On the 18th of October, Kashmiri female journalist, Sanna Irshad Mattoo, was barred from traveling…
I just want to save my father’s life!
By Tazeen Hasan
Kashmiri leader Shabir Shah is facing his 5th year of pretrial detention. His health condition is critical, and if not released for his medical treatment, the family fears that the consequences may be fatal.
I just want to Save My father’s life. He has served 34 years in prison with no allegation ever proved against him.
My name is Sehar Shabir Shah, and I’m 19 years old. I am the daughter of Shabir Shah, the Kashmiri “Nelson Mandela” who has served 34 years in Indian prisons for demanding the right of self-determination for the Kashmiri Indigenous population. In all these years, the Indian courts never convicted him.
For a significant part of my life, I have met my father inside the boundaries of Indian jails. I have been seeing my father through a window of glass; so small that I could barely see his face; so blurred that I couldn’t picture him but only a shadow-like thing.
I could neither touch him nor see him clearly; instead, I put my hand on the glass window, and so did my father. It felt like we were holding hands. From what I could figure out, he has turned so weak — like a skeleton.
“Your father will never be released” — I have heard that innumerable times from the jail staff.
Female forces’ personnel would check me thoroughly at the jail gate; they used to grab my face so harshly – that it hurt – to check if I was hiding something in the mouth. And the rude abuses were harsh too.
I recall an incident in 2019 when I had written a poem for him. I kept the paper, with my thoughts inked on it, in my pocket when I accompanied my mother to the jail.
A female cop frisked me; she removed my hijab and pulled my hair, saying, “Tum aatankwadi ho.” (You are a terrorist). She found my poem. And she handed it over to one of her colleagues, a Tamilian officer who couldn’t read English.
“In aatankwadiyo or inke gharwalo ko sabse buri saza deni chaiye,” (These terrorists and their families should be punished badly) she said.
“It is a gift for my father,” I had said. Nonetheless, she called another cop and asked him to tear the poem in front of me. And spit on it. They laughed and spoke in the Tamilian language that I didn’t understand.
On 29th October 2021, my mother and I travelled 700 kilometres from Srinagar to Delhi to visit my imprisoned father after two years. We were appalled to see that he couldn’t stand or walk independently. He had become so frail that he had looked like his childhood photos.
In the five-minute conversation allowed by jail staff, we could understand that doctors advised my father two surgeries and one biopsy.
In the past, jail authorities have ignored repeated requests for access to his medical records so that we can get an independent evaluation of his medical conditions.
Shabir Shah is not a terrorist or criminal. He was offered the role of Chief Minister of Kashmir in 1995 by the then prime minister of India. At 67, while serving the 35th year of his non-consecutive imprisonment, he is critically ill.
According to United Nations reports, Indian jails are hostile places for Kashmiris as they are considered terrorists and traitors. Former Kashmiri prisoners say that jail doctors are more hostile than jail staff.
My father’s health is very critical. Any delay in surgeries can be fatal for him. We do not trust the available medical treatment options provided by jail authorities, particularly for surgeries.
His life is more important than his release. Yet, the only way he can be saved is through release on bail so that the family can arrange his medical treatment and surgeries independently.
We request the international community to work with the United Nations and the Indian government to work for my father’s release on bail on humanitarian grounds.
According to international fair trial Standards, my father has the:
Right to get a fair trial within a reasonable time;
Right to bail during his prolonged pretrial detention;
Right to access his medical records;
Right to consult his doctor and physician at his own expense;
Right to meet his family in a comfortable atmosphere.
I just want to save my father’s life.
Tazeen Hasan is a research fellow and campaign lead against arbitrary detention at Justice For All Canada. Tazeen penned this reflective article while in close communication with Sehar Shah.