The story of Dr Khalil Chishty

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

Dr Khalil Chishty was an eminent Pakistani virologist who had obtained a Ph.D from Edinburgh University, and later became Professor of Virology in Karachi Medical College. He died recently in his early 90s, and this has motivated me to write this story.

I did not earlier know Dr Chishty, and had not even heard his name until I was informed about him by Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani journalist sometime in or about January 2011 when I was a judge of the Indian Supreme Court. Beena’s parents were from my home town Allahabad, and this is my bond with her, so I regard her as my younger sister.

I had been introduced to Beena by my friend Mahesh Bhat, the famous film producer, who told me she is a brave, secular journalist. Thereafter we exchanged several emails. In January 2011 Beena wrote to me asking for help to Dr Chishty who was in jail in Rajasthan.

Dr Chishty belonged to the eminent Chishty family which has made an outstanding contribution to the cultural history of India. They trace their history back to Moinuddin Chishty, the well-known Persian Sufi saint who had migrated to India in the 13th century and settled in Ajmer, where his dargah, the most prominent one in India, is situated.

In 1992 Dr Chishty had come to Ajmer, where an incident happened resulting in the death of a family member. Dr Chishty was also implicated among others in this incident, and he was granted bail by the Ajmer sessions judge on the condition he remains in Ajmer. Consequently, he could not return to his family and home in Karachi for 18 long years during which the trial dragged on.

In January 2011 Dr Chishty was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. His family did not know his whereabouts and were very worried. They contacted Beena, who in turn contacted me for help.

I was then a sitting judge in the Supreme Court and I telephoned the then Chief Justice of the Rajasthan High Court, who informed me that Dr Chishty was in Ajmer district jail, and he had filed an appeal in the Rajasthan High Court. He also sent me a copy of the judgment of the sessions court, which I forwarded to his daughter Amna in Canada. I requested the Chief Justice to get the appeal expedited. Consequently, the appeal hearing was expedited, but the High Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

In June 2011, while still a sitting judge in the Supreme Court ( I retired in September 2011 ), I wrote a personal appeal to the Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh requesting for pardon to Dr Chishty, for which I was criticized by many people.

However, this letter resulted in a lot of publicity by the media in India and Pakistan which till now had not heard of Dr Chishty, but now highlighted his plight. In November 2011 I wrote another letter seeking pardon to Congress President Sonia Gandhi, but to no avail.

The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh referred my letter to the then Union Home Minister P.Chidambaram.

I was told by Mr Chidambaram that before approaching the Central Government I should first approach the Governor of Rajasthan, Shivraj Patil. I wrote to Mr Patil again asking for pardon to Dr Chishty, and even met him personally when he had come to Delhi, but again to no avail.

Dr Chishty’s daughter Amna who lives in Canada contacted me, and her husband personally met me in Delhi after I had retired as a Supreme Court judge. He asked me to suggest a suitable lawyer to file an appeal against the High Court judgment in the Supreme Court. Since I had been a judge of the Supreme Court I knew the prominent lawyers there, and I recommended Mr Uday Lalit, who was a top criminal lawyer ( now a Supreme Court judge ). Lalit argued Dr Chishty’s appeal and was successful in obtaining bail for him in April 2012. The Supreme Court allowed him to go to Pakistan, but on the condition, he returned at the time of the final hearing.

Dr Chishty returned to Delhi in November 2012 after which his appeal was heard and allowed by the Supreme Court, and his conviction for murder set aside.

After he was acquittal Dr Chishty personally came to meet me at my residence ( I was then Chairman of the Press Council of India ) with his wife and son to thank me for all the efforts I had made to help him.

Here are some snippets of emails between me and Dr Chishty’s family members: