The sister of a mentally ill death row prisoner implores the government to spare her younger brother.

Imdad was not yet two years old when our father passed away. He was always the baby of our family. I doubt he remembers anything about him.

Our father, Muhammad Ismail, a schizophrenic, hid his illness well. He would go to work everyday, come home and live an ordinary life. But every now and then, he would forget. He would forget who he was, where he was. He would forget that he had a wife and children. He would be so lost in delusions and he would starve himself for days.

He believed he was infallible in those moments. Climbing to the highest rooftop and jumping off seemed like a reasonable idea, not a potentially fatal decision.

The same sense of invincibility convinced him to jump in front of a moving train one night.

He left behind a widow and 6 children.

Imdad’s infancy and obliviousness to losing a father (and our breadwinner) made him all the more endearing to us. We became obsessed with protecting him.

In 1993, he married Safia. Our family had raised him to be kind and responsible. That was the Imdad I knew.

We all noticed him change, but what discomforted us the most was how familiar it felt. If Imdad had been little more than an infant when my father inadvertently killed himself, I would have worried he was mirroring his antics purely through learned behaviour.

It started with him muttering to himself, then followed an obsession with the supernatural. Eventually he was running circles around his bed because he thought it would make the sky fall. One day, I heard him yelling at the sun because it was so hot. 

He began to believe no one would understand him. And no one did. We did not know what doctor to take him to nor did it occur to us to get him medication. There was no one to guide us, no government authority we could turn to and few who sympathised with us. Eventually, he stopped trying to get through to us. Imdad secluded himself more and more, withdrawing deeper into himself. He preferred speaking to inanimate objects rather than his family.

In short, my brother needed help, and we did not know where to get it. And just as we were trying, Imdad hurt someone. We still hold his victim in the highest regard, and have nothing but the deepest regrets for his family.

Imdad didn’t get better when they put him behind bars. The jailers were not blind, they too noticed his odd behaviour. Doctors were brought in to inspect him; he would coin his own words, worry about everyone attacking him and had long conversations with people no one else could see. Fellow inmates didn’t like that and he was often beaten up before the jail authorities put him in solitary confinement. Being alone only made his condition worse.

Imdad’s black warrant was issued on Friday.

In that they ask us what time the family would like to meet him on his last day. Our final goodbyes need an appointment. There is a time slot allotted to bid my baby brother farewell. He will never even understand what we’re telling him, or what the noose is for. He has no idea that he might die. 

He has been in prison for the last 16 years. His adopted son who visits him District Jail, Vehari tells me that Imdad’s brief moments of lucidity have evaporated. He is now always in some sort of trance.

Our religion teaches us that “there is no blame on you concerning that wherein you made a mistake, (what counts is) the intention of your hearts.” (33:5)

I know my brother, and I know his heart did not make him do this. He can’t control his mental illness but his mental illness controls him. And yet, they are enough to warrant him a punishment that is irreversible and unforgiving. Intent, the pinnacle of both religion and law, does not seem to matter here.

Islam does not believe the mentally ill should be punished. My whole neighbourhood is willing to come forward to testify that Imdad is crippled by his illness. Government-appointed doctors have examined my brother for hours, and have repeatedly confirmed what we already know. His schizophrenia is apparent to everybody, except the courts.

Inheriting my father’s disease sealed Imdad’s fate as soon as he was born.

The gap between what we want to do and what we can do grows as we draw closer to his execution. What I can do is beg President Mamnoon Hussain for his mercy. As a poor and helpless family, we only have our words.

And one unwell brother.