KHAIRPUR: While most death row prisoners pray for the noose to be weak enough to break, Sohail Fida Hussain chose to be strong enough to break the noose.
Hussain turned tragedy into personal triumph when he decided to make his final walk to the gallows one of honour.
A 28-year-old triple Master degree holder, a teacher and, now, an author, was incarcerated in Haripur Central Jail on charges of murdering his friend in 2000.
In an interview with The Express Tribune, Hussain, who will be released from jail within a few months, speaks of how he chose to defy the iron bars, instead of chalking up his remaining days, during the decade he spent imprisoned.
Hussain, a resident of Mingora, was 17 years old and a first year student of the Jehanzeb Degree College for Boys Swat when he was sentenced to death by the Zila Qazi Swat in July 2002.
Undeterred by the various obstacles and intimidating atmosphere an inmate is often exposed to, Hussain completed his intermediate with first division from BISE Swat.
He went on to get a degree in Bachelors of Art and Maters of International Relations, while on death row.
In August 2007, the Federal Shariat Court commuted his death penalty to life imprisonment (a 25-year jail term) and he was shifted to the juvenile section. The next seven years of his life saw a long gruelling judicial battle.
During the five years spent on death row, Hussain also passed different remission seeking educational courses like Urdu Proficiency, Urdu Honor, Arabic proficiency and Quran Nazra.
He also recently completed an MA in English from Hazara University.
Hussain began documenting his childhood and his transition into adulthood while in prison, in an autobiography. Many English and Urdu language newspapers published his autobiography, thus catapulting him to prominence.
His book, published by Karachi-based Paramount Publishing Enterprise was launched this week in Karachi. The English version of the book is titled “Soul Unshackled”, while the Urdu version is named, “Na Qafus Na Ashiyna.”
In just 122 pages and 14 chapters, the book carries details about Hussain’s life, including his childhood and early teens in the countryside culture of Swat, during which he fell in love with his relative of a neighboring district. But the chapter which stands out the most is when he was subjected to 11 days of physical and mental torture, first at the police station and later at the CIA Centre.
Recounting bitter memories of the abuse, he writes about the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment he suffered at the hands of law enforcement agencies.
He also poured light on the atmosphere of impunity that these agencies work in and the flaws within the district level judicial system that allow a perpetrator to go unpunished.
The book also touches upon the hardships common in jails, such as overcrowding, poor sanitation and the harsh attitude of lower ranking officials.
Hussain’s book perfectly encapsulates the proverb ‘where there is a will there is a way’.
Talking to The Express Tribune, he says his motivation and courage roots from the lives of his father and grandfather.
Apart from his father’s encouragement towards education, Hussain says he was also inspired by the words of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto: “Even if we have to eat grass, we will make an atom bomb at every cost”.
“These words gave me motivation as they carry strong feelings of conviction and commitment,” he said.
He further said that he hopes his book will prove to be an inspiration for those who are faced with difficult times to translate their hardships into success.
He also thanked Senior Superintendent Haripur jail Malik Fakhr-e-Alam Khan for his support and encouragement for taking different exams from the death cell.
Even though Hussain has managed to garner a lot of attention, he is aware of the stigma attached to prisoners, and remains uncertain about being accepted in society or finding a job despite his qualifications.
He is now serving as teacher at the juvenile section of jail and helps minor delinquents prepare for exams.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2011.