Gilani comes home

BY joshi| IN Media Freedom | 14/01/2003
The Kashmir Times journalist describes what the past seven months inside jail have been like.

Reprinted from the Indian Express



‘The world seemed far away, I couldn’t believe I’d be




Poornima Joshi



New Delhi, January 13: After seven long months in a jail for no crime of his, Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani has tremendous faith in the country’s judicial system. What bothers him is the corrosion in the system — and the lacunae that pushed him and many others into ‘the abyss’.


‘‘It is because of the judicial system and the Constitution that I am a free man. But we need to strengthen these institutions, these systems. Otherwise, more like me would keep getting punished,’’ Gilani told The Indian Express soon after he returned home this evening to his smiling children and a much-relieved wife.


And no, Gilani is not defeated. He believes that as long as India has democratic institutions and people who fight for their sanctity, he would not lose hope.


But what was it like to be incarcerated, to have even hardened criminals labeling him a gaddar, a traitor, of jeering voices and dark, damp prison cells spilling over with inmates?


‘‘It was hell. For the few days, the crime that I was charged with stuck like glue. I was beaten up by the jail inmates. The days seemed endless. I was losing hope. Everything that I identified with slipped away. I was with the prisoners and I was a prisoner too, of a crime that I never committed. But I didn’t think anyone would believe me. It seemed like I would never come out,’’ Gilani said.


Things improved, bit by slow bit. There were friendly jail superintendents, people who Gilani believes saved him from a hostile crowd of inmates, people who gave him hope. And finally, when he was leaving, urged him to write about the conditions inside. He even took notes, when hope sometimes smiled, he thought he would write them down like the Prison Notebook.


‘‘I wanted to write. But it was difficult. The world outside seemed so far away that I couldn’t believe I would be free one day to actually get them published. Day after day, hearing after hearing, my faith was getting shattered,’’ Gilani said.


And then, his ‘case’ took a turn. His counsel confidently told him the Government couldn’t prove charges against him. The document that the prosecution said was ‘official secret’ was found in public libraries, even on the Net. But the days stretched into months and even this strong defence seemed weak in the face of the State’s might. But finally, the very ‘system’ that threw him into a prison cell brought him back. The Government accepted his plea, finally consented that he was innocent. And the day came for him to walk into the sunshine, as a free man with all charges dropped.


‘‘There were others like me who begged me to tell their stories, a jail superintendent who told me to tell the world how things were not so bad inside,’’ said Gilani whose mission now is to plunge himself back into work, to work fulltime as a journalist.


But today was the day to party, to celebrate the festival of Lohri with friends, family and his smiling lawyer V. K. Ohri without whom it would have been ‘‘very difficult’’. ‘‘My proprietors in The Kashmir Times called me up. In fact, they were coming here today to see me. I want to get back to my life and journalism,’’ said Gilani.


Has the thought of quitting of leaving the country ever struck him?


‘‘This is where our home is,’’ said his wife Aaneesa, ‘‘where would we go. We have to live here.’’ And Gilani would work, along with his routine job as a journalist, as a crusader for judicial accountability.






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