Why is Himayat Baig rotting in solitary confinement?

The German Bakery blast accused is acquitted of all terrorism charges and his appeal against conviction for possessing explosives is pending in the Supreme Court. Yet, he has been held in Anda Cell for most of his 11 years in prison, in violation of the law.

ByPrateek Goyal
Why is Himayat Baig rotting in solitary confinement?
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Whenever Tariq Baig receives a letter or a phone call from the Nashik Central Jail, he’s struck by a feeling of helplessness. For he’s painfully reminded that his younger brother continues to rot in solitary confinement, or Anda Cell, despite having been acquitted of all the false terror charges he had been jailed for.

Himayat Baig, 35, was arrested in September 2010 and accused of being involved in the German Bakery blast of February 2010. He has been held in Anda Cell ever since, in violation of sections 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 73 lays down that a person can’t be held in solitary confinement for over 30 days if they are serving a sentence of less than six months, for over 60 days if the sentence is less than a year, and for over three months if the sentence is over a year. The rules apply irrespective of the nature of the imprisoned person’s crime. Section 74 states that solitary confinement can’t exceed 14 days at a stretch in any case.

The Anda Cell Himayat is lodged in is a dimly lit 10x10 feet room without a window. Because Anda Cell inmates are mostly devoid of human interaction, research shows that they develop mental health problems, social withdrawal, suicidal tendencies, uncontrollable feelings of rage.

Himayat has never been paroled and is not even allowed to earn a livelihood like his fellow prisoners.

The Supreme Court of India has defined solitary confinement as “complete separation and isolation of the prisoners from other prisoners and segregation from the outside world of the prison” and noted that it’s disastrous to the physical and mental health of those subjected to it.

As per the Nelson Mandela Rules of the United Nations, solitary confinement of over 15 days is a form of torture.

Himayat was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death by a Pune court in 2013 but the verdict was overturned on appeal by the high court in March 2016. But while acquitting him on terror charges, the high court gave Himayat a life term for possessing explosives, even after noting that “there’s no reason to believe that the explosives recovered from the accused must have been used in the commission of the offence of terrorist act as defined under Section 15 of the UAPA”.

His appeal against the conviction is pending in the Supreme Court.

It was Mehmood Pracha, a lawyer based in Delhi, who got Himayat acquitted on the terror charges. He had been roped in to represent Himayat by the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, a Muslim organisation which has been giving free legal assistance to young men held on false terror charges. “They were false cases orchestrated by the police,” Pracha claimed, referring to the terror charges against Himayat. “He was only sentenced for possession of explosives which is not a terror charge and he cannot be kept in Anda Cell just for that under penal code rules.”

In 2019, Baig wrote a letter to his friend Abdul Rehan Ahmad detailing his ordeal in Anda Cell. He was being kept in solitary confinement despite having been acquitted on terror charges even as those convicted of orchestrating the 1993 Mumbai bombings were “staying in normal prison and working as well”. “I can’t sleep, my eyes have become weak and I have developed blood pressure,” he wrote, adding that he had been requesting the jail authorities to move him out of Anda Cell for many years, but to no avail.

Himayat wasn’t let out even to attend the funeral of his father, who died last January, heartbroken and drained of all hope. “Our father fought Himayat’s cases for over a decade in the hope that we would get him out someday. He died without seeing that happen,” said Tariq, 41, who lives with his family in Beed, Maharashtra. “Himayat wasn’t released even to attend his funeral. He hasn’t been released on parole even once. Whenever he writes to me or talks to me, he tells me about his condition in Anda Cell and pleads with me to get him out. He’s innocent or he wouldn't have been acquitted of all the terror charges. He was the only boy in our family to be educated and our parents had hoped so much for him. Now, our father is gone and our mother has been bedridden for six years. I do not know how to get him out.”

In 2016, the Jamiat appointed new lawyers for Himayat who don’t seem to have impressed Tariq. He can’t afford to hire a lawyer on his own. His family is too poor. He has instead sought the help of Anjum Inamdar, an activist in Pune.

Anjum said he has submitted applications to the office of the additional director general of prisons on behalf of Himayat’s family. “I have submitted almost half a dozen applications to shift Himayat out of Anda Cell, but never received a positive response.”

Asked why Himayat was being held in solitary confinement in violation of the law, Pramod Wagh, the superintendent of the Nashik Central Jail, replied, “Which law are you talking about? I cannot answer your queries. Send a written application to my office, then I’ll think about replying to you.”

We emailed a questionnaire to Wagh but he didn't respond. This report will be updated if we receive a response.

We also contacted Sunil Ramanand, additional director general of prisons, but he refused to comment.

Yogesh Desai, deputy inspector general, prisons, said, “Decision to put someone in Anda Cell or some other place is totally in the hands of jail superintendents. They have their own analysis related to prisoners on the basis of which they put them in Anda Cell. We don't intervene in their matters.”

Isn’t it possible they are violating the law in the process? “You should talk to the jail superintendent,” the DG replied.

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