Syed Maqbool Shah: A Decade Of Separation

Syed Maqbool Shah is trying to start a new beginning and his family is making all efforts to help him getting out of his dark past. His dark past snatched his 14 precious years of life, his dream to be a teacher, his family’s joy, his father, his sister and above all his cheerfulness. Syed Maqbool finds it hard to forget that what has happened to him but harder it is for him to answer that why it happened to him.

“I lost my 14 precious years in jail for no offence. I can never forget it…” anguishes Syed Maqbool, looking older than his age, in a melancholic tone. Syed Maqbool Shah, an aspiring teacher from Lal Bazar area of Srinagar, had gone to Delhi in 1996 for vacations where he was wrongly accused and arrested for taking part in a bomb blast. A car bomb blast in 1996 in the lajpat nagar market had killed 13 people and left many injured.

Shah was arrested on 17 June, 1996 from his Brother’s rented residence during a night raid by the police where they claimed to have found the evidences which linked shah with the Bomb blast case. He was just 17 years old then. “I was arrested in the night raid and was taken naked from the room”, says Syed Maqbool, now a man of 33 with wrinkles on his forehead.

Syed Maqbool was lodged in the Tihar Jail, where he spent 10 years of his 14 years imprisonment. “I shared time with some famous politicians, notorious criminals, mafias and gangsters in Tihar Jail and it was so horrible to be with them”, narrates Syed Maqbool, with sunken eyes showing his years long miseries. “Often there would be fights inside the jail between some gangs. They used to fight with blades and surgery razors. As a boy I used to be terrified”. “I missed my Mother there and would often long to dream of my family”, recollects Syed Maqbool in his newly built double storied house where he lives with his two elder brothers, his mother, nephews and memories of his late father and sister.

Shah lost his father during the time in Tihar jail. His mother, Zoona Begum, still lives in trauma. His Sister also passed away during those miserable years as she could not bear the separation from her youngest brother. “Death of my sister left me shattered. It was tragic”, anguishes Syed Maqbool. “My father passed away and I learnt about it after 15 months. He died due to our separation”, He adds while showing his father’s photograph.

Syed and his family not only suffered from the hardships of separation for 14 years but their well established Syed Arts Emporium business unit received a huge set back. They had to close their business in New Delhi. His brother, Syed Dilawar, who used to be a successful business man before Syed Maqbool’s imprisonment, now works as a laborer for other firms. Travelling a distance to Lal Chowk in a bus from their residence is difficult for Maqbool and his family. Their income does not make their ends meet.

“My family spent all the savings on the lawyers and travelling to and fro to see me. We are now left with nothing”, he says. Though Syed Maqbool runs a shop near his residence, it hardly makes his ends meet. During his release on 8 April, 2010 the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had promised Syed Maqbool compensation and a job, but promises are still unfulfilled. Syed Maqbool wrote to many ministers and officials about his innocence from the jail, but to no avail. “I wrote to the President of India, Prime Minister, Home ministry, and many other ministers about my innocence, but everyone turned a blind eye to me”, says Maqbool while showing the letters and other Prison documents.

Syed Maqbool was acquitted after 14 years when the court found very few evidences showing his guilt. “When I was acquitted of all the charges, I refused to leave the court”, recalls Maqbool, with skinny pale face. “I have lost my everything, where shall I go now and what shall I do with the rest of my life”, he had asked the judge in the court.

“We approached Hurriyat leaders as well as mainstream politicians to help us but they turned a deaf ear to our pleads”, says Syed Dilawar Shah, his oldest brother.

“What is the fun of having such leaders if they can’t help the abject prisoners”, interrupts Syed Nisar, his older brother, with a disappointment in his voice.

Many Kashmiris still languish in jails abroad the state for no offence. Many, like Syed Maqbool, have been acquitted after they were found innocent, but who is responsible for their lost years of teenage and adulthood, and for how long the Kashmiris have to face the wrath of this flawed justice system; the question still remains unanswered. Syed Maqbool wishes to help Kashmiri prisoners if he gets an opportunity. He has experienced the caged life and its hardships. He does not want others to face the same.

“My life has been ruined. Now I do not want others to suffer. I wish there were an Association, like that of APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons), which would address the problems of Kashmiri prisoners”, says Maqbool.

Syed Maqbool kept a diary in the prison in which he has documented his caged life. He wants that to be published but he cannot afford the amount for publication.

Qadri Inzamam is a freelance journalist from Kashmir.

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