By Mazhar Iqbal
The Indian Supreme Court is dealing with a myth nowadays. One party says he is a war prisoner, the other says he is nowhere. But, his family and those who are defending his case categorically say that he is present somewhere in India.
He was arrested in September 1965, declared dead after two months of his arrest and was later found languishing in jails in 2011. He spent 46 years in prisons without being identified and another year after his identification as Prisoner of War (POW). Until 2011, justice was not denied but delayed in his case. Yet, in 2012 it has been detracted by a deliberate effort to put his case together with the cases of lesser importance.
In coming months the highest court in India will be hearing cases of 250 foreign prisoners in a single petition , while, at least four among them have been identified by human rights lawyers as POWs of 1965 India-Pakistan.
It means that anybody who entered illegally into Indian Territory, over-stayed his visa or was put behind bars because of his involvement in street crimes will equally be treated with a person who has been languishing in jails since last 47 years.
Alam Sher of Tai village in the Poonch district of the Kashmir region was a soldier of Azad Kashmir Battalion, which is now called Azad Kashmir Regiment – a combatant arm of the Pakistan Army.
He and his three companions Barkat Hussain, Sakhi Mohamed and Bagga Khan went missing in action and were later reported as killed in fighting. The army unit of Sher wrote a letter to his family on 10 November 1965 that he was martyred during a battle on Kashmir war front.
In 2006, his relatives were informed by one of the former militants who was put in prison by Indian authorities and later released that he had met some of the soldiers including Sher in Indian jails.
The bereaved families contacted by letters with noted Indian lawyer and politician Bhim Singh, who filed a petition in an Indian court in 2011 on behalf of these families.
Later, the jail authorities informed the Supreme Court that all of them except Bagga Khan were arrested on 6 September 1965 and were kept at Jammu jail. That communication also released information about another inmate Aziz who was from Pakistan. He is also a war prisoner.
However, the higher officials of the Indian government contradicted the contents of letter written by prison authorities. They still insist that these people are not present in Indian jails. This is a mystery that must have been solved by India at the earliest. Unfortunately, despite of the clear directions by the court that record should be made available, the process has been slowed.
On 16 October, 2012, a Division Bench of Indian Supreme Court , who was hearing the petition launched by lawyers of these POWs, issued orders to list their case before another Division Bench, which is hearing another petition challenging the validity of detentions of nearly 250 foreign prisoners.
The Division Bench of the Supreme Court dealing with this case had asked Indian government to produce original record in the next hearing. Now, as the case is at the most crucial stage, reconstituting the formation of the court could have more serious implications than the actual crime that the court is going to deal with.
This could be the most important decision by the highest court of a country dealing with such a prolonged case of POWs and it should not have been delayed. Unfortunately, Indian government did not exercise its powers to speed up the court process and clear her from the charges. Contrarily, it is putting hurdles in providing justice to these prisoners of conscience.