Srinagar, May 3: A 65-year-old Pakistani militant who played the bagpipe for a prisoners’ band at a Jammu jail was attacked and critically injured by a fellow inmate today, apparently in retaliation for the fatal assault on Sarabjit Singh in a Lahore jail.
Sanaullah, apparently a popular man among the inmates, was repeatedly hit in the head with bricks just as Sarabjit was, government officials said.
Attacker Vinod Kumar is a former soldier from Uttarakhand who was arrested about seven years ago on the charge of murdering an army jawan in Leh and is serving a life sentence.
Sanaullah, convicted in 2009 after a prolonged legal battle, too was a lifer. The Sialkot resident has been in jail since his arrest in 1999 over the bombing of a Katra-bound bus in 1994 that left 10 people dead.
He was known for his “jovial nature and actions”, an officer said. “He perhaps felt he would never be able to secure his freedom; so he tried to live his life to the fullest in jail.”
At Jammu’s Kot Bhalwal prison, Sanaullah beat his boredom by playing a bagpipe and flying kites, often enthralling fellow prisoners and jail staff.
He now lies in a deep coma with multiple head injuries at PGI Chandigarh, where he was flown from a Jammu hospital. The state government has suspended jail superintendent Rajni Sehgal for apparent negligence and ordered an inquiry headed by principal secretary (home) Suresh Kumar.
The attack came days after all the states were told to beef up security for Pakistani prisoners following the assault on Sarabjit. Government sources said Sarabjit’s murder had inflamed passions in the Jammu jail and may have led to the attack, but Sehgal denied this.
“They entered into a scuffle,” the suspended police officer told The Telegraph. “He (Kumar) said there was some grave sudden provocation (from Sanaullah).”
She said the two inmates had been watering flower beds in the jail compound when the incident took place.
“He (Sanaullah) looked after the gardening section at the jail. They were smoking bidis and then something suddenly happened,” Sehgal said.
The jail, which now has 380 inmates, 22 of them Pakistanis, had been in the news for many wrong reasons in the past. Separatists called it “Kashmir’s Abu Ghraib” after the Iraq prison that became infamous for the torture of inmates by the invading US army a decade ago.
A few years ago, when the Jammu jail began a reformation drive with skill development and cultural programmes for inmates, Sanaullah became a fixture at all the major events.
The man with a long dyed beard and moustache joined a 19-member inmates’ musical band, the jail’s first, in early 2011. Last year, when the jail organised its first kite-flying competition, he was among the contestants.
“We used to fly kites in Pakistan when I was a child. I was so fond of patangbaazi (kite-flying). I once again feel like a ten-year-old,” he had told reporters then.
Separatist leader Shabir Shah said he had seen Sanaullah only a week ago at the prison. “I was myself detained there. I have met him on many occasions; he was a gentleman,” he said.
“He was attacked to avenge Sarabjit’s murder. We have condemned the attack on Sarabjit and we condemn the attack on him.”
It was from Kot Bhalwal jail that Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar was released in December 1999 when India exchanged militants for the passengers of its hijacked plane in Kandahar.
In 1998, top Pakistani militants including Major Irfan, Mohammad Salim and Mohammad Khalid had breached the jail’s security to escape to Pakistan.
Another infamous but aborted jailbreak took place in 1999, which came as a major embarrassment for the government. Militants had dug a 100-foot tunnel but a last-minute detection allowed the police to foil the attempt.