BENGALURU : It was in November 2012 that Hamid Ansari, a 27-year-old Mumbai-based techie, disappeared. He was later found in a Pakistani jail. Ansari has recounted his experiences in the book, Hamid (Penguin RandomHouse, Rs 399), co-authored with him by Geeta Mohan. Excerpts from an interview:
While in Pakistan, did you have any hope that you could return home some day?
When I was arrested in Pakistan, I thought this was my end, and I would never go back home. The Pakistani authorities even told me that I would have to serve 35 years or may even get death penalty as a punishment. Their torture was not just physical but emotional and mental too. They tried everything to break me down. Continuous prayers, thoughts of self-motivation helped me. Every night, I used dream that I was going home.
Why did you travel to Pakistan instead of taking help from officials?
It was immaturity on my part. My so-called friends in Pakistan instigated me to travel there, and then betrayed me for their stake. I can say it was a trap. My friend was genuinely in trouble and had sought my help. However, others harnessed this situation to create a honey trap for me, misguided me, and provoked me on grounds of nationality, which I could not calculate at that time. The region where the problem had taken place is a tribal area near the Pak-Afghan border. It hardly has any law and order, and therefore any official is helpless.
Did you get a chance to meet the girl for whom you took this risk?
She was a close friend of mine who had landed in a big problem. I decided to help her on humanitarian grounds with the help of common friends in Pakistan. I was arrested even before I could meet her. But later on, through my lawyers I learnt that she was safe and happily married. In all the six years, I never got chance to contact her through any means.
Tell us about the people in Pakistan who supported you.
I never met the journalist Zeenat Shehzadi who investigated my case. But after my return, my family told me the help she extended to my case for which she even paid a heavy price. She went missing for over two years. She was the one who found out that I was arrested in Pakistan. My lawyer, Qazi Muhammad Anwar, was the best I could get. His student and human rights activist, Rukhshanda Naz, was a motherly figure for me.
How did you feel upon returning to India?
On Dec. 18, 2018, early morning, I was told that I will be released now, but many inmates had narrated stories of other prisoners convicted in similar cases being abducted by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan again. So I was not sure. When I reached the border, I saw the Indian flag and my parents standing on the other side of the gate. I was happy to have finally made home, sad for the losses that happened, and super excited to rush to my mother.
How was your experience in Pakistan custody?
The worst was when I was in the underground dungeons in solitary confinement for over three years. I was allowed to visit the washroom for 90 seconds every 24 hours. I got lice and worms all over my body. Life in the central prison of Peshawar and Mardan came with its own experiences. Many civilian inmates saw me as an individual from a distant land and were warm towards me. However, some them were aggressive and hated me for my nationality. I was not given any rights as a prisoner but it was the case with everyone.
As online frauds become more common, what’s your advice to people looking for potential partners on matrimony sites?
You should crosscheck everything you see online these days.