by Ibtisam Fayaz Khan
SRINAGAR: In yet another case of an honourable acquittal, a Kashmiri man moved out of jail 11 years after his arrest. During his protracted imprisonment, Bashir Ahmad Baba lost his father but he continued to stay sane and managed two post-graduation.
At his Rainawari residence, this Vadodra Central Jail inmate is reliving the pain by sharing with his relatives and friends the crisis of living in the most difficult conditions of his life. For the first three years of his imprisonment, Baba was held in an 8 x 10 feet cell that would normally push people to insanity.
Baba was arrested by ATS (anti-terrorism Squad) in Ahmedabad Gujarat in 2010 for being a militant associate. He was working for an NGO – Maaya Foundation that worked to treat children suffering from cleft lip and cleft palate in India. As an assistant project manager of the campaign, Bashir went to Gujarat with his fellow colleagues for 15 days of training for camp management. After spending six days, he was detained and taken to ATS (anti-terrorism Squad) Headquarters.
Baba, then 32, a Rainawari, Srinagar resident, was accused of being a member of Hizbul Mujahideen planning to set up a base in Gujarat, brainwashing youth, and sending them to Pakistan for training in 2010. Several TV channels branded him Pepsi Bomber.
Baba was a science graduate and had joined the NGO. Prior to that, he had his own private computer coaching centre named Wintech Institute of Computer Education in Rainawari where he would impart basic computer knowledge to aspiring youth. When he went for training as part of the NGO, the family was looking for his bride.
It was on February 17, when a raid was carried out by ATS on their flat where Baba was residing with his other colleagues, Dr Anand Vijay, an intern with the NGO. Both were driven to ATS Headquarters.
Anand was released soon but Baba was sent on remand to the Central Jail Vadodara. He said he had no idea of the charges against him. “Initially, I didn’t know my crime,” Baba said. “Many weeks later, I came to know that I have been charged under UAPA.”
“There was the hope of freedom, but we were aware of the time-consuming process of the judiciary,” he said. His NGO, the Maaya Foundation, interestingly, avoided any interference in the matter. He went to jail at the age of 33 and spent 11 years in jail.
After Baba understood that the impossibility of moving out, he utilized his time in studies. In these 11 years, he completed two Post-graduation degrees in political science and public administration through IGNOU. He also did his PG diploma in intellectual property rights.
Baba remembers sketching his thoughts on paper and doing Yoga to retain his health. What is interesting is that Bashir praised the jail authorities and has no complaint about their behaviour. The officers of the welfare department of Vadodara jail helped him and took care of his basic educational requirements provided him with stationery items as Baba was fond of sketching.
Baba remembers his father Ghulam Nabi Baba and his younger brother, Nazir Ahmed Baba, visiting him for the first time after three months of his detention. Looking at his son in the prison cell, the family said Ghulam Nabi went into depression and later died due to colon cancer in 2017. When the Baba senior was critical, the family sought bail for their son which was denied. Baba after reaching home went directly to his father’s grave and prayers.
After Baba Sr’s death, the family was worried that Baba’s mother, a frail, aged Mokhta Begum is somehow managed on the hope that her son will be home soon. This hope led her to manage all these years and when finally she got him back, she still finds it hard to believe. For all these years, she said, she would go to the mosque Imams’ and plead for prayers for her son.
It was the additional session’s judge, S A Nakum, who according to Baba, acquitted him of all the charges levelled against him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). “Humne Apko Bari kardiya,” the judge ruled and Baba was excited.
After 11 years when Baba walked out of the prison, he kept with him the countless letters and the photographs that his family had sent him to lessen his suffering. The other possessions are his degree certificates.