Pronounced misery

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After 14 years of suffering, a Delhi court verdict in Lajpat Nagpar blast case has brought respite to a few Kashmiri families, and aggravated the misery of a few others. Shazia Khan meets some families, whose children have been either acquitted or convicted.

Fourteen years after a bomb blast at Lajpat Nagar market killed 13 people and injured 39, a Delhi Sessions court convicted six persons including a woman and acquitted four Kashmiris on April 8.The convicts would be sentenced on April 17.

Of the ten accused, those held guilty by the Delhi Sessions Court are Muhammad Naushad, a non-resident Kashmiri; Muhammad Ali Bhat alias Ali Keelay of Hassanabad Rainawari, Srinagar; Mirza Nissar Hussain of Namchabal Srinagar; Javed Ahmed Khan, Daulatabad Nawpora; Farooq Ahmed Khan resident of Islamabad and lone accused woman Farida Dar alias Farida Behanji of Srinagar.

The court held Naushad, Ali, Nissar and Javaid guilty of murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy. The other two, Farooq Khan and Farida Dar, have been convicted under Arms Act and Explosive Substances Act but cleared of other charges.

The court acquitted Mirza Iftikhar Hussain, Latif Ahmed Waja, Syed Maqbool Shah residents of Srinagar and Abdul Gani of Baderwah for “lack of evidence”. All of them have been in jails for the last 14 years.

Muhammad Maqbool Shah could not believe when he heard the judge acquitting him, though he had been waiting for 14 years to hear it.

Maqbool says, “I did not believe my ears and asked a fellow prisoner, ‘do they really want to set us free’.”

He says he was on top of the world when his lawyer told him that he will be regaining freedom.

That night, Maqbool says, the jail where he had spent 14 years looked like an alien place. “The urge to meet my people did not let me sleep,” he says.

Fourteen years back 17 year old Maqbool left his home for a two-month vacation in Delhi. He could never have imagined that it will take him 14 years to return to his home.

When Maqbool reached Srinagar, the family that had been waiting for their son for years wept bitterly. And so did Maqbool.

Instead of going home, Maqbool straight away visited the family graveyard where his sister and father, who died while he was imprisoned, are interred.

“We paid heavy toll for his detention,” says his brother Dilawar. “His separation crippled us emotionally as well as financially.”

Maqbool’s father Syed Mohammad died a year after his arrest in 1996. A decade later in 2006, his 24 year old sister Hadeesa died within months of visiting him in jail.

In the 14 years many children were born in the family, none could recognize him.

“He looks so different from his photographs in our album,” his 13-year-old nephew remarked. An eight year old was peeping through the window when Maqbool’s brother asked the kid to greet his uncle. The boy entered the room shyly and shook hands. When Maqbool’s brother told him that the kid was their dead sister Hadeesa’s son, he took him in his lap and again burst into tears.

His family says that when they approached Delhi police after his arrest, they even detained Maqbool’s two brothers for more than a month.

During these years the family submitted more than 150 applications to different courts to conduct investigation into Maqbool’s case separately besides pleading with any authority they could meet, but to no avail.

Maqbool says, “Although court has set me free, I have lost 14 years of my life. Can the courts or anybody return my father and sister? Can anybody return my dreams? Can anybody return my life?”

He adds, “No they can not. They only know to label innocent people as terrorists and frame them.”

Another acquitted Mirza Iftikhar was yet to reach home. The handicrafts dealer was accused of involvement in the Lajpat Nagar blast. His younger brother Nissar was also arrested in Nepal on same charges.

Though the court acquitted Iftikhar, but held his brother, Nissar, guilty of charges of murder, attempt to murder and criminal conspiracy.

“We are in dilemma whether to rejoice the freedom of Iftikhar or to mourn the injustices done to Nissar,”say Mirza family.

“I swear by Almighty, both of my sons are innocent, they were framed in false case. We are yet to understand why the court held Nissar guilty,” says Padsha Begum, their mother.

Padshah’s husband, who died of bone cancer in 1990, had a successful handicrafts business in Delhi. Their elder son Iftikhar took over the business. Young Nissar also started helping his elder brother.

In 1996, after Lajpat Nagar blast, police arrested hundreds of Kashmiris from Delhi including Iftikhar, says Padshah. “A few days later my son Nissar who used to sell Kashmiri arts in Nepal was arrested from there.”

The family came to know about their arrest two months later.

“Some two months after the blast, one of our relatives informed us that they have been arrested and are detained in Tihar jail,” Padshah says.

There was no one in the family, who could visit them in jail.

“I am an unlettered woman, my three daughters and another son were too young,“ Padshah says.

Her daughter Nighat, who was studying at that time, took upon the responsibility of fighting for her brothers.

“There was no source of income in family. With Iftikhar’s arrest, we lost our source of income. My daughter availed loan against her qualification certificate to fight legal battle for them before the younger brother started earning,” says Padshah.

In 1996, Padshah’s younger son Mirza Zaffar was a undergraduate student. He quit studies and started teaching in a private school.

Mirzas believe that Nissar is innocent like his brother. “There are no such evidences that can prove his brother guilty.”

A few houses away from Mirza’s, Waja family was anxiously waiting for their son Latif Ahmad. An unusual crowd had gathered at their place. Latif’s mother, Noor Jahan and his sister Shaheen, were gazing at the door, anxiously waiting for him. “I want to know how he looks like … When he left home he was just 19 year old boy and now he will be a 33 year old,” Noor Jahan said. She was yet to complete the sentence when a phone rang. She was informed that Lateef wouldn’t be released yet.

“They (police) have shifted him to Jaipur jail, for he has also been accused of involvement in Jaipur blast,” she says helplessly.

The visible joy on her face faded within minutes. “I don’t know when they will release him now. Will it take another fourteen years to get case resolved,” she says. “They have implicated him in many false cases.”

Fourteen years ago Lateef after completing class 12th went to Delhi to spend vacations with his uncle. “Police accused him of involvement in Lajpat Nagar blast and then tried to implicate him in Gujarat and Jaipur blasts,” Noor Jahan says.

“A couple of years ago, he was acquitted from Gujarat case but I don’t know what will happen in Jaipur blast case. Although he is innocent but it took him 14 years to prove his innocence.”

Waja’s say that they came to know about their son’s arrest only when a TV channel showed Lateef as one of the accused.

“First, we couldn’t believe the news but when my husband went to Delhi it shocked him on seeing his son in prison,” she says. “During all these years we have suffered both emotionally as well as financially. The legal battle to save our son and the expenses in meeting our son cost the education of my other two children.”

The most horrible moment, Noor Jahan says, was when he was refused parole at the time of his father’s death in 2004.

For the parents of Javaid and Ali Muhammad the verdict is “astonishing and sheer injustice”.

Convict Javaid’s father Mohammad Shafi Khan says, “The decision has broken me. We expected at least now they will set my Javaid free. Despite the fact he is innocent they let him suffer further in prison.”

“It is not justice.” says Shafi. “Which evidences are they talking about that have proved my son guilty? Around 120 of their witnesses have failed to identify my son as being responsible for the blasts.”

Javaid was arrested from Ahmadabad where he had gone in connection with his carpet business.

“He had eight lakh rupees with him when police searched his bag, seized the money and arrested him,” says Khan.

A week later when Khans could not reach Javaid on phone, Shafi inquired from his sister in law who at that time was staying in Delhi. Two months later the family was shocked when they came to know their son has been arrested in Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case.
Haji Sher Ali Bhat, father of Muhammad Ali Bhat says, “My son is innocent. They have convicted him on false charges. It is discrimination on the part of India that they are labeling innocent Kashmiris as militants and putting them behind bars for the offences they have never committed.”

Fourteen years ago, Muhammad Ali was in mid twenties when police arrested him in Nepal in 1996. He was a carpet dealer and was earning in lakhs, Bhat said.
However, Bhat family came to know about his arrest after a month when one of his friends saw him on television, handcuffed and blindfolded. “That was a great blow for my entire family”. Bhat said immediately after that my two other sons Zaffar Ahmad and Arshad Hussain approached Delhi police but they arrested them too and held them for a month.

“My mother died of that shock. My wife Hajira developed many diseases in Ali’s separation and expired only after four years of his arrest in February 2000,” he says. Ali’s arrest, Bhat says, also affected the family business, which was running in crores.

“Although my son is innocent, we are helpless people. We can only plead for justice but cannot fight for it.”

For Sheikh Muhammad Yaseen the April 8 verdict lead him to painful memories that even after 14 years moisten his old eyes.

His son Riyaz Ahmad detained on the same charge could not survive more than a year in jail.

A resident of Jogilankar Rainawari, Sheikh’s son was working with J&K police when the blast rocked Lajpat Nagar market.

Recalling the fateful day, Sheikh says, “One evening a constable approached our house and informed Riyaz that SHO wanted to meet him, Riyaz left but didn’t return.”
The Sheikh family went to the concerned Police station to enquire about Riyaz. “There we came to know he has been detained in central jail. On reaching there they didn’t allow us to meet him, next day when we approached again he was shifted to Tihar jail,” Yaseen says, “At Tihar it shocked us when a police officer told us that he was the prime accused in Lajpat Nagar blast case. They allowed us to meet him for five minutes only. We couldn’t talk besides his condition was not good. He apparently had been severely tortured.”

Shiekh says they were not allowed to meet him. ”For about eight months he was detained in Tihar jail. In July 1997, he was hospitalised for many days I along with my wife and elder son went to meet him, even then they didn’t allow a meeting.”

A month later, on 27 September 1997, the family received a phone call from lawyer who informed about Riyaz’s death at Delhi’s GB Panth hospital. Shiekh said, “When we reach there they handed over his body along with a death certificate that stated Riyaz died of brain tumour.”

Yaseen said his son was murdered. “Police tortured him to take responsibility of that bomb blast but every time he refused. When they could not succeed in involving him in their fabricated case they killed him.”

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