to their general advices and guidelines after their visits of Pakistanis in Indian jails, in which they also get to meet several Pakistanis who are held even after the end of their terms. It is a scenario very much similar to the attitudes of the two governments – India, campaigning heavily for the release of its spy, lodging the strongest complaints when he is attacked, declaring him a Hero when dead, and members of the major political parties racing with each other to pay him the greatest tributes; Pakistan, on the other hand, remaining almost passive, unless an incident really catches media attention and the public goes down to the streets to protest about it.
The international human rights groups and watchdogs also seem to highlight the issues of the Indian prisoners, even those of confirmed spies and terrorists, while lending a deaf ear to the plight of Pakistani prisoners, even if they are held under false charges, or even after the end of their terms. Moreover, Pakistani activists are also more than eager to fight for the cause of the Indians in their prisons, and so are Pakistani politicians, all while remaining mostly indifferent to their own country men in similar or, usually, worse situations; and they continue their exclusive efforts for the sake of Indian prisoners in spite of the fresh attacks on two Pakistani ones. India still refuses to recognise their efforts, and the attitude of the Indian public remains hostile towards all Pakistani prisoners in their jails, irrespective of being proven guilty or not; to the extent of condemning the decision of the Indian government to beef up security for Pakistanis in Indian jails, even if the purpose is to avoid revenge attacks on Indians lodged in jails on the other side of the border.
International media houses also exhibit the same bias. The BBC, while commenting on the Indian and Pakistani prisoners released from each other’s jails, described the traumatic conditions of the Pakistanis by quoting a cameraman who interviewed them. “They said that they were often given dirty water to drink and that the food served to them was often inedible. Some complained of being violently treated by Indian guards – one man showed me gaps in his teeth from what he said was the result of one such assault.” After mentioning many more incidents and examples of the inhumanity faced by them, the BBC goes on to equate the complaints of Indian prisoners with those of the Pakistanis, while quoting the lawyer of the Indian prisoner as saying, “My client wants it to be known that while there was no ill-treatment or torture in the Pakistani jail, the conditions were not good and some Indians have as a result become mentally unsound.” The vague accusations of the one side, though accompanied by a confession of the absence of ill-treatment, are equated with the explicit description of inhuman treatment from the other!
While confirmed Indian spies and terrorists get worldwide sympathy on many levels, the maximum that the Pakistani prisoners in India – many of them innocent, others arrested for false or petty charges, some of them being held even after the completion of their terms, and most of them being subjected to torture and inhuman treatment – have to be content with, is the appeal of the Pakistani government to the Indian authorities to treat its prisoners humanely. “We would also remind the Government of India of its responsibility in ensuring the safety and security of all Pakistani prisoners lodged in Indian jails,” the foreign office in Islamabad was quoted to have said. The issue seems to be so unheard-of and so untalked-about that it is difficult to even research upon it at all. When you google ‘Pakistani prisoners in India’, almost all of the search results point towards Indian prisoners in Pakistan!
It is time that the governments of both the countries revise their policies – Pakistan, towards its own citizens; and India, towards its prisoners. The Indian government should adopt some humanitarian standards regarding its prisoners, in the wake of increasing awareness on human rights all around the world, as such human rights abuses will only help in smudging the already tainted democracy it claims of.