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Saturday, 7 December, 2002, 15:31 GMT
'I quit London to fight for my dad in India'
Lennie with his grandfather, Roy, and his father, Ian, in India
Ian Stillman (centre) with father Roy and son Lennie
Deaf amputee Ian Stillman has been released on health grounds two years into his 10-year sentence for drug smuggling. Here, his son Lennie reflects on the family's long campaign for justice.

I came out to India as soon as I heard about my father's arrest in August 2000.

A friend who'd been watching BBC news called me at work and said: 'I think your dad's been arrested.' I didn't believe it, so we looked at the archive tapes and sure enough it was him.

Ian Stillman
Aid worker in India for 27 years
Charged Aug 00 after police said they found 20kg of cannabis in taxi he was riding in
No deaf interpreter or Hindi translator at his trial
Appeal in Jan 02 rejected, judge said he was 'not deaf'
I came out with Jerry [Ian's brother-in-law] to engage some lawyers, and then we went back to England.

Over that Christmas, the faxes my dad sent once a week started to deteriorate. He was feeling very lonely and having great difficulty in communicating, in arranging even a visit to the doctor.

So I dropped everything in London, where I'd been getting on my feet working with computers, and came out here full-time in March 2001.

I got a six-month tourist visa, thinking how hard can it be to prove that someone who's innocent hasn't done anything? I've had to extend that six-month visa twice and get a one-year extension.

Watched words

I now live in Simla, about 20km from the jail. It's a rotting colonial town that's turned into a kind of Blackpool in the mountains. It's not a fantastic place for a 23-year-old because there's not much to do - everything's focused around candyfloss.

Sue Stillman
Lennie's mother continues to work with the deaf
It's made a big difference to him, having me nearby. My dad can only get visitors for 20 minutes a week, and he needs to make the most of that interaction, to see someone who can make him laugh.

And when he needs to get stuff done - like arrange hospital visits - well, I've been his interpreter for as long as I can remember. I learned [sign language] before I could talk.

Our visits do have to be quite guarded because the administration doesn't like criticism. They realise that I'm his only channel of communication outside the prison - even his letters get vetted.

When we speak I talk silently; just mouth the words so the guards can't understand what I'm saying. There's nothing they can do about the fact that I don't use my voice - it's just my habit.


Dad made me a birthday card from a Pizza Hut napkin

My 23rd birthday fell on the day that he was transferred back to prison from a hospital in a neighbouring state last March. It was great because we spent the best part of a day together rather than 20 minutes.

I know it was in the back of a taxi; I know we were surrounded by nervous policemen. But we managed to get them to stop at a Pizza Hut on the way, and Dad even made me a birthday card from a Pizza Hut napkin. It's now framed on my wall.

Losing hope

What's kept us going for a long time was the hope that our campaign could make a difference beyond my father's case.

Ian in jail
Ian's lawyers say he was denied a fair trial
If the Indian judicial system could see the problems faced by a disabled person within the system, then maybe it could change things for the people he's been trying to help for a long time.

My dad's been campaigning for almost 30 years for rights for deaf people in India, but in court I realised that it's not the logistics or the financing that's difficult - it's the attitude, the public perception that deaf people are incapable. The judge of the highest court in the land even said that disabled people were drug smugglers.

I don't know what's going to motivate me now. But we've always been a very close family, and that helps keep us going. We have get-togethers every year and won't even entertain the thought that Ian will be missing from even one of these.


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 ON THIS STORY
Lennie Stillman
on how the extended family is helping his father


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06 May 02 | England
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