“Somehow the authorities never found a non-farcical reason for arresting me” – Habib Jalib


Habib Jalib being attacked by policemen during a demonstration organised by the Women’s Action Forum against the Law of Evidence that was promulgated by General Ziaul Haq PHOTO/Azhar Jafri

[S]ince 1964, when he was first arrested, popular poet Habib Jalib has been incarcerated for his political beliefs a number of times, and it is difficult to say who has suffered more — he or his wife and children. Mrs Jalib is a simple woman from Punjab’s peasant stock, with broad shoulders and a strong constitution. She is not a well-educated person. “I can sign my name and read the newspapers.”

Below Habib Jalib and his wife talk about his periods of detention, and the different methods that have been used to harass the poet and his family.

Herald: What was the reason for your first arrest?

Habib Jalib: Somehow the authorities never found a non-farcical reason for arresting me. For instance, in 1964, when I raised my voice against Ayub Khan, they decided to frame a criminal charge against me. I was living in a two-room portion of a house in Sant Nagar. I used to leave home early in the morning and return late in the night. A police officer started calling at my house to inquire about me, saying that the authorities have received information that I has a bogus or forged passport. He sometimes threatened my wife. I knew this was a trick. Probably the passport story was concocted to get hold of a photograph of mine — I was quite well known but perhaps I had not had the privilege of facing many policemen or the witnesses retained by them, so they wanted to get my passport.

Then, one day I was sitting in the Coffee House with a couple of friends. A police officer arrived and took me into custody. He examined my passport. There was nothing wrong with it and he could not give any reason for arresting me. All he could say was: “Can’t let you go, we have got you with great difficulty. Orders are that if I fail to arrest you today, I will be suspended.”

So they took me to jail. Later on I learnt that I had ripped somebody’s arm with a dagger that I was in the habit of carrying in my bag. Somebody must have mentioned to the Kalabagh men that I wrote verses with a dagger dipped in vitriol. Anyhow, the tactic failed. At Miss Jinnah’s election meetings my recordings were played: “Aise datur ko, subhe be noor ko, mein nahin janta, mein nahin manta.” Then my counsel, Mian Mahmud Ali Kasuri, got me released on bail, and I straightaway joined a rally in support of Miss Jinnah.

Herald: Mrs Jalib, how did you feel at that time?

Mrs Jalib: I was naturally worried. I had no previous experience as a political prisoner’s wife. The police had threatened me and I feared the worst for Jalib Sahib, myself and my small children. The neighbours added to my anxieties by suggesting that my husband was not a patriotic citizen and things like that. Moreover, we had no savings because Jalib Sahib was a sort of daily-wager… I had to take refuge with Jalib Sahib’s elder brother…

Jalib: The next time they booked me under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance. They perhaps thought fixing a criminal charge was no good. A police officer scaled the wall of the house at night and sat down by my bed. We were all asleep. My wife was suddenly awakened and the sight of a stranger in the house frightened her. She woke me up and then the intruder uttered the words I was to hear again and again: ‘Consider yourself under arrest.’

Mrs Jalib: That was a nasty affair. First I was outraged that the police showed no respect for our privacy, scaling the wall like thieves. Then they behaved as if Jalib Sahib was a notorious criminal. I was not allowed to take instructions from him about how I was to run the house. This was also the first time I saw him wearing handcuffs on both wrists. The raiding party also decided to search our rooms which meant that our meager belongings were scattered all over, our quilts were ripped…

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