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BookView | A Prison Diary of a Triply Marginalized Woman

BookView is a column that analyses literary texts of all genres from an intersectional, feminist standpoint.

Prison Literature is a literary genre characterized as literature that is written while the author is confined in a location against his or her will, such as a prison, or under house arrest. The literature can be about the prison, informed by it, or just coincidentally written while in prison. Prison diaries especially, speak of the sleazy tales of torture and humiliating experiences the prisoners face. Anjum Zamarud Habib’s Prisoner No. 100: An Account of My Nights and Days in an Indian Prison (2011) is one such prison diary, that reveals and openly talks about the cruelties and tortures faced by the prisoners. Her being a prisoner as well as a Kashmiri, makes her a member of a doubly marginalized community.

On 6th February 2003, Anjum Zamarud Habib, a young woman political activist from Kashmir was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Her crime- being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  She was the chairperson of the Muslim Khawateen Markaz, and in that capacity a member of the Hurriyat Conference. She went through a deep sense of betrayal at being abandoned by her political comrades, and had no support and was desperate for contact with the outside world. The pain when the realization strikes that there is no escape and the shock and the bewilderment of the arrest which was highly unexpected is what constitutes her story. The book Prisoner No.100: An Account of My Nights and Days in an Indian Prison in itself is a brilliant critique of the inherent patriarchy in politics, a searing tale of the terrible humiliation forced upon political prisoners or rather, a poignant story of a woman who dedicated her life to political change in Kashmir. Here, being a woman makes her a triply marginalized person in the society she lives in.

Anjum Zamarud Habib says, “Being a woman and that too from Kashmir makes your life in jail a living hell.” She explains an incident that took place- she was verbally stripped by the Delhi police during her time in incarceration. She was accused of being a separatist leader and they said that they would strip her naked, take snaps and distribute them all over India, defaming her forever. She was the only Kashmiri woman there when she entered the jail. Life in jail transforms one in many ways,” she says. “Incarceration can bind physically but cannot bind one’s conscience; no jail can cuff one’s thoughts or imagination.”

Being a high-risk prisoner, whose movements were restricted, getting even a paper and a pen was hard. The urge to document however continued to increase with every passing day. While she had all the time to gestate on her emotions, writing was the only way to vent. Habib says that her jail-stay had made her more determined and stronger willed. “The women in jail are all from assorted backgrounds,” she says, “Some are hard-core criminals, some claim to have been framed, a few are small-time thieves while others ran brothels.” Habib narrates her experience with a coterie of sadistic women who took immense pleasure in abusing and playing pranks on others around who were emotionally fragile. They targeted her too, but initially due to language problems, she did not understand that they were abusing her. When she slowly began to comprehend and responded, it didn’t make things any easier for her. “I shared a very strange relationship with the people in there. We used to fight and then talk. You can’t escape people, sooner or later one has to come to terms with the other.” After a point, the fights, the faces, the food, and the excuses became typical and repetitive. One just learnt to deal with grief. Deep inside though, each one only wanted to get out and prayed that they don’t see or meet the others ever again. “Nobody is interested in anyone else’s life beyond those four walls. All one wants is to move on. The absurdity of it all is a learning experience,” she says.

The immense negativity all around also made it extremely difficult to remain calm. The police officials always stared at women from bottom to top; it was very difficult to tell them to mind their own business. Habib was once called upon by a male superintendent, the in-charge at Jail no.2. He asked her if she was from Pakistan, to which she replied, “No, from Kashmir!” He then shockingly remarked, “Do you know that we make cocks out of Kashmiri men in that jail?”, this marks how Kashmir is looked down upon in other states in our country.

She is happy with the younger generation, the youth who actively participate in politics and she sees the ray of hope for betterment only through them. She has made a conscious choice to be with these youth to attain justice, and has no regrets whatsoever about her decision to be part of the movement. Habib was praised by many prominent writers for her ‘brave act’ of documenting her sufferings in jail through this book. Habib says that in Kashmir, there are many women who have now been coming out on the streets in protest. “For how long will they suffer the loss of their husbands, sons and brothers in silence? We have been suffering the bloodshed for over 20 years now.” Women like Parveen Ahangar, an unlettered woman who started the ‘Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons’ (APDP), are the real heroes, she says. Ahangar lost her son in 1990 and since then has been active in the movement, giving confidence to many others to raise their voice against atrocities.

Habib has a close-knit network of women that works with honesty and optimism, which says a lot. People in Kashmir have a collective memory of ruined lives, and even though they are traumatized and shattered, most of them do not have the courage to be a part of the mass collective or an uprising as they fear that it will only lead to more gory incidents. “Blood boils” when women are raped, sons are killed in encounters, husbands are beaten, and children go missing. But then, with time and politics at play, things are made to ‘appear normal’. Children are so used to conflicts, bombings and warfare that they take it as ‘a matter of fact’. 

Politicizing events in Kashmir to throw some light on the actual occurrences is imperative. Enforced disappearances and fake encounters are a matter of grave concern but all these lose importance when the larger Kashmir question comes to the fore. Habib questions, “How is one supposed to react, when one finds two women battered and torn apart, lying somewhere and the home minister reacts to the situation stating, “Kashmiris take things too seriously”?” “It is astonishing to find that whenever the Kashmir issue is brought to the table, people’s sense of nationalism awakens without knowing the intricacies of the Kashmir issue. What patriotism are people talking of? They are clueless about the price a Kashmiri has to pay for his ‘being’. I feel that the notion of secularism weighs heavily on the shoulders of Kashmir.”

It is important for everyday people to understand the Kashmir issue in depth and negotiate this understanding of patriotism. She says, “Well, patriotism to me is no less essential. It defines you and your sense of belonging. But then, with the rampant killings and brutal activities happening in Kashmir, it makes it almost impossible for an average Kashmiri to say I belong. Politicizing the Kashmiri discourse is one part but solving it is what needs to be worked at.”

Joanna Chacko is an Editorial Intern at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Zubaan Books

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