As the sun went down on Ajmer, Dr Khalil Chishty walked off into the sunset on Wednesday a free man, nearly two decades after a murder case was lodged against him.
To be absolutely accurate, the 80-year-old wizened Pakistani microbiologist who is unable to walk on his own, was carried free, having broken his hip while serving a life term after his conviction in a murder case January last year.
“I am happy to be out of the jail. I believe in God and thank him. My wish is to see my family members in Pakistan as soon as possible,” Chishty said upon stepping out of Ajmer central jail, adding that he would also like to thank President Asif Ali Zardari for making efforts for his release.
The court granted bail “taking note of his age and also considering that he was in Ajmer for the last 20 years … without expressing anything on the merits of the case.”
Today after fulfilling surety and bail bonds, Chishty was sent home when a certified copy of the Supreme Court’s order was lodged with the Ajmer jail.
As for the professor’s eventual return to Pakistan, a sympathetic Supreme Court said: “You file (such a petition)… and we would consider.”
Dr Chishty’s travails were discussed during the luncheon between President Asif Ali Zardari and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s in New Delhi while Interior Minister Rehman Malik had also raised the issue with Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram, who told him the case was in the courts.
The Indian-born Chishty, who taught virology at Karachi Medical College, was visiting his mother in Ajmer in 1992 when he got embroiled into a family feud that led to one his neighbours being shot dead. He has been in Ajmer since, living at his ancestral home during the 18-year trial before being jailed following his conviction in January last year.
‘Happy but not over the moon’
Chishty is “happy but not over the moon,” his jailor Mathur said.
“Perhaps it hasn’t sunk in. Like always, he was quiet and calm and spent the day reading.”
Mathur went on to add that Chishty had been in ‘continuous mental and physical trauma’ during his 15 months in jail, all of it spent in the prison hospital. Chishty has had two heart attacks and cannot walk unaided after he fractured his hip two years ago.
Born in Ajmer to a prosperous family of caretakers of the shrine of sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Dr Chishty was studying in Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947 and chose to stay back in that country.
“This is the blessing of Khawaja Garibnawaz,” said Khalil’s brother, Jamil Chishty’s on his release.
“We are happy that he will come back home,” Jamil said, adding that Khalil’s son Tariq will be coming from Jeddah to meet him.
Campaign for release
The campaign to release Chishty gathered steam last year. In June, then apex court judge Markandey Katju wrote to Manmohan Singh urging the prisoner be pardoned on humanitarian grounds.
Chishty’s wife Begum Mehrunnisa, daughter Shoa Jawaid and grandson Ali Ghalib met him in jail last year. Mehrunnisa had filed a petition in Pakistan’s Supreme Court seeking her husband’s release.
Another daughter of Chishty’s, Amna, who lives in Canada, wrote to Zardari before his India visit pleading him to secure her father’s release.
“But there are not many visitors for him. Sometimes his brother comes,” Mathur said, adding that Chishty had been lonely in jail.
The PhD from Edinburgh University, who has taught in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Iran, apparently had very little in common with the other inmates.
“So, he read most of the time, health permitting. He never forgot his Friday namaaz,” Mathur said, adding Chishty was not a fussy eater and never requested a special diet.
“Dr Chishty likes to read Urdu and Persian literature and medical books and also borrows from the jail library,” said Salman Chishty, a local social activist who spearheaded the campaign for the professor’s release.
Chishty’s brother Jamil said the murder took place when some members of their clan, with whom the family had a property dispute, jumped onto the roof of their home to attack them. A fight broke out on the rooftop and one of the attackers, Idris, was killed.
Chishty was arrested with three of his cousins but the family claims the virologist was not at the scene when the shots were fired.
At the apex court, defence lawyer Uday Lalit had cited how his client had been convicted along with some others after being drawn into a free fight, and that witnesses had not attributed any specific act to him. The Rajasthan government opposed bail citing, among other things, that Chishty was a foreigner.
Earlier, Rajasthan High Court had rejected Chishty’s appeal against his conviction and declined to show leniency on the grounds of his age and foreign nationality