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Pawns and prisoners of manufactured hatred – by Beena Sarwar


Screenshot of Sanaullah from a TV report last year, on Indian and Pakistani prisoners participating in a kite-flying festival together. "It's really nice, I feel like a child myself," Sanaullah told the reporter.

Screenshot of Sanaullah from a TV report last year, on Indian and Pakistani prisoners participating in a kite-flying festival together. “It’s really nice, I feel like a child myself,” Sanaullah told the reporter.b

Tragically, Sanaullah, the Pakistani prisoner whom a fellow inmate had attacked in prison in Jammu in Indian administered Kashmir on May 3, finally succumbed to his injuries on May 9. The attack took place on the day of the funeral of Sarabjit Singh, the high profile Indian prisoner who died on May 3, after being in a coma following an attack by fellow inmates in Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore on April 26 – ironically, the day that Indian members of the India Pakistan Joint Judicial Committee on Prisoners landed in Pakistan to inspect jails and meet Indian prisoners. The Committee’s recommendations have been made public, and if implemented, will go a long way towards alleviating the plight of cross-border prisoners.

Here’s a link to the note I wrote, published in the weekly Aman ki Asha page in The News last week – Condemnable attack on unarmed prisoner. A followup noteregarding Sanaullah was published in the AKA page of May 8. I sincerely hope this is the end of the series. (If you’re on facebook, feel free to ‘like’ the AKA page and join the AKA group – both managed on a voluntary basis)

Sanaullah, 52, hailed from a desperately poor family in Sialkot – they didn’t even have ID cards and passports, until this incident got the Pakistan government scrambling to organise these papers so that India could issue family members visas to visit him in hospital where he lay in a coma. Read this report in The Hindu, about how India recruits spies from the poorest border areas. I can’t imagine that it’s much different in Pakistan.

Sanaullah had been incarcerated in Kot Bhalwal jail since 1999, with eight criminal cases registered against him including militant activities and murder. He had been awarded life sentence in two of them. Trial was underway in two cases while he had been acquitted in four. The inmate who attacked him, Vinod Kumar, a cashiered soldierm is already serving a life sentence for killing a colleague while posted in Ladakh.

Sarabjit Singh's family prays for his soul

Sarabjit Singh’s family prays for his soul

Both India and Pakistan tried to address the respective situations by suspending prison staff, charging the attackers, ordering inquiries, allowing consular access to the victims following the attacks, as well as granting visas to their families to visit them. All too little, too late. These prisoners had been incarcerated for years without any access to their families.

India had demanded that Sarabjit be repatriated for medical treatment to his home country – a demand Pakistan had refused. Pakistan then made a similar demand, that India refused. The demands seemed more about point-scoring than any genuine concern for the critically injured prisoners. Given the serious nature of the injuries and their comatose state, it’s unlikely that they would have survived anyway.

Both countries must acknowledge that they not only mistreat their own prisoners, but also each other’s nationals. Human rights bodies in India and Pakistan have condemned the attacks.

“The need of the hour is to stay calm and sane and to observe restraint,” said prominent advocate Hina Jilani, Chairperson South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR) in a statement. “We need to uphold the virtues of decency and justice… The region’s best tribute to Sarabjit’s memory will be to make sure that no prisoner is ill-treated in any country.”

India’s right wing parties should not demand breaking off the dialogue process with Pakistan, “because dialogue is the key to a solution of any problem between the two countries. It should continue uninterrupted and uninterruptible.”

The unfortunate attacks have highlighted the prisoners’ issue and their safety. It is time for policy makers to “come up with a long term solution and policy to deal with fisher folk and other prisoners languishing in each other’s jails for years and some even after completion of their term.”

The South Asian human rights community has long been urging the states to formulate a policy on this, policy that must “include repatriation of prisoners with long term sentences to undergo imprisonment in their own countries”.

“Concrete measures must be taken to ensure prisoners’ rights by application of international standards. Indian and Pakistani authorities need to meet immediately to devise measures that would ensure the safety, security and humane treatment of prisoners,” concludes the statement, speaking for the South Asian human rights community.

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