This is official blog of Awami Tahreek, Sindh, Pakistan.

Sunday, 10 April 2011



By: Rasool Bux Palijo

It was 15 October 1979, Zia-ul-Haq had been in power for two years and three months, It was a morning like any other except that I had woken up feeling very unwell after spending the night on the floor of the house of my friend and fellow party worker, Hussain Bakhsh, in Larkana. The news which greeted me that morning was a Martial Law proclamation in Ibrat, the Hyderabad - Sindhi daily which contained a list of 'absconding criminal s who were evading lawful arrest' and were ordered to appear before the summary court at Badin in Sindh on 16 October 1979. A number of those list ed, belonged to my party, the Awami Tahreek. Husain's name was fifth on the list, mine was the last.The Awami Tahreek (Sindhi Peoples' Movement) was founded in 1968 ( announced on 3-3-70) in Hyderabad as a platform of struggle for genuine democracy, salvation of the exploited working classes, oppressed nationalities and for combating imperialist domination over our country. The peasantry in the province of Sindh to which I and my friends belonged, are among the most oppressed in the world. We concentrated on organizing the m and leading them in their struggles against class and national exploitation and oppression. This did not please the Sindhi landlords, mainly the Islamabad bureaucracy, the immigrant manipulators and the establishment who had grabbed the best chunks of peasant land in Sindh. We had stirred a veritable hornets' nest. Instead of the usual token struggles reported in glowing terms by obliging journalists, there began genuine struggles with such leading bodies as "Stop the Land Auction", "Print voter lists in Sindhi" etc. Zia's regime had me arrested for the first time shortly after the coup in 1977. I was taken to a major who told me he had received information that I was stirring up trouble by complaining that people were being unlawfully dismissed from government service. I was later brought up before the Deputy Martial Law Administrator, Hyderabad. 'What did you think about the decision in the Bhutto Case?' I said that I did not agree with it and that the people regarded it as a politic al decision. 'What if the sentence of death passed on Mr. Bhutto, the deposed Prime Minster of Pakistan, was carried out?' There would be an unbridgeable gulf between the Martial Law Administration and the people, especially those of Sindh, I replied. Predictably enough, after these remarks, I was imprisoned first in the Hyderabad Central Jail and then transferred to the jail in Sukkur Both were full of political prisoners with harrowing stories of the atrocities that were being committed by the Martial Law against the people of Sindh. People were being arrested on such a wide a scale in Sindh that Hyderabad and Sukkur jails were filled to capacity with political prisoners.I presented a petition to the High Court of Sindh, which at that time still had the power to determine the legality of the detention of political prisoners under the Martial Law Regulations. I conducted my case personally and after numerous hearings the court held my detention to be illegal. I was released only to be reasserted two days later on the same charges of which I had been exonerated. The only fresh allegation was that I had called for peace with Afghanistan, an amicable settlement with its government and the repatriation of the 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. I challenged that detention before the High Court of Sindh which, after many hearings, once more held my detention to be unlawful. This was around April 1979.Just five months later I was summoned once more to appear before a Martial law court in October 1979. When I reached the in Badin I was handcuffed and placed in a tent with several other prisoners, all handcuffed. The entire atmosphere was one of fear, as if some foreign enemy had come and taken our land. On my way from Badin station to the headquarters I had seen some wooden construction being erected in the bazaar. I did not understand their purpose at the time, but then it suddenly came to me. That was the contraption to which prisoners are tied before being flogged. Who was to be flogged and for what? A policeman came and said he had orders to parade me handcuffed through t he man street of Badin. The town knew me as an advocate, as a political leader who had addressed mass rallies. Now, they wanted to make an example of me in Badin by showing that political workers and leaders could be ma de to walk handcuffed through the streets like criminals.You play a game with your captors. If you refuse to be humiliated, it frustrates their plan completely. So I behaved as if it was quite normal to be paraded through the streets handcuffed and with a police escort and saluted and called to everyone I knew until a small crowd gathered around m e. Suddenly, the policeman no longer thought this was such a good idea. ' Let's take our time,' I said, 'the jails won't close.' 'No, let's walk faster,' he replied. Soon the entire town knew that I had been arrested, but the terror they had wanted to inspire in its people was absent. That evening in the sub-jail of Badin I learnt who the contraption in the centre of the town had been erected for. My friends and comrades in the Awami Tahreek had been flogged. One of them, a boy of twenty, fragile with tuberculosis, and vomiting blood, had come forward to be flogged firs t. Thousands of people had been collected to watch them pay the price of daring to participate in politics. After being flogged they raised the sign of regime. Clearly, the punishment had not been server enough, so the officer and his men, pummeled each of them again for his defiance.The next day I was taken for a medical examination, in order to determine whether I was fit enough to be flogged. The law stated that a person above forty-five could not be lashed but they were simply obtaining false medical certificates from doctors. The doctor who examined me grew very pale at the thought of signing a certificate that I was young and fit enough to be flogged. He would be despised by the people of Sindh for doing that. Then suddenly my younger son Ayaz Latif arrived from Hyderabad with my passport which showed that I was more than forty-five. From there I was taken to headquarters, handcuffed as before, and produced before a fat, stocky major. 'Had you not become a criminal,' he said, 'you would now be sitting on the chair to which you are entitled as a member of the legal profession. You were fighting for the release f others, now you are handcuffed yourself. Last May, you surreptitiously gathered some 60,000 peasants in Rahoki and spoke against martial law.
I explained that the Rahoki meeting had not violated any law; it was a peaceful non-political gathering discussing the violation of the economic rights of the people. 'You are a criminal,' the major repeated, 'and I am not going to allow you to speak. If you promise to behave I can recommend mercy for you but if not, you will be jailed again and we will teach you a lesson your coming generations will not forget.' It then transpired that the senior officer himself would see me. A tall man in his fifties, he told me to sit down, and in a peremptory voice asked, 'What's all this business about rebellion?' I told him there had be en no rebellion, there was no secrecy to the peasants' meeting, we simply did not have the money to advertise it in advance. 'Did you preside over the meeting?' I said I had. 'You must understand, the days f rabble-rousing are over. This is martial law, the we will take care of everything an d soon put you right.' I was then taken to another major, whose manners were charming. Sit, smoke, tea. He respected brave and honest people. He had a good opinion about the Awami Tahreek. Had I presided over the Rahoki meeting? 'Yes,' I replied, ' I had'; and said that we had called door restoration of democracy and the end of martial law.'There is no one more interested than us in seeing democracy restored, but the times are bad,' the Major said. 'The Indians are on the border, the Afghans are well within it. I only wish I could do something for you.' 'Could we get on with the trial,' I asked, 'so that I can cross examine the witnesses and convince the court that we have not broken the law?' I n fact no specific charges had been supplied to me except that I had violated martial law. 'Let's not get so impatient for a trial,' he said and went away to speak to the senior. He returned saying, 'The matter has been decided, you are sentenced to one year's hard labor and a fine of thirty thousand rupees.' 'But where was the trail?' I protested.'Why have a trial?' he replied, 'you have already admitted your guilt by saying you presided over the Rahoki meeting.' 'But I never said I had committed a crime.''We don't go into such niceties, Mr. Palijo, this is a summary trial'. 'But have you forgotten the supreme courts, you must realize their powers of judicial review of martial law action continue to exist.' 'Forget about them, don't compel me to say something less than complimentary about the powers of the courts.'That night I was taken to the central jail at Hyderabad. In the vocabulary of a political prisoner, moving from a sub-jail to a central jail is a promotion because you have contact with other political workers and politician. Hussain Baksh was there, so was the since martyred, Mohammad Fazil Rahoo who had been arrested and sentenced to days earlier by the same 'court' at Badin. The court had ordered that I should be kept as a C class prisoner, that is the lowest class of convicted criminal. The prison Superintendent, Noor Elahi, who had studied at the same college as me, apologized as he brought me the criminal uniform but insisted that I wear it immediately or the authorities would be very angry. I said there was no question of my being displeased, it was very kind of them to provide me with a uniform so promptly.The food was maggot-infested meat or dal, but mostly it was just dirty water. As I developed stomach ulcers I came to know that the Chief of dealing with the inmates. When he inspected the prisoners he would place his hands on one of them and say, 'this man needs treatment.' This was the co de for 'The man is to healthy and should be given a beating.'There were about ten of us in the ward which subsequently came to be called 'Awami (People's) Ward' after we had stayed there. There were some fifteen others from other organizations. We were determined not to let them break our spirit. We could not write or receive letters and we were locked up at about 5 o'clock every evening. There was a reign of terror in the goal and martial law had given the jail authorities an opportunity to operate with a ruthlessness they would not have dared to employ in civilian days. Corruption was rampant. We started to tell each other the story of how each one was arrested. When the police could not find the man they wanted, his parents were locked up and beaten by the police. After a few weeks, I moved a petition before the High Court of Sindh against my illegal sentence. The Superintendent refused to send the petition but after my insistence, and with great hesitation, he agreed. I later found that the Martial Law authorities were very angry that the petition ha d been sent. I appeared as my own counsel.There were several hurdles before a case could even he heard. There would first be a kutcha-peshi which determined whether the petition should b e considered for hearing. Since thirty to forty cases were fixed for kutcha-peshi, the time for the hearing seldom came. The judges knew what was expected of them under martial law. Occasionally there would be a judge such as Fakhruddin Ebrahim who would be inclined to take particular note of undecided detention cases on his roster and make a deliberate effort to dispose of as many of them as quickly as possible. But normally the three-month detention orders would keep piling up, while one rotted in the cells.I acted as my own counsel so I would be sitting on the front bench (which , as an advocate of the High Court I was entitled to do) handcuffed and i n the uniform of the lowest grade criminal. I had been away from the Bar for so long because of my detention that some lawyers would tell me 'Your place is on the last bench; tell your lawyer to speak on your behalf.' Sometimes a judge who did not know me, would look at me and ask, when I stood up to address the court, 'Have you no lawyer?' Subsequently, the handcuffs were removed after the registrar told the police not to dare to bring me handcuffed. I became severely ill in jail. It was impossible for me to eat. I was in constant pain from stomach ulcers. I became so sensitive to the cold that if I bathed I would immediately fall ill and take a week to recover. I developed a respiratory problem and would ask the policeman on duty to wait before closing the doors of the cell because at the time in the evening it became next to impossible for me to breathe. 'Orders are orders,' he would reply, and as he closed my cell I used to tell myself this might be the end, I might collapse. But you have to take it, there is no other way.I moved an application for medical treatment. It took a very brave and reckless doctor to admit a political prisoner to hospital. There were prisoners who had gone blind waiting for treatment, people whose legs were so badly infected they were oozing with pus, people with tuberculosis. Their papers lay with the authorities for months and months. It was a slow death. The chief Justice accepted my application for medical treatment and ordered that I be admitted to hospital. Twenty days passed without anything happening. So I wrote to the chief Justice informing him about the situation. Under orders of the High Court I was admitted and the doctor said that I was seriously ill and should have come in long ago. I was the first time since my arrest that I had seen jail, clean food, However, it was only after four hours that a police escort arrived and told me to get up. 'What for?' 'You have to go back to jail. The martial law authorities are very angry with the doctor who admitted you.' 'It was not the doctor,' I said, 'It was the High Court who ordered it.' 'We know nothing about the High Court.' They took me back to jail but I refused to enter it and said that if anybody took me forcibly into jail I would proceed against him before the Chief Justice of the High court. 'Martial law may last twenty years but I as sure you, that whenever it is lifted you will meet the result of your illegal action in disobeying the explicit orders of the High Court.' The Superintendent, Noor Elahi, said to me. 'Don't you understand, Mr. Palijo; t here is no law in the country.' However, I refused to enter so I was take n to a police lock-up and later that night back to the hospital where I remained for twenty days.At the High Court hearing I argued against my sentence on the grounds that even a summary military court has to follow a procedure and should pro vide a fair trial. The procedure for such a trial has been laid down in a enactment of the civil legislature. However, the judge came to the conclusion that my non-existent trial was perfectly in order.So I was shunted off to Khairpur Central Jail, a place notorious for its bad water and intense heat. I was kept in solitary confinement in a cell with no doors or windows, just iron bars. My respiratory problems were severely aggravated by this, so I insisted that I should have a cell-mate who could at least call the doctor when I had an attack. The jail authorities had perfected a method which I came to know. This was to let one fall ill and remain in jail without any treatment or under bogus treatment. In the meantime a circular correspondence would continue between the doctor and the Superintendent and the Inspector-General of Police and the Home Secretary. When one of the prisoners died, they had reams of paper to prove that they had taken the case seriously. I have no explanation for my own survival except sheer will-power. I taught myself to forget the pain. I trained myself to forget that I had been awake all night in agony because of the skin inflammation I had developed in those in-sanitary jail conditions. I could not tell anybody about it; in any case, what could my parents or my friends do? They could not advise me to betray the cause of my oppressed people and they could not help me. they could only worry themselves to death. Even in freedom I have had to work cruelly with my mind to make it forget. The negative side to that is that my memory has been damaged. Eventually my year's sentence ended but then they extended it by three months. They had photocopied copies of the same order which they would simply initial and say, here is your new order. Ultimately they got fed up with the whole routine and assumed I was in jail permanently and asked, 'Why do you need these orders. What are they for? You are here as long as there is martial law. Don't you, as an intelligent man, understand that?' So I appealed to the High court again. The Martial law authorities were running the whole show themselves but they were pretending that there was a civilian government and a Constitution, that civil laws could operate insofar as they had not been set aside. But in fact every little move down to who would be put in which cell was decided by them. The Superintendent, the Home Secretary and for that matter, the senior Minister of the Province were merely players in a farce. Since they did not want the petition to reach the High Court, the Inspector-General and the Home Department Began to delay and frustrate it. I then moved a petition calling upon the court to take notice of this as contempt. Fortunately, the matter found its way to one of the judges who was inclined to take serious note of such things. He asked how a sick man came to be in so bad a jail as Khairpur and ordered me back to Hyderabad Central Jail.While my petition against detention was pending, the Provisional Constitutional Order was promulgated in May 1981 whereby the High Courts and the Supreme Courts no longer had any power to determine the legality of actions under martial law orders. The judges were called upon to swear allegiance to martial law by taking another oath of office which, in my interpretation, implied their accepting martial law as legal. Those who were no t administered the oath were, in effect, summarily dismissed. This state of affairs continued until the lifting of martial law in December 1985.What is more, by a special amendment to the Constitution the power of the se superior courts to determine, after the end of martial law, whether actions taken during martial law were illegal and improper was excluded. It was argued that there was thus no redress for what had happened during t he martial law period. I remained in this illegal incarceration until 1986- that was how often t he three-month periods were extended. It is difficult to determine which is the higher price to pay under a dictatorship, the price of participating in politics or that of going into exile.
In truth, it is a difficult distinction to make because under detention one is so completely isolated that it is effectively a form of exile-and the physical and mental suffering and torture is immeasurable.

No comments:

Post a Comment