The 80 year old Pakistani virologist Dr Khalil Chishty just reached Pakistan. His son Tariq called me from Islamabad. “Sorry we couldn’t meet, it was all so rushed.” Tariq Chishty was worrying about getting a PIA ticket – President Zardari sent his special PAF plane to get them! Contrast this with the rank indifference with which the Indian government treats the issue of Indian prisoners in Pakistan.
Just a few days ago, Tariq Chishty was convinced his father is not going to be freed in the hearing on Thursday and was ready to return to Pakistan alone. But the Supreme Court of India, in an unprecedented judgement, allowed him to go home, on the condition that he must return by 1 November for the next hearing. Some months ago when his grandson had met him in jail, Dr Chishty had bid him goodbye as though it was the last time. This is not the end yet – the Supreme Court may uphold his conviction and god knows if he’ll again have to spend time in jail. 20 years in India have been jail-like for him even when he’s not been in jail. For details of his case, whether and why he should be granted mercy and so on, please see this article by me.
Nevertheless, it must feel like a second life right now for Dr Chishty. The campaign to free Dr Chishty began when his Canada-based daughter Amna Chishty wrote to Beena Sarwar of Aman ki Asha who forwarded her heart-wrenching account of what her father has gone through, to Justice Markandey Katju. This could happen, firstly, because there was something called Aman ki Asha – cynically ridiculed by many as a marketing gimmick or a CIA conspiracy. This could happen also because as a Supreme Court judge, Katju had given an unprecedented judgement, appealing to the Pakistani President to free Indian prisoner Gopal Das, charged with spying, whose jail term was a little less than complete. In Das’ case, Pakistani lawyer-activist Ansar Burney played a crucial role, but it is not that he is Pakistani that we in India don’t recognise his contribution. We in India generally don’t think it worth our while to applaud the contribution of those who work to bring cheer to people’s lives, Indian or Pakistani.
Appeals from a sitting Indian Supreme Court judge could move the Pakistani President to free an Indian prisoner in two weeks but when it came to repay the favour, his appeals were not heeded by the Indian government. Taking up the case in a big way thereafter was the tireless Kavita Srivastava of PUCL, amongst India’s most amazing and selfless human rights activists. Kavita involved others including filmmaker Mahesh Bhat and veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar. Many others, such as journalist and peace activist Jatin Desai of Mumbai, also put their weight behind. It has taken over a year. All these people put in a lot of work and it isn’t easy moving the media, lawyers, politicians, running from Ajmer to Jaipur to Delhi, putting together case papers and so on. It is heartening to see that even a senior lawyer like UU Lalit can see in someone like Dr Chishty a human being first and a Pakistani second. It is proof there’s a lot of humanity left in this world.
The reason why I’m describing all this in detail is not to praise them to count the favours but to make the point that these are people often dismissed as mere “candle-light peaceniks”. Hawks in both India and Pakistan alike, who romanticise the idea of perpetual war and hostility, accuse such “candle-light peaceniks” of romanticism. As Ayesha Siddiqa recently wrote, it is important to ask this question about the Indo-Pak peace process: who is the constituency of peace in our countries? We must ask that question every time we approach Indo-Pak issues, be it the issue of one amongst thousands of prisoners, or be it the intractable issues of territorial claims and disputes.
As Dr Chishty spends time with his family in Karachi, something he thought wasn’t possible, we must say three cheers for peace and hope, Aman and Asha, and indeed, for peaceniks.
A release from Amna Chishty:
May 10, 2012
Case of Dr. Khalil Chishty
We are grateful to the Indian Supreme Court for allowing Dr. Chishty to return home for five months, and to expedite the special leave petition which is scheduled for hearing on the 20th day of November 2012.
At this time we would like to thank the honorable bench of Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Chelameswar for their compassionate and humanitarian judgement.
We would also like to thank our lawyers Mr Nitin Sangra and Mr U. U. Lalit for their professionalism and hard work, without their diligent efforts this day would not have been possible.
We would also like to thank Justice Markandey Katju who supported and advised us at every juncture, the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), India especially Kavita Srivastava general secretary of PUCL for her tireless and unconditional efforts, and Beena Sarwar of Aman ki Asha for her help, support and guidance.
We would also like to thank all our Indian and Pakistani friends for their continued support, especially Mahesh Bhatt, Jatin Desai, Kuldip Nayar, Shivam Vij, Senator Iqbal Haider, and Brig. Rao Abid of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), as well as all the Indian and Pakistani journalists and media organizations that highlighted the issue. Also our thanks to Human Rights organizations on both sides that took up the case.
Finally we are grateful to the government of Pakistan for taking up Dr. Chishty’s case at the highest level. Special thanks to President Asif Ali Zardari and Mr. Shahid Malik, Pakistani High Commissioner in India and Mr. Fawad Sher (First Secretary, Political and Consular), Pakistan High Commission, India.
on behalf of Dr. Khalil Chishty and his family