‘I was forbidden from receiving religious books in jail’

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Forty-nine-year-old Anjum Zamarud Habib, founding member of the Hurriyat Conference, was falsely implicated under POTA. Habib’s memoir Prisoner No 100 is a rare and shocking account of a tortured five years in Tihar jail and a critique of the judicial system. She talks to Yamini Deenadayalan on a visit to Delhi (a place she “never feels free in and fears”). Edited excerpts.

Photo:Tarun Sehrawat

You talk about how jail mirrors the outside reality of alienation and discrimination in Kashmir. How?
Most Kashmiris don’t consider Kashmir a part of India. We are not against Indian people. All the prisoners called me a terrorist — a deshdrohi even though they didn’t know me. How do you react to that? In today’s Kashmir, if a child sees his mother getting raped, how can he grow up to be normal?

What about the prejudice against Kashmiris and Muslims in jail?
Spiritual leaders from other faiths often came for interactions. In my five years there, not a single Muslim came. I was forbidden from receiving religious books.

Did you consciously reveal your biases — you ask why Muslim men marry non-Muslim women, for instance?
I wrote what I felt. Navjot [the Sikh wife of Shaukat Guru, who was accused in the Parliament attack case] was relieved to be released, even though her husband wasn’t [then]. I truly believe she shouldn’t have married him. If one is not honest, books like mine have no credibility.

Prisoner no. 100 Anjum Zamarud Habib Zubaan 218 pp; Rs 325

 

Your writing on Vipassana classes in jail appeared in a newspaper as the story of a ‘reformed terrorist’. Did you feel lost in the propaganda around your arrest?
You only have to prove yourself against your allegations. If you are accused of wearing a black burqa, you have to prove that you weren’t. You don’t need to say you wore a black sari or continuously prove yourself. Syed Maqbool Shah [a Kashmiri youth falsely accused in the 1996 Delhi bombing case] entered jail at the age of 17 and spent 14 years there. Can anyone return the years?

Did you deliberately skip details about your interrogation?
When I was writing about the policewomen coming with me into the bathroom (during my arrest), I just couldn’t continue writing. It was too painful. The blessings of Allah helped me finish this. I wrote only one draft. It is not a work of literature. I wanted the hardness of it to reach you directly.

Yamini Deendayalan is a Features Correspondent with Tehelka
[email protected]

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