7 March 2021 12:24 PM

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DR KAFEEL KHAN | 9 JULY, 2020

‘Swallow Because You Have to Live’: Mathura Prison Routine

What am I being punished for?


At 5 o’clock sharp our sleep is broken by the sipahis cries: “Get up and sit in pairs all of you!” for the headcount.

Soon as the headcount is over everyone sprints toward the toilets and washrooms: in a jail with a 534 prisoner capacity there are 1,600 captives, with 120-150 prisoners in each barrack and 4-6 toilets in all. So we have to stand in line to freshen up.

I’m usually third or fourth in line. Then you wait for the others to get done - the number of times I was cleaning my own shit. As your number approaches the pain in your stomach increases - when you finally enter the toilet there are so many flies and mosquitoes, and such a horrible smell, that sometimes even before I can shit I vomit.

Just keep swatting the endless mosquitoes and flies away, shit somehow and run. Then wash your hands properly - I brush and then join the line for a bath, usually about half an hour’s wait. There are 3-4 taps out in the open and after first rinsing the floor I wash my clothes and then bathe there.

Around 7.30 or 8 the porridge or chana arrives - another line. That’s our breakfast.

Then I walk around a bit, but in the harsh heat and sun these days I’m usually soaked in sweat after 10-15 minutes, so I sit under a tap wearing my vest and shorts.

I spread out my tattered blanket and sheet in the small space allotted to each of us, after cleaning the area, and sit there. When it’s crowded we all sleep sticking to each other - forget about Social Distancing.

The electricity often goes, so every half hour I drench myself in water and come back to my spot.

There are prickly heat rashes all over my body, and then the millions of flies - they roam all over you, and if you stop swatting them for even 5 or 10 minutes there will be thousands of them sticking to your body.

Around 11 AM our lunch arrives, and after queuing up to wash a plate and utensils we join another line for waterlike dal, boiled phulgobhi/ lauki/ muli and roti.

Swallow because you have to live. Even with water you can’t swallow more than 2 or 3 rotis. Visits have been stopped because of Corona; earlier we would get some fruit and fill up that way.

At noon the barrack is closed again.

There’s only one toilet in each barrack housing 125 to 150 captives. The electricity has vanished. The hot breath of people soaked in sweat and the stink of urine. Those 3 hours feel worse than jahannum/ narak/ hell.

I try to read but there’s so much suffocation I feel I might faint. I drink a lot of water.

At 3 PM the barracks open and everyone rushes outside, but the 45 degree temperature and scorching sun-heat don’t let you stay for long. I stand near the wall where there’s some shade and count the minutes. Afterwards I bathe again and read the noon prayer.

Around 5 o’clock our dinner arrives and it’s about the same: stale rotis, a vegetable, dal, just swallow it and quiet your hunger somehow.

At 6 o’clock the barrack is closed again. Again it’s the same rush for a bath, with 10 people trying to bathe under one tap.

Now with the barrack closed that same suffocation, again that struggle to sleep.

After reading the sunset prayer I sit with a novel but it’s so suffocating I cannot explain, and if the light goes you cannot read, and it’s so, so, so hot that you get wet with your own sweat - and then the insects and mosquitoes attack you all night long.

The whole barrack seems like a fish market: claustrophobic from the stink, and someone is farting, laughing, sneezing, urinating, snoring, scratching - some people are fighting, someone has to keep getting up to use the toilet.

Usually we have to spend the nights sitting up - if you doze off you are soon woken by someone’s hand or foot on you. And then it’s just the wait for 5 AM, when one can get out of this hell.

What am I being punished for?

When will I see my children, my wife, my mother, my brothers and sisters?

When will I be able to contribute to the fight against Corona?

Also read Three Days in August

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