Imran Murdana

 (Asim Rafiqui)Imran Murdana, son of Mohammed Ameen Murdana, was convicted in 1995 of the murder of Zawar Ali Khan and his son Rab Nawaz Ali Khan, and sentenced to death. He spent nearly eleven years behind barsin the Sahiwal Central Jail, and was eventually released after a reconciliation negotiated between the two families. The reconciliation came after the revenge killing of Imran’s younger brother Ali Raza Khan, who killed by the other family in the Murdana home on 21st April 2010.

They tortured me after my arrest. They tied me up against a wall and deprived me of sleep for about 7 days. I nearly went mad with exhaustion. Later they tied me to a bed, stretched my legs apart and used a stick to whip me on my genitals, all in the hope that I would confess to the crime.

Imran Murdana appears a most unlikely murder suspect. A young man with a quiet demeanor, he meets me in his family’s dera (a formal meeting place outside the main house) with a huge smile and a confident, solid handshake. He has been at work in his family’s fields and his clothes – mud stained and sweaty, cling to his slim body.

This process went on for over an hour and I can promise you that you can lose your manhood as a result of the pain. But I had not committed a crime and I refused to confess. But they were relentless. Later they used a heavy steel roller, and with men holding me down, ran it over my body with a policeman standing on it. Your body never recovers from this, and my back still hurts making it impossible to sit for long.

His carefully cropped beard, short hair and piercing, inquisitive eyes give him the appearance of someone more at ease in an urban setting than the rural villages of Southern Punjab, more at ease in a pant and shirt, than the mud-splattered shalwar-kameez he is wearing.

The cells were small. At times there were perhaps ten or eleven men in a space meant for two or at most three men. We had to squeeze in there like animals, often sleeping on top of each other, or taking turns to do so. It is difficult to imagine the suffering – the heat, the smell, the lack of air, the proximity to men sleeping, eating, going to the toilet, and lack of space to move or stretch, the scars from the chains we were kept in.

We are not alone. When I had arrived at the dera there had been some men already sitting there. During introductions I learned that they were neighbors and general well-wishers who often stop in at the house to sit with the family. The Murdana’s were once a family of some influence around these parts of Punjab and it was clear that they still commanded some respect.

And they would not let us out for days at a time. And then too for an hour or so in the mornings. Unless you were able to bribe the guards with something, in which case you could get more time to roam and perhaps even do some exercise.

The dera itself was in fact a bungalow – under construction, walled and gated (out of fear, I wondered?), unpainted, and mostly unfurnished except for the few chairs and a glass-topped table around which we were now sitting. The verandah looked out onto a well maintained but small garden which seemed strangely incongruous – too urban? in this land of endless farmland and mud villages.

I lost my youth, I lost my dreams during those years. Eleven years of my life erased all because of a false conviction, and of another family’s wish for revenge against mine. What I am today, what is left of me, is a shell of what I was. And to know that for my release my younger brother had to die is also a burden I carry within. It stays with me all the time. I visit his grave and speak to him – it’s just around the corner in the family cemetery.

Imran’s youngest brother Jehanzaib had been sitting with us. I qa introduced to him earlier – a small, stocky young man with an air of confidence that could easily be mistaken for a reckless bravado. He had arrived around the same time as I had, speeding in to the drive way on a motorcycle, with a friend riding pillion. One of the men – a distant uncle it turned out, had whispered to me that the family feared for Jehanzaib’s life and were always on the alert. Though a reconciliation of sorts had been worked out – and one of the sons had been killed in revenge, the family believed that their other son was still in danger and lived with that fear each day.

They convicted me for a crime I did not commit. And they also convicted my family which suffered terrible hardships trying to fight for my release from prison. I spent 10 years in jail for a murder I had nothing to do with. Even the Crime Branch, the local Police, and CIA Inspector and the District Superintendent of Police’s office investigated the situation and found no evidence of my presence at the scene of the crime. They even said so in court. But the Judge did not relent. They destroyed my family. I must carry that burden.

There is a tinge of anger in his voice but Imran’s face does not betray any emotions. I feel that he has maintained his composure on my behalf – a guest from the city who must be shown the best of the family. Suddenly, all the men turn to look at someone behind me and as I turn to follow their gaze I hear the sound of chairs being pushed back and men rising to their feet. I see an older man slowing walking towards us – dressed simply, but elegantly in a heavily starched beige shalwar-kameez, his grey hair carefully styled, his shoes polished, with an air of great distraction, as if he is thinking about a problem and trying to work it out in his head.

It is Imran’s father, Mohammed Ameen Murdana, the patriarch of the family….