Main yahan par hazaron bandishon mein hoon”— I am here, held together by a thousand chains—Mirza Himayat Baig, a prisoner in Nashik Central Jail, wrote to his childhood friend Rehan Ahmed, in a nine-page letter, in September. In 2010, Baig was arrested after a bomb blast at the Germany Bakery cafe in Pune. The blast, which took place on 13 February 2010, killed 17 people and injured 64. Six months later, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad arrested Baig, identifying him as the prime suspect in the case. According to Ahmed, Baig ran an internet cafe in Pune prior to his arrest.
In the letter, 39-year-old Baig detailed violations of his rights as a prisoner, the inhumane prison conditions and his deteriorating health. He said that he had been living in the “anda cell” for the last nine years. Several lawyers I spoke to said that the anda cell is a colloquial term for a high-security compound inside a prison that is egg-shaped. The cells inside are often tiny and dimly lit, with sparse ventilation and little space for movement. They are usually assigned to high-profile criminals and are, in effect, a form of solitary confinement. Its purpose is often to segregate criminals accused of serious offences, such as terror suspects, from the rest of the inmates. Baig’s case is a testimony of what prisoners endure in the anda cell and the impact of solitary confinement on their mental condition.
I accessed Baig’s letter through Ahmed, a fellow at the Innocence Network, India, a programme that advocates for the rehabilitation of those who have been acquitted post wrongful incarceration. The network is a project of the Quill Foundation, a Delhi-based research and advocacy centre where I currently work.
In April 2013, a Pune district court found Baig guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy, among other charges. The court convicted him under various sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 and the Explosive Substances Act, 2004, and awarded him the death sentence. Baig appealed to the Bombay High Court. Three years later, the court revoked his death sentence and acquitted Baig of all charges, barring two—the possession of explosives, under the Explosive Substances Act, and the possession of a forged document, under the Indian Penal Code. He was sentenced to life for the former, and Baig has challenged the high court’s judgment before the Supreme Court. The case is currently pending before the court and listed for its next hearing on 18 December.