12 Years Later

Twenty three days after the Sarojni Nagar blasts killed 62 people and left 210 injured, Delhi Police swooped on two homes in Kashmir and arrested the “accused”. They discounted their defence that they did not know each other. One of them had not gone to Delhi ever. By the time, courts set them free with their innocence intact, 12 years had passed, reports Heena Muzzafar

Mohammad Hussain Fazili was acquitted of his alleged involvement in 2005 Delhi blasts, after spending 12 tough years in Tihar jail. A shawl weaver, he was 30 when his family was planning his marriage. Greyed with sunken eyes, they are planning it 12 years later.

On November 21, 2005, Fazili remembers a few people in civvies accompanied Delhi’s Special Operation Group (SOG) and cordoned off his home in Sir Syed Colony, in Srinagar’s Upper Soura.

 “It was 8 pm,” recalls Fazili, who was busy weaving a shawl. “They jumped over the gate and barged in.”

They ordered Fazilis’ 9-member family, including his mother, two sister-in-laws, and 6-year-old boy, to line up. One of them pointed towards Fazili and immediately he was taken to another room.

“They repeatedly asked if I have ever been to Delhi,” he remembers the ‘quick interrogation’. “I repeatedly told them that neither me, nor any of my family members have ever been to Delhi.”

Then, they asked if he had any “contacts in Delhi”.  Fazili told them about his only contact – a Kashmiri businessman Khalid (name changed) who gives him shawls to weave. As Fazili was led out, he saw his father, a cardiac patient, in a miserable condition. “He was complaining of chest pain,” recalls Fazili. He was not permitted to attend to his father. They took away his month old cell phone.

When Fazili’s father asked the reason of his son’s arrest, cops told him that he will be back after some enquiry. Blindfolded, he was dragged out and bundled into a vehicle.

Fazili remembered a phone call he had received a few days back from Khalid. “I found that call weird because the moment I picked up the call I heard just three words: yahi number hai (This is the number) and then phone disconnected,” remembers Fazili.

Fazili believes, the caller was confirming his number for someone after listening to his voice.

It was for the first time Khalid had spoken in Urdu.

Worried, Fazili dialled the number but “the phone was switched off”.

Disturbed, Fazili went to Khalid’s house, living nearby, and asked his son to contact him. “I was told by his son that he has been arrested in Delhi,” recalls Fazili.

A few days before the disturbing call, Fazili had asked Khalid for some money as Eid was approaching.

Before disconnecting that call, Fazili had asked him if he wants a Shahtoos shawl.

Since, Shahtoos was banned, Fazili thought his offer might have caused trouble for Khalid.

Fazili recalls Khalid telling him that he cannot pay him for a few days as he doesn’t go out after recent serial blasts. He told Fazili that Delhi police is picking Kashmiris randomly on mere suspicion.

While he was being driven to some unknown location, Fazili tried joining the dots and explain his arrest. Soon he opened his eye at a place that  “was probably Cargo.”

The same questions started. Two hours later, another boy, in his early thirties, was pushed in. He was Mohammad Rafiq Shah.

“They at first asked me if I knew him, I replied I am seeing him for the first time,” recalls Fazili.

“Then they asked the boy if he knows me, who too said no.”

We were strangers to each other. But they did not believe.

Soon, they were taken to separate rooms, and pressurised to accept what they had already refused. Gradually, the pressure changed into abuse and interrogation into torture.

Next morning they were blind folded and pushed into a van. They opened their eyes at the

Srinagar airport.

“It seemed we were being taken somewhere,” says Fazili. “But, anger on the faces of policemen reflected that we had missed the flight.”

They drove back blindfolded, this time to some hotel at boulevard, where they were kept in separate rooms. Torture resumed. They wanted us  to reveal their links with each other.

“We could hear each other’s cries as we were tortured in adjoining rooms,” recalls Fazili. They were hungry for the second consecutive night.

Next day, they didn’t miss the flight. After an hour, they landed in Delhi and were driven directly to Lodhi colony. Fazili was thinking that he was caught for his Shahtoos talk. “I thought I would be released in a few days, after query,” said Fazili.

But when cops started asking them about Tariq Dar, who was already in police custody for 10 days, both got surprised. “We had no idea who Tariq was,” said Fazili.

They were put in lockup full with Kashmiri’s. There, detainees confirmed Fazili’s name and domicile. What Fazili heard next was shocking. A detune told him that some days back Delhi Police had arrested a few Kashmiri, who were promised freedom once you are arrested. It confounded his confusion. Confusion ended soon when the trio: Fazili, Shah and Tariq were told that they were arrested for their involvement in Delhi serial blasts. “For next two months we were tortured,” said Fazili.

The trio at first was tied with iron shackles and then beaten.

“After beating us, two or three policemen would urinate over our faces. They would then put rats in our pants,” said Fazili.

“They would put our faces into toilet commode. Then they would bring piglets for licking our faces and then we were forced to eat food.”

Refusal to eat food would repeat the torture cycle. Cops would shift them after every fortnight: from

Lodhi Colony to Friends Colony then to Rohini and back.

Then the court sent them for Narco test. “After giving the order, judge repeatedly told us that it won’t be an easy one. We told him if it is the only option of proving our innocence, we are ready,” said Fazili.

They passed the Narco Test successfully in Bengaluru.

“Whenever, we would say we are not guilty and now it is proven, they would make fun of us by saying, tell us something that we don’t know,” said Fazili.

“They would often say, we know you are innocent, but we want you to take the responsibility of the conspiracy, at least,” said Fazili. They were made to sign nearly 150 blank pages.

Fazili alleged that police submitted tempered medical reports to the court.

“Once my blood pressure was so low that doctor clearly warned them that I can die,” said Fazili.

“I remember how  police officer forcibly made doctor to sign documents saying we are alright.”

They were being threatened

from making any complain in front of court or doctor. By then, two months were over.

Next destination was Tihar.

“There were nearly 75 Kashmiri’s already in the jail,” recalls Fazili about Tihar, his home for 12 years.

There, they were kept in separate cells, allowed to move out in the morning to offer Fajr prayers. By noon they were back to lockups. Doors would open at 3 pm till sunset. He was in Jail No 1 when on

January 31, 2017, Fazili was told of his innocence.

For all these 12 years, nobody from his family had visited Fazili. He was permitted to speak to his father in 2013 for the first time.

As his younger brother escorted him home, he came to a “bridegrooms” welcome.

Then an elderly woman, barely able to walk, came towards him – it was his mother. “

My son is reborn,” she cried and embraced him and they wept bitterly. His sister hugged him saying their mother had barely survived a paralytic attack and brain haemorrhage.

Now, Fazili’s primary concern is his aged parents and how to rediscover a life and earn for their treatment. He was earning Rs 4,000 a month, when he was handcuffed.

Interestingly, Fazili struggles to talk in Kashmiri but he is fine with Urdu.

“Before my arrest I could hardly speak in Urdu and now it’s vice versa,” said Fazili.

Rafiq’s story is no different. Now 40, he  struggles to receive a call. Sitting on the third story of his house, he displays testimonies of his innocence to reporters surrounding him.

As his phone buzzes, unwittingly he puts on the speaker. “It will take me few days to learn how to use it,” said Shah while showing newspaper clippings carrying stories of his innocence. He has preserved them all by laminating them.

Numerous preserved clippings show Shah as terrorist, well before judiciary declared him innocent.

A resident of Shohama, Ailesteng (Ganderbal), Rafiq Shah reached home on February 22, 5 days after his acquittal.

Shah who could have easily flown home, chose to drive by road just to experience the difficulties his parents suffered during the past 12 years, when they would come to meet him.

“All my fatigue vanished by experiencing the agony my parents had gone through while travelling,” shares Shah. “I found my pain lesser than their struggle.”

A day after Shah reached home, relatives, well wishers, and friends started visiting him.

He found it difficult to recognize the faces or remember their names.

In these 12 years, Shah’s two sisters were married and both are blessed with kids. His nephews and nieces is a new generation unknown to him.

Shah was arrested from his home on November 21, 2005 at around 11:30 pm. He was fourth semester student in Islamic Studies at the University of Kashmir. Shah’s home was cordoned by Delhi and Kashmir Police. They barged into his residence. “I heard some noises outside and went out to check,” recalls Shah’s mother.

“I thought it is a crackdown, so I went inside to wake up my family.”

Shah’s father went out and was told to bring his family out. After a couple of minutes, Shah along with her younger sisters came out.

Initially, they asked him about his engagement and then suddenly started dragging him. Shah’s mother tried to save his son but was beaten. Still she did not let her son go until she fainted near the gate, after she was hit hard on her head.

When Shah’s father ran to save his wife he too was slapped. Shah was then blind folded and bundled into a waiting vehicle and driven to Cargo.

“There was a young boy being interrogated,” recalls Shah. “I was taken to another room and asked did I know that boy. I said I have never seen him before, they began beating me ruthlessly and after every five minutes they would ask me now do you know him and every time I said no.”However, Shah hesitates to reveal many details. “I am not comfortable to share it in front of my sisters and other females,” he said.

In jail, Shah used to engage himself in reading Islamic literature. “We would spend time discussing Islamic literature, Islamic world. I would also teach some of the inmates,” said Shah.

 “Besides, I used to play many games like cricket, badminton, basketball in the jail, depending upon the setting of jail,” recalls Shah. “Inmates would say that I am good at playing badminton.”

They would make baskets out of buckets by cutting its base for playing basketball, broom were used as bats.

It was testing time for Shah and other inmates when they came to know about the hanging of their other inmate Afzal Guru. “I share good memories with Shaheed Afzal Guru, we would often discuss principals of Islam and its teachings to lead a peaceful life,” says Shah. “I met him on February 8, for the last time before his hanging.”

During his last days in jail No 3, Shah finished reading The Half Line.

“Being Islamic Studies student, I prefer to read all sorts of books,” said Shah.

He was planning to pursue PhD after masters, but was not even allowed to complete masters, until pleaded his case in High Court and got permission to appear for his fourth semester examination in 2010. “I took my exams while in Central jail,” shares Shah.

Shah feels one of the reasons for implicating him in false case was his active participation in Kashmir University Students Union. “I was always on the forefront, whenever students of the University raised their voice against any injustice or atrocities,” shares Shah.

“I can say so because police had come to my house and warned me to stay out of it. But I never had the idea that I would be put in such level of trouble.”

Shah felt discriminated after witnesses produced affidavit and presented themselves in front of court, proving his presence in the class room on the day of serial blasts.

The reason for stretched trials was that there was no eyewitness against our alleged crime.

“There were at least 325 witnesses and none of them was eye witness,” said Shah. “On the day of verdict the summoned witness had to be present and if he would fail to turn up, the hearing was postponed.”

On first day of Shah’s trial, the then VC, Abdul Waheed Qureshi along with the proof of Shah’s attendance presented himself in court.

“Later four more professors from the department of Islamic Studies gave witness of Shah’s presence in the class room,” says Shah’s father. “Even our neighbour’s presented an affidavit about his presence at home on the day of blasts.”

On February 16, Shah was restless as never before.

“It was the final verdict, media was not allowed inside, we had all faith in Almighty,” recalls Shah.

Given the chance by the Judge to say something after acquittal, he said only three words: “Justice has prevailed”. The judge replied, “But, it took lot of time.”

Shah is planning to continue his studies further while Fazili is looking for means of earning, with all sympathies for those who lost their loved ones in Delhi serial blast.

On the evening of November 10, 2005, Tariq Ahmad Dar told his wife that he will pick her up in 15 minutes, but it took him 12 years to reach home.

Dar was 30 then, and had got married in the same year. He was working in Johnson and Johnson’s research House Company since 1997 and was companies’ in-charge for Kashmir valley.

In connection to the job, Dar had gone to south Kashmiri’s Islamabad district. Dar had left early in the morning, so that he could reach on time to pick his wife.

Dar’s wife was expecting a baby and had an appointment with her doctor in Dalgate.

“She was six months pregnant,” recalls Dar.

When Dar reached Pampore, nearly 10 kms from Dalgate, his car was intercepted by another vehicle.

“The car carried non-locals men in civil, who told me that my car’s tyre had punctured,” recalls Dar. “I stepped out of my car to check it.”

When Dar came out to check the tyre, he was blind folded and bundled in to the car. Dar was then taken to some unknown place and was beaten to pulp.

Next morning he felt blood oozing out of his body and because of extreme pain he could hardly recognize the organ that was bleeding.

“When the cloth was removed from my eyes, I saw a big helicopter in front of me,” recalls Dar. “I could not recognize the place.”

Dar was again blindfolded and bundled into the helicopter that landed at New Delhi.

Dar was taken to torture Lodhi Colony, were he was tortured for months.

They used worst torture methods that are even banned internationally, like waterboarding, electric shocks, deprivation of sleep and stretching of legs.

“Waterboarding is the worst kind of torture that was first used in Abu Gareeb jail, which has been now banned internationally,” says Dar. “But, it is still used on Kashmiri’s.”

Dar was repeatedly told by policemen that they would be questioned if they fail to produce culprits. Since, culprits have fled, they had no option then to frame some innocents in the conspiracy.

“We cannot call them humans. It would be appropriate to call them cannibals,” said Dar.

Finally on November 24, Dar reached home in Solina Srinagar, where every wall had banners welcoming and appreciating his steadfastness.

After longing for 12 years, Dar finally meets his daughter, who was born while he was in jail.


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