Clad in a white kurta pajama, wearing a skullcap, 55-year-old Mohammad Abdul Qadeer looks frail and much older than his age. His hair has grayed; his eyes are tired.
Qadeer has spent most of the last 22 years languishing in prisons. He was awarded a life sentence of 14 years, but seven years after completing his sentence he has little hope for freedom. A plea has been made to President Pratibha Patil to grant him mercy on humanitarian grounds.
Qadeer, a former Andhra Pradesh constable, was convicted for shooting dead his superior, who allegedly asked him to fire at an irate mob during the 1990 communal riots.
"While on duty I was given orders to fire at a mob. But I was not willing to kill innocent people who had no role to play in the riots. I refused to follow the orders and I got into an argument with my superior. He would not budge and started firing indiscriminately. I lost my cool, brandished the gun and fired at the officer instead," he recalled.
Soon after, Qadeer surrendered and in the last 22 years he has seen little beyond the four walls of his prison cell. In two decades, he was released on parole once, that too for seven days in 2011.
Facing a life sentence barely four years after their marriage has not been easy for his wife Sabira Begum either, who raised their four children on her own. His children can count the number of hours they have spent with their father.
The police showed Qadeer no mercy and he alleges that he was tortured in custody.
Days later he was produced in court where he made an emotional appeal to the judge. Narrating the happenings on the fateful day, he said that he could not bear to see the officer
firing at innocent people. Despite repeated requests the officer paid no heed to him following which the former constable shot him. "It was not a planned act, but an emotional one," Qadeer had said.
The court, however, sentenced him to life imprisonment. Since then, Qadeer says the nightmare has not ended.
He was shifted between jails at Rajahmundry, Visakhapatnam and Warangal. Today he is lodged at Hyderabad's Cherlapally jail. But everywhere he went he claims the story was the same --- the police were "inhuman".
Qadeer recalls the day when a relative of the deceased officer was permitted entry into his prison cell and beat him up mercilessly. He suffered severe injuries on his limbs. So much so that the doctor has advised him to amputate his leg.
Today, the ex-constable's only hope lies in the plea made to the President. In his mercy petition, he states that he completed his sentence in the year 2004, the mandatory 14-year term for a life convict. However, he has not been released as yet. His family claims that he suffers from a heart ailment, diabetes, blood pressure and depression.
The Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, which has taken up Qadeer's cause, says the government releases life prisoners on the basis of their conduct. But in this case, even after the completion of 14 years, Qadeer remains in jail. The government seems to be taking some sort of revenge, and he had killed a police officer only to protect the life of innocents and today he has become a political prisoner, the committee said.
Lateef Mohammad Khan, convenor of the committee, says they have made an appeal to the President to intervene in this matter. "Qadeer may not survive for long because he suffers from various ailments. He should be allowed to spend the last few days with his family. He has suffered a lot, has even completed his sentence and hence this case should be considered on compassionate grounds," he said.
Image: Mohammad Abdul Qadeer (centre) is still in jail seven years after serving a life sentence