A Model Prisoner’s Journey with a purpose
The story of Shahabuddin Ghauri is straight out from the class of rare individuals who thrive on their courage of conviction. Here is a man who has suffered all his life at the hands of both the state and the community but never wavered from serving the cause he has chosen in his life.
The path of humanity is sometimes too thorny to tread. But the men of courage and conviction do not look back. The story of Shahabuddin Ghauri is straight out from this class of human species. Born on August 21, 1964 in village Tanda district Rampur, Uttar Pradesh his heart has always bled for humanity. Since long now he has been dedicated to serve those whose rights have been infringed upon. In Jawaharlal Nehru University as an M. Phil student in 1989 he wrote for several newspapers and magazines, including JASARAT and TAKBEER (Weekly) published from Pakistan. Later he came in contact with South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre run by Ravi Nair as well as the US -based Human Rights Watch.
Shahbuddin got implicated in Ashfaq Hussain Lone’s Hawala case and was arrested under TADA on March 26, 1991. In Red Fort, the Joint Interrogation Centre (JIC) subjected him to all kinds of third degree tortures for 35 days. On April 30, 1991 Shahabuddin was shifted from JIC to Tihar jail, New Delhi. “I was lodged in an observation ward (in jail terminology it is called Mulahiza Ward) for 24 hours,” he said. On May 1, 1991 he was shifted to Ward No. 11-B, Cell No. 14. "The length and breadth of this cell was 10’x 7’.6’’ in which eight prisoners including myself were lodged. The cell had had an uncovered toilet, a water tank and just one cemented bed. This cell is called Chakki," said Shahbuddin.
All this, however, did not bend him. In Tihar he continued his struggle against the violation of human rights in a new order. “In UN terminology jails are called correctional centre but in fact these jails I found breeding centers for criminals because the free time available to them was being utilised for exchanging the occurrence of crimes committed by them,” Shahabuddin observed. He quietly formed two religious committees for both Hindu and Muslim prisoners so that they could perform their religious practices. He also started with a group of four prisoners teaching the inmates. Shahabuddin succeeded in encouraging his inmate students to fill IGNOU (Indira Gandhi national Open University) admission forms so that they could appear in examinations. “The admission forms were brought by inmate’s relatives with great difficulties. The result: when Shahabuddin was released from jail in 1998, about 654 prisoners, mostly adolescent prisoners. had already got themselves enrolled in different courses of IGNOU. Shahabuddin, in association with some other prisoners, also formed a legal aid committee to assist the helpless prisoners
After the Kiran Bedi joined Tihar Jail as IG prisons in May 1993, she, along with then Jail Superintendent D P Dviwedi extended their full cooperation to Shahabuddin’s to get IGNOU study center established there. Shahabuddin also started a computer centre and organized paintings of Tihar jail inmates at an exhibition at Pragati Madan in 1996 organised by Delhi government.
Bedi described “his unique achievements" inside the jail "as a magnification of his courage and undaunting resilience.” She also awarded Shahabuddin the Original Mind Award 2004 on behalf of India Vision Foundation. His penchant for social activities mesmerized other jail authorities also. In a letter of commendation in 1996, then Superintendent Tihar jail Tarsem Kumar described Shahabuddin as “a model prisoner who proved himself as an asset to the jail in its programme of reformation of prisoners through education”.
Ironically, Shahabuddin is yet to be given due social cognition.
Released from Tihar jail on 24th August, 1998 he wanted to get himself settled in Delhi. But none touched him for about ten years. With heavy heart he went back to his native village Tanda (Rampur) but the same fate awaited him there too. “I was shocked when I found my close friends and associates turned back at me after my release. My close colleagues of JNU also kept me at arm length,” he said.
However, he decided to stay back in his village and has been serving the people ever since. First he fought against the exploitation of innocent villagers at the hands of a gas agency of Indian Oil Corporation for the area. With Shahbuddin’s rigorous campaign, the owner of the gas agency, who was running a racket of LPG cylinders smuggling to other adjoining areas at higher prices, in coalescnce with certain local politicians and administration officials was exposed.
Now Shahabuddin, with the support of certain good souls , has got a social organisation “Janhit Sewa Samiti” registered. The Samiti has taken up various projects including health care in the area against all odds.