24 years and counting

This week, Muhammad Qasim Faktoo would complete 24 years in jail, which is half his life, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

Mohammad Qasim Faktoo

Fighting the family battle of survival after his father’s death, a young boy in old Srinagar city applied for the post of sub-inspector in J&K police. That was 1985. Enthusiastic and hopeful about his selection to help his family, he completed all the formalities. An 18-year-old boy was surprised when he was asked to pay the ‘bribe’ of Rs 25000. The day, he says changed his life.

Teenager dropped out from the police inspector list, 32 years later, is Kashmir’s longest serving prisoner, Muhammad Qasim Faktoo. Now known as Dr Qasim, he completes 24 years behind bars on February 5, 2017 which is more than half of his life.

Turning down his writ petition, a three-member Bench of Supreme Court headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi in 2016 observed that “the convict had already exhausted all his judicial remedies following the rejection of his review petition in September 2003 and the curative petition in February 2005.”

Spending 24 years out of his 49 years of life in jail, Qasim in his early age was a free thinker with lots of love for sports.  In his college which he continued after being not selected for the inspector post, Qasim spent most of his time in watching or playing various games.

A bachelor in commerce from Islamia College of Science and Commerce Srinagar, batch 1987, he had chosen to pursue course from Institute of Cost and Work Account (ICWA). That did not happen as his life changed when he met few religious personalities. “Probably in this change, by the will of Allah the book of Maulana Ashaq Illahi, Marne Ke Ba’d kya Hoga (what will happen after death) played an important role,” says Qasim, in some writings that his followers distributed among newspapers, last week.

The intermediaries managed his meeting with “Muhammad Abdullah Bangru who had returned to Kashmir after getting guerilla training in Afghanistan”. Later in 1990, Qasim was appointed as spokesman of the Hizbul Mujahideen.

The affiliation with militant organisation did not stop him from pursuing the higher education, but only choice of subjects. He chose Islamiyaat and started writing for local newspapers; the prominent one was Kadwa Sach (Bitter truth) for the daily al-Safa newspaper.

In the same year of joining HM, Qasim married Asiyah Andrabi, the founder of Dukhteran-e-Millat. He says that “preaching and teaching continued afterwards while pursuing the degrees.”

Three years after the marriage, Qasim had to face first detention when he along with his wife and infant son was arrested at Srinagar airport while returning from Delhi. The wife and son were released after 13-months of detention. Qasim, however, was booked under PSA.

Remembering his ‘distress’ after not being selected as police inspector, Qasim says he was offered ticket for elections, success and ministerial berth, but a changed man did not accept. “At that time not becoming an Inspector was a great shock for me but in 1993 immediately after my arrest the advisor to Governor D D Saklani came to me at Papa-2 interrogation centre three times to convince me for taking part in the elections. He not only assured me the success in the elections but also assured me the ministerial berth,” according to Qasim.

This was not the end. Eight years later in 2001, Qasim was again offered to participate in elections. “In January 2002 at Talab Tiloo interrogation centre Jammu, the same offer was repeated by some intelligence officers but on the both occasions without giving any thought to their offers with great satisfaction I rejected the offer thus, gave priority to the jail,”

Mohammad Qasim Faktoo and his wife Asiya Andrabi

The official records reveal that Qasim was convicted and sentenced for life under TADA for murdering trade union and human rights activist Harday Nath Wanchoo in Srinagar on December 5, 1992. The family contests the claim. According to family, “BSF men and intelligence agencies through severe torture in the notorious- Papa-2 interrogation centre forced Dr Qasim to sign some blank papers and after that he came to know that he has been involved in the conspiracy of a murder of some person namely Hardai Nath Wanchoo,” the documents suggest.

Qasim was released on bail in March 1999 and later acquitted by TADA court in July 2001. State government contested the verdict and took the case to Supreme Court. There, it is claimed that “in January 2003 the Supreme Court acknowledged that since there is no evidence against Dr Qasim and his two companions and case is solely based on their ‘confessional statements’ still the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India sentenced them for life imprisonment.”

His case was reviewed after 14-years of his imprisonment, and the records reveal that “Board while taking into consideration all aspects of the case recommended premature release of Dr Muhammad Qasim in it’s meeting held on 03.06.2008.”

The government rejected the recommendation on September 14, 2009 (Govt. order No. Home-773(P) of 2009) with remarks that “J&K Jail Manual debars Dr Qasim”

As quoted in defence, “the JK Jail Manual debars Dr Muhammad Qasim from release on completion of 14 years (Government version of the rule 54.1, Chapter LIV JK Jail Manual), the same Jail Manual makes him eligible for release on completion of 20 years. (21.2, Chapter XXI, 46.18, Chapter XLVI).

Father of two sons, Dr Qasim, family says is “clear case of political vendetta”. “For Qasim, life sentence means detention as long as he is alive.”

As he completed 24 years behind the bars, the author of around nineteen books has penned down his autobiography, Bebasi, which has not yet been published.

In jail he completed his PhD, while outside his wife continued leading Dukhtaraan-i-millat. The family of four is longing to be together from last more than two decades.

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