SAR Geelani’s daughter Nusrat Geelani recalls her ordeal in and out of jail
It was the holy month of Ramazan, 13 December 2001 — a day that seemed ordinary, but turned out to be the one that would change our lives forever. We had some relatives visiting us who were to leave for Kashmir next day to celebrate Eid.
Around noon somebody turned on the television and suddenly the house was filled with noise. Maa came running from the kitchen asking if America had finally managed to nab Osama. My brother and I were playing in the balcony. On hearing the noise we also went inside to see what was on television. There were sounds of gunshots, policemen running around and some blood-stained bodies lay on the ground. We all looked at the television screen in shock and disbelief as the news anchor announced that the Indian Parliament had been attacked.
Something was burning in the kitchen and the smell spread all around. Mom left hurriedly saying, “Waaeeh!! khabar kas Kaeshris anan setaej wanne,” (Oh! Now they will be after some Kashmiri). My brother and I also went back to balcony to continue our game, oblivious of the impending tragedy.
Next day my uncle who stayed with us accompanied our relatives to Tis Hazari where they were to board the direct bus to Kashmir. Abbu left for University to take his class. Uncle and Abbu were to join us again at Iftaar. As Iftaar time drew near, we waited and waited for uncle and Abbu, but both of them did not come.
After Iftaar, Maa asked me to call Abbu on his cell phone which were not very common those days. I went to a phone booth outside and dialed his number, but his cell phone was switched off. I went back and informed Maa who was a bit upset thinking that dad had acted careless in not informing us about his late arrival.
I called on Abbu’s cell a number of times, but his phone continued to be switched off. When I told my Maa about it, she grew a bit anxious.
Sometime later, some men barged into our house in civil clothes. They began addressing us in a very harsh tone and then they revealed they were from the special cell of Delhi police and told us that Abbu was with them and asked us to accompany them.
Aatif and I could not really figure out what was happening since we were young. Aatif was 5 and I was nine-years-old. But I remember Maa was really, really worried. Then they took us to their office and we were made to spend three days there. There we got to know they had picked up our uncle as well as our Kashmir-bound relatives. During those three days although we kept crossing each other’s paths while using washrooms, we were not allowed to speak with each other.
The door of the room in which we were kept was mostly closed, but on the evening of the second day they kept the door wide open. Then Abbu was brought in the room exactly opposite to us. Both Aatif and I got up on seeing our father and it was an extremely painful moment. We could see Abbu’s legs and hands had been chained and he could barely walk. It was much later in life that I understood their motives behind opening the door that day and I learnt that despite all the physical, mental and emotional torture, Abbu had not signed any blank papers neither had he made any confessions regarding his alleged involvement in the attack on the Indian Parliament.
In the evening of the third day of our illegal detention while we were sitting in that dark dingy room, we suddenly heard loud painful screams of two men from the other room. They were being beaten and banged against walls. Later on, we came to know that the two men were Afzal and Shaukat Guru. Shaukat Guru’s wife who was pregnant at that time had been kept with us for the entire period of our illegal detention and was being constantly abused and harassed for having converted to Islam.
Later that night all our family members were released except Abbu. We were told that he would be released after some time.
After reaching our home we realized that our lives had completely turned upside down. Abbu was there all over the newspapers and television as one of the ‘masterminds’ of the Parliament attack. The people who used to be close friends suddenly started acting as strangers. Public phone booth owners who would otherwise chat for hours with us did not allow us to make calls. Those days public phone booths were the only option since cell phones were not so common. Vegetable vendors turned us away and we had to buy our daily use items from stores located kilometers away from our home because nobody wanted to sell their stuff to a “terrorist’s family.” Even Aatif, a five-year-old child, was a “terrorist” for them.
Then our neighbours started pressurising our landlord to evict us. Our landlord was a gentle soul, but under immense pressure he had no option and asked us to vacate his house.
We began hunting for a new rented accommodation. But when people got to know our identity they turned us away. Finally, it was a Muslim ghetto in South Delhi where we managed to rent a house after concealing our identity.
Meanwhile, the harrowing experience of visits to Tihar jail to meet Abbu had begun. Despite a long journey through auto rickshaws in scorching heat and endless waiting before the meeting, the sight of Abbu through a cage like structure was heavenly.
By that time Abbu’s friends, colleagues and other people from different walks of life had come out in his support. We felt we would not have to fight this battle alone anymore. We are ever grateful to all those people who stood with us that time.
Those 22 months that Abbu spent in jail was a period of perpetual sadness for the entire family. Everything had turned topsy turvy.
While in illegal detention, we suddenly heard loud painful screams of two men from the other room. They were being beaten and banged against walls
I can’t really find words to describe how happy we felt on the day Abbu was finally released. It was like a rebirth for the entire family. After Abbu’s release we started building our lives again. But our whole world came crashing down yet again on 8 February 2005 when there was an assassination bid on his life. He was shot five times outside his lawyer’s house. That was the darkest of night in our life. We all were on prayer rugs reciting the Qur’an and asking Allah to save him, and finally the prayers were answered and he miraculously survived although three bullets still remain in his body.
After that we started our lives afresh. During all these years we saw how Abbu worked relentlessly for all political prisoners from Kashmir, Punjab, North-East and other states of India who are largely ignored by criminal
justice system. He fearlessly worked for victims of state repression, criticizing the government for its anti-people policies. But it has come with a price. He was many times targeted by the Hindu right-wing groups and was several times assaulted physically and his functions were always disrupted. Despite such hostile conditions he courageously continued doing his work.
Now with the Hindu right-wing peopleat the helm in India, he was again put behind bars on frivolous charges of sedition.
In 2001, we were young and could not really comprehend what was going on, but this time it all made sense and my heart is full of gratitude for all those people who stood with us during that time and now. I can’t help but admire my mom for the courage she has shown in the face of adversity and I feel blessed to have a family which has always stood as a pillar of support in these difficult times.
So when Abbu is back home after spending almost 40 days in Tihar jail, I can feel the pride that I take in being his daughter has swelled manifold. In these times when it is really difficult to find role models, I can proudly say that my Abbu
is my hero.
Meanwhile, lawyers continue to mesmerize me and the field of criminal law has come to lure me all over again.