An appeal by AMNA CHISHTY
16th April 2011
My father is almost 80 years old. He received his PhD from University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1968 in Public Health Virology. He had an illustrious career as a professor and head of department of virology and microbiology at Karachi University. In the late 80’s he retired from his last job as the Director of Public Health at King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. He is a principled man who is well‐read, well bred and well traveled. He worked hard to raise a family of six children – one son (oldest, with engineering diploma), five daughters (one is a doctor, one is a Pharmacologist, two are graduates and myself an MBA in marketing). He educated us and built a house for us in Karachi and supported his younger brother in India as well. After retirement he wanted to live in that house in Karachi and enjoy his retirement with his family and his grandchildren.
The following events led to his current plight: In 1992 my father went to Ajmer to visit his ailing mother at his brother’s house near Dargah Sharif. During his visit a long‐standing feud between his brother and his distant paternal relatives took a turn for the worst. While my father was attending a function, there was a verbal confrontation with the paternal relatives and hot words were exchanged between them. After the incident he came back to his brother’s house, however events escalated and armed men attacked my uncle’s house via the roof, by jumping from the rooftop of the neighboring house. My uncle’s sons and other cousins ran up to defend their territory while the women hid my father downstairs since they feared for his life and knew that his involvement being a Pakistani could lead him in a lot of trouble.
Two of my cousins were injured with knives during the altercation, my third cousin fearing the worst went to grabbed a gun. As he came back to the site he was confronted by one of the attackers who tried to take the gun away from him. As the two struggled for the gun, it accidently fired and hit another attacker, who succumbed to his injuries on the roof soon after. The police had been called and were on the scene. At this point my father thought it was safe to go upstairs to offer first aid to his injured nephews. This proved to be a mistake on his part, as the opposing party implicated him in the incident as well.
The events that followed saw my father being taken to prison on basis of a false FIR and treated like a common criminal. His passport was confiscated and he was sent to jail. Over time everyone including my father obtained bail. My father found it too painful to live in Ajmer city due to the tense atmosphere and opted to live in Hataundi village where he had an ancestral farmhouse. During his stay in Hataundi his movements were restricted and he could not leave the village without special permission.
He lived there without consular access or independent legal representation, my uncle opted for a lawyer who jointly represented the two of my cousins and my father. Due to our limited foresight we (including my father) did not see any issues with this approach, however as time passed it proved otherwise. After a number of years it was clear that both the parties (the attackers and my uncle’s family) had no interest in bringing the case to a close and the courts were happy delaying hearings on a consistent basis. During this time both parties (the attackers and my uncle’s family) were living normal lives, both my cousins got married, had kids and conducted business as usual. My uncle in Ajmer did not openly share details of my father’s case with us; he was the main contact with the lawyer who represented his sons and my father. As time went on it became evident that my father’s interests were not adequately safeguarded, we started to look for an independent representation for my father, however this was met with discontent and my father, living in another’s house decided to go with the status quo. As things deteriorated my sister forced my father and arranged for a lawyer, however the lawyer was not allowed to represent my father and at the end just became an observer and provided details of how and why the case is being delayed hearing after hearing.
Over the years my sister has also requested several human right organizations on both sides to secure his release on humanitarian grounds but to no avail.
The 19 years of the trial became my father’s nightmare retirement, instead of enjoying his books, his children’s wedding, his grand children and the lifestyle he achieved during his illustrious career, he was forced to live in exile. During this time he missed two of his daughter’s weddings, the birth of nine of his grand children and the house and library he had made for his retirement. He was forced to swap this with a life style, which eventually made him emotionally, physically and financially bankrupt. You can get some idea about my father’s character when you consider that, even during the tumultuous 19‐years of horror he never violated his bail conditions or broke the law. He stood by his principles and patiently waited as the legal system took its course. It was evident to him that the end of his life was passing him by but he never compromised his principles. The living conditions were not easy for him, he was an old man living with the basics, completely cut off from the world. At one time my father did not even have basic amenities, such as a functioning toilet, a fridge and a TV, but he never complained. We found out about this during one of my sister’s visits.
During the 19 years of trial my family in Pakistan and myself have been able to visit him for short periods whenever we could get a visa. There were periods when the process was easy while at other times it was difficult depending on the relations between the two countries. My mother who had hearing problems for a long time has over the years lost almost all of her hearing, as a result she was unable to talk to my father over the phone there was no means of communication between them.
After her visit to India she would have to wait for 1 year before she could apply for the visa again. But all these years she has never complained and endured the pain silently.
Events took a turn for the worst last year in March 2010, my father fell from his bed and suffered a hip fracture. He needed hip surgery but suffered a heart attack while on the operating table, as a result the doctors opted not to operate and he was left with an unhealed hip fracture. Due to lack of treatment the hipbone healed abnormally rendering him disabled. After the incident, seeing that our father was incapacitated and living without proper medical support, my family in Pakistan, my brother in Saudi Arabia and myself in Canada tried to get visas to go help him but due to recent increased visa restrictions for Pakistanis we faced difficulties. It took two months for my brother to get a visa and finally go see my father, my mother and sister were able to go after three or more months when human right organisations requested for a visa for them on humanitarian grounds. As a result they were given a visa for only 15 days. After that he has been on his own with one old servant to care for him.
Seeing no way out and fearing for his life, I started writing letters to Government officials in India including Chief justice of India, Law minister of India, Prime Minister of India and Chief minster of Rajasthan etc. I believe that one of these people was kind enough to take notice of my letters and inquire why this case has been delayed for 19 years, after this inquiry to the local court, the case moved fast and a verdict was finally delivered in Dec 2010. To our surprise everyone involved in the case (both parties, the attackers and my family) was handed a sentence including my father. He was given 14 years life imprisonment under section 302. When he was taken to the jail he was so weak that he could not walk on his own and was carried by two people. One of my relatives in Ajmer who visited him described that he just lies in his hospital bed saying nothing at all. I believe he is depressed and has lost all hope.
Afraid for his life I wrote to Beena Sarwar after reading about the release of Gopal Das and the role of “Aman Ki Asha” which helped start a movement in which some very kind hearted people on both sides are involved and hoped to get help in bringing my father back alive before it’s too late.
Some of these upstanding citizens after making inquires about the case found that my father was falsely implicated and great injustice had been done to him, they have sent an appeal to the president of India to release my father on humanitarian grounds. I have also written to the President separately for a pardon.
At this point we are afraid for his life. My mother who has lost her hearing does not know about the fact that her husband is in prison, every day my sister pretends she is talking to my father on the phone to assure her that he is ok. The last time my sister was able to talk to my father was when a phone call was facilitated by officials from the Pakistan high commission who went to visit him in the prison after learning about his case, this was in January of this year. Everyday we fear for the worst as to how long can a frail old man survive without any hope on the prison hospital bed.
After the verdict came in, my uncle’s lawyer filed suspension of sentence appeals on behalf of my two cousins and my father in the High court. The appeals for my cousins were granted and they are now out on suspended sentences. My father’s appeal was rejected and while the court recognized that during the 19 years when he was out on bail he never violated the conditions of his bail, still no leniency was shown since he is a Pakistani citizen.
In an email Kavita Srivastava who is aware with the case wrote, “We were sure that the high court would suspend the sentence, but it was extremely disturbing that while two of his nephews (who are extremely young) on the Indian side (who were convicted with him) were granted bail, his sentence was not suspended simply because he was a Pakistani. The High Court judge (made a comment, which has not come in the bail order) that, ”While I appreciate that he never violated the law in the 19 years of being on bail in India, but since he is a Pakistani we can not show leniency.” This is extremely odd as the Rajasthan High Court has shown great precedence in ensuring justice to the Pakistani Prisoners.”
I appeal to all of you to please help me bring my father back so he could spend the rest of his days with dignity, surrounded by people who care for him. While what is happening to my family is extremely painful and emotionally draining, I can only imagine how many others there are in similar or even worse situation on both sides of the border. I am glad that I found a forum like “Aman Ki Asha” that helped start a movement for my father’s release and repatriation back to Pakistan. It is extremely heartening to see so many people who have risen to help this case purely from the goodness of their hearts and I know that I will never be able to express enough gratitude for what they are doing for my father.
If any of you need more information regarding something specific in this letter, please let me know.
amnachishty at hotmail dot com