Dr S M Khalil Chishty is a nearly 80-year old Pakistani virologist who was sentenced for life in Jan 2011, for a murder case after a 19-year long trial. Prominent Indians have written to the President and Governor Rajasthan appealing for his release, including filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, former navy chief Admiral Ramu Ramdas, journalists Kuldip Nayar and Jatin Desai, and Kavita Srivastava of the People's Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL). Former Justice of the Indian Supreme Court Markandey Katju has also spoken out in Dr Chishty's favour.
PUCL believes that the mercy petition case is robust and the Governor must this time round use his powers under Article 161 of the Constitution of India.
Dr Chishty's family visiting India consists of his wife Begum Mehrunissa, daughter Shoa Jawaid, and grandson Syed Ali Ghalib Chishty, 25. One of his daughters Tasneema married to an Indian and living in the UAE, is also there with her two grown children.
"We are especially grateful to the Indian authorities and Pakistan High Commission in Delhi for their quick response, and for granting us permission to meet him and also for granting my family non-reporting visas," Amna Chishty, their youngest daughter who lives in Canada told Aman ki Asha over the phone.
On Nov 18, the day after arriving in India, Dr Chishty's family addressed the media in Ajmer, appealing emotionally for his release. Begum Mehrunissa Chishty wept, with folded hands, urging the President of India and the Governor of Rajasthan to sign the mercy petition and let her husband go home to Pakistan. She has lost all hearing in one ear and 90 percent in the other.
A teary-eyed Shoa Jawaid, Dr Chishty's fourth daughter, said that their father had travelled all over the world and finally chose to settle in Karachi after retiring. Soon after that, he visited India where this incident happened. His dreams of seeing his daughters married, his grandchildren growing were shattered, as he has since been either in prison or under house arrest. Shoa Jawaid appealed to the media in India that has raised the issue so vociferously, to once again take on the issue of her father's release so that he could go back home.
Syed Ali Ghalib Chishty, Dr Chishty's grandson, said his grandfather had taught him how to read and write. Now having started his first job, it breaks his heart that the person who led him as a child is not there to see him grown up.
Following the press conference the family was overjoyed to learn that the Government of Rajasthan had granted them permission to visit Dr Chishty in jail. The half-hour long meeting was very emotional. "My mother saw him after two years," said Amna Chishty. "Seeing Ali (his grandson) after eight years, my father was unable to recognise him at first."
"He asked about everyone and was happy to see them. Health-wise, he complained about his leg, which will never be normal again but said he is keeping his heart in check. He asked for some good books - my sister will try to obtain them if the authorities grant permission," said Amna Chishty adding, "We are concerned about his mental and physical health."
Dr Chishty has suffered from several ailments over the past years, including a broken hip, and heart disease, that have left him disabled and dependent. Dealing with these problems as well as his trial and imprisonment without his family, living in isolation, he has also suffered physical, mental and emotional trauma that have changed his mood and psychology. He finds it hard to communicate with other people, feels insecure and irritable, and wants to be left alone. This may be a condition of mental depression that has yet to be examined by any psychiatrist.
Amna Chishty said that the authorities have been courteous but are constrained by the rules.
"During their visit my family naturally want to see him as often as possible," she said. Prison rules restrict family visits to fortnightly meetings. The family is hoping that the Rajasthan government will waive this rule on compassionate grounds to allow more frequent visits.
"My mother is still unaware of the duration of his sentence, and hopes to take him back with her when she returns," said Amna Chishty. "The file is with the Governor and we are hoping for the best."
The Chief Minister of the Government of Rajasthan showed exemplary action in sending the mercy petition to the Governor in June, Kavita Srivastava and Anant Bhatagar of PUCL, Rajasthan told journalists. The governor returned the mercy petition to the CM in July with queries relating to the medical condition of Dr Chishty, his role in the delay in the trial that took 19 years, and other questions that have since been answered. The case remained pending in the trial court for over 19 years due to the prosecution and procedural complications for which Dr Chishty cannot be held responsible. Living under house arrest, he was supposed to report to the police station every fortnight, which he duly did.
It is high time that his ordeal was ended. Let the Government of India show compassion and release this elderly, infirm man so he can spend his last days with his family. As Justice Katju said, "It will be a disgrace for our country (India) if he dies in jail."
Dr Chishty's family in Ajmer, pleading for his release: (left to right) Shoa Jawaid, daughter; Mrs Mehrunissa Chishty, wife; Mohammed Farid, grandson; Ali Chishty, grandson; Rabab Farid, granddaughter, Tasleem Farid, daughter; Jamil Chishty, brother
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
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The News on Sunday Special Report: India Pakistan prisoners more editions
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