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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Khalil Chishty allowed bail by Indian Supreme Court

Zeddie Little and Khalil Chishty occupied important slots in many places – albeit for different reasons. Many Indian newspapers screamed ‘Pak scientist gets bail from Supreme Court’ – first what has his qualification or being a Scientist to do with the crime or with the bail ?  As it has been happening, human rights activist have been pleading for assistance !!

On 9th Apr 12, The Supreme Court granted bail to Dr. Khalil Chishty, a Pakistani scientist, who has spent many years at the Ajmer Central Jail in connection with a murder case.  He was arrested on charges of killing a man during a brawl in Ajmer in April 1992.  He had visited the Rajasthan city then to offer prayers at the shrine of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chisty.  Newsitem have it that in June 2011, Justice Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court appealed to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release Chishty on humanitarian grounds. In an email Justice Katju had said he was making this appeal, not as a judge but as a human being, for the release of Dr. Khalil Chishty, who is old and infirm, under Article 72 of the Constitution.  Acting on Justice Katju's appeal, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot approved his mercy plea and sent it to Governor Shivraj Patil for final clearance. After that, Patil sent a questionnaire to the law department on various issues concerning the case.

Dr. Khalil Chishty is almost 80 years old now. He received his PhD from University of Edinburgh, Scotland in 1968 in Public Health Virology. He had an illustrious career as a professor and head of department of virology and microbiology at Karachi University.  But his age nor qualifications have nothing to do with the charges on which he was arrested.  In 1992, Chishty had come to India to visit his ailing mother who was staying with his younger brother at Ajmer. During his visit, a longstanding feud between his brother and his distant paternal relatives took an ugly turn.  In a brawl, there was killing, Chisthy was arrested alongside others.  After the arrest, he was naturally not  allowed to travel back to Pakistan. In January last year, the Karachi virologist was awarded life imprisonment after an 18-year-long trial. Till then, he had remained largely under house arrest in Rajasthan, his lawyers say. After he was given the life sentence, he was placed in the Ajmer Jail.

Reports state that  Chishty's case was discussed at  lunch meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari during the latter's one-day India visit. Pakistani officials have urged India to set Dr Chishty free, the sources said.  Earlier, The Hindu in a rare mistake had published in all print editions of The Hindu (March 20, 2012) that  Government of India had granted clemency to Mohammad Khalil Chisty  mistaking another case on the same day filed by another Pakistani national, Danial Jaffar.  The Hindu later posted a  correction on its website and on Twitter apologizing to its readers and to the family of Chisty on the error.   The Supreme Court of India has now granted bail which will enable his travel back to Karachi for which his lawyers would file a separate petition. 

Superficially an appeal for clemency citing age appears acceptable – but does age or nationality have total say on the punishment or decision on a murder convict – and would that be followed in numerous other cases – would that be applicable to Indian convicts also !  Hatred and mutual threat have been common perception of the geographically closer Nations and there is need for improving goodwill and relations but sometimes people go overboard.  Quite often, we hear and read of villagers who crossed the border mistakenly or fishermen who accidentally crossed sea waters being arrested, kept under detention for years, denied of consular access and legal help they have been suffering silently.  Some reports suggest that are closer to 800 Indians in Pakistani jails, out of which  closer to 600 are fishermen. Of the remaining 211, India has so far been given consular access to 33 prisoners only.   Most of others have been denied Consular access and the Indian Govt does not even know details of them nor the crime accused on them !!

There sure would be similar story of Pakistanis languishing in Indian prisons -  irrespective of Nationality and age, those who committed horrific crimes need be shown no mercy,  the others who are innocent or had committed marginal crimes only  deserve an empathetic approach.  Release and repatriation of all prisoners (deserving clemency) who are languishing in Indian and Pakistani jails would surely be a booster to the thaw in the bilateral relations.  But clearly there is no point in sensationalizing these and demanding that they be shown mercy simply they are not Indian citizens !!!

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
10th April 2012

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