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Infighting nothing new in Koth Bhalwal jail

india Updated: May 03, 2013 20:39 IST
Peerzada Ashiq

From brawl over India-Pak cricket matches to fist fighting on religion and stand-off after a debate on Kashmir - the Koth Bhalwal jail in Jammu has a two-decade history of hostile atmosphere and infighting.

Militant commander-turned-political leader Javeed Mir, who heads a JKLF faction, was part of a stand-off between Kashmiri and non-Kashmiri jail inmates inside the Koth Bhalwal jail in 1994 after an India-Pakistan match.

"The jail authorities would issue high alert the day two countries would take on each other in the cricket field. One single sarcastic remark would turn situation ugly inside the barracks," recalled Mir, who spent two years inside the jail in early 1990s.

"Revenge killings inside the jails are a dangerous trend. It's a condemnable act wherever it happens.

Every jail inmate is a responsibility of the authorities and deserves security," said Mir.

Apart from India-Pakistan matches, religion and Kashmir problem have been major sources of confrontation between the inmates inside the jail, which houses more than 500 prisoners, including 20 militants and 15 political convicts.

"The common refrain from the Muslim prisoners is that non-halal (un-Islamic way of slaughtering animals) food is being served inside the jail," said high court bar association (HCBA) vice-president Ejaz Bedar, who led a delegation in January 2013 to meet jail inmates.

"In fact Sanaullah Haq (the prisoner who was attacked on Friday) also complained about non-halal food being served against Islamic tenets early this year," said Bedar.

According to the HCBA report, there are no round-the-clock doctors available despite the jail manual directives.

"There are several inmates who face acute depression or are mentally deranged," said Shaheen Ahmad, a lawyer who was put in the jail from July 2010 to March 2011 for participating in street protests.

In around 20 foreigners' cases --- which include Bangladeshi, Pakistanis and Afghans --- the court has ordered repatriation several years ago. However, the same could not be implemented because the India-Pakistan has no extradition treaty.

The Indian government's nudge for a joint judicial commission may actually help release of the prisoners who completed their terms. In the past, Pakistan refused to take back prisoners involved in militant activities inside India.

Ex-inmates are demanding extra security at all jails in Kashmir. "The biggest security concern is that all kinds of prisoners are lodged up jointly. Conventional criminals are put up with political prisoners, protesters' and minors," said Ahmad.

Hogging headlines for wrong reasons
Till 2002, the Koth Bhalwal jail was having a very few barracks. The jail hogged headlines in 1998 when militants dug a tunnel to escape. Two militants, including a commander Sajad Afghani who was very close to now Jash-e-Muhammad chief Maulana Masood Azhar, was killed in security forces action inside the jail. There are periodic allegations about mobile phones being sneaked into the jail.

Inmates in Koth Bhalwal jail
Convicts number
Male convicts: 142
Female convicts: 4
Political convicts: 15
Undertrial prisoners: 162
Detainees under common law 42
Militancy-related detainees: 20
Other prisoners: 3