Cut in Calling Time Inhumane, Says Sharjeel Imam’s Family

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On January 30, a Delhi court directed prison authorities to reduce the calling time to thrice a week for those imprisoned under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Ghazala Ahmad | Clarion India

NEW DELHI — Although former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam was discharged on Saturday in a case related to violent incidents at Jamia Milia Islamia (JMI) in December 2019 during CAA protests, he will continue to languish in jail.

On 28 January this year, Imam completed three years in prison. His stay in prison could be prolonged since he is also involved in several other cases.

Additional Sessions Judge of Saket Court, Arul Verma, discharged Imam and 10 other student leaders in JMI violence case since the Delhi Police “was unable to apprehend the actual perpetrators and it booked the accused as “scapegoats.”

Safoora Zargar, Asif Iqbal Tanha are also among those discharged by the court on Saturday.

However, the agony of Sharjeel Imam’s family continues unabated. Imam and other co-accused have been deprived of daily five-minute phone calls to their families from the prison as of January 30. 

A Delhi court directed prison authorities to reduce the calling time to thrice a week for those imprisoned under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

Until a little while ago, they were allowed to speak with their families daily for five minutes. This facility was arbitrarily stopped by the jail authorities in September 2022.

Sharjeel Imam along with his brother Muzammil Imam.

On behalf of Sharjeel Imam, advocate Ayesha Zaidi filed an interlocutory application in the court seeking the continuation of the daily five-minute calling facility.

The application filed by Imam stated: “The aforementioned (inmate calling) facility was abruptly stopped by the jail authorities without any reason or providing any opportunity for the applicant to oppose the same. It is worth mentioning that the applicant has been informed that he will be allowed to make one call each week against the daily calling facility (one call a day) which was available till now.”

It also said the action was taken arbitrarily without even providing any prior notice or attributing any reason.

“Until September 2022, all the prisoners were availing this facility to call every day but in September 2022, a notification was issued by Additional Inspector General, Prison Headquarters citing the rule 631 of Delhi Prisoners Rule to stop the facility,” said Imam’s counsel.

“Now this was abruptly stopped by the jail authorities and they were only allowed to call once a week,” the lawyer said.

Advocate Zaidi told Clarion India that “similar applications were also filed by other accused in the same case. They include Gulfishan Fatima, Shifa Ur Rehman, Umar Khalid, Shifa Ur Rahman and Meeran Haider.

The applications were disposed of by the Karkardooma Court on January 30, limiting the daily calls to thrice a week for five minutes for conversing with the family members.

In his order, Additional Sessions Judge Amitabh Rawat stated: “Considering the overall situation and the conduct report, the present applications are disposed of with the directions to the concerned jail superintendents to provide the said accused/applicants with the inmate telephone call facility for 05 minutes for conversing with their family members thrice a week.”

The court also ordered the jail administration to follow the rules consistently without any discrimination against any individual accused

However, for the families, these five minutes are the most awaited time of the day when they get to speak with their loved ones.

For Afshan Rahim, Sharjeel Imam’s mother, five out of the 1,440 minutes in a day are very very precious. For her, those minutes pass over in a blink of an eye and the only solace for her was that she at least got to speak with her incarcerated son. 

“These priceless moments were the most awaited time of the day,” she said. 

“I keep my phone fully charged and get myself free of all the house chores so I don’t miss his call. But now I cannot even get to speak to him daily. The daily calling facility was stopped for a while and now it has been reduced to only three days a week,” the frustrated mother said, her voice choking with uncontrolled emotions

“It has been three years since I have seen him but in these five minutes, I could feel him near me. It was nice to hear his voice every day and to know that he was fine. This facility has now been reduced to three days only,” Afshan said.

When asked if she plans her conversation when Imam in advance, she said: “No, I don’t plan anything. I listen to him; I only want to hear his voice. I cannot discuss all the things in my mind in a five-minute call.”

“There are thousands of things to say and hear but we are practicing ‘sabr’ (patience). His and our patience, I am sure, will be rewarded in this world and in the Hereafter,” she said.

She has preserved audio call recordings of her conversations with Imam and listens to them whenever she feels lonely and misses him desperately.

Muzammil Imam, Sharjeel’s brother, told Clarion India: “Ammi (Mother) is the one who mostly takes his calls, but whenever I am not at home and he calls on my number, she asks me to record the call so she can listen to it later.”

He said, “Sharjeel calls usually between 9 pm to 11 pm. During this entire period, Ammi keeps looking at the watch impatiently as if  counting minutes and seconds and when the phone rings the smile on her face and shine in her eyes is a sight to preserve for life.”

“She got very upset and restless when the calling facility was stopped for a while,” he said.

Muzammil believes that five minutes a day, which has now been reduced to 15 minutes in an entire week, is certainly not enough for anyone to reconnect with the family.

“What can someone talk about in five minutes? Sometimes when I want to speak with Sharjeel, that day my mother makes a sacrifice and only I get to speak.”

He says, “On humanitarian grounds, even if someone is a convict, he should be allowed to speak with his family members. All these political prisoners are under trial, they are not criminals. How can they speaking with their kin can be a security threat?”

“This is inhumane,” he said.

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Cover photo: Sharjeel Imam

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