INNOCENT BUT PUNISHED

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It is not unique in the slow Indian justice delivery system, but its magnitude for some Kashmiris is. Before courts acquitted them many have spent a lifetime in jails after being wrongfully implicated in ‘terrorism’ cases. They ask; who is responsible for their ‘wasted’ lives? MAJID MAQBOOL reports.

Abdul Majid Bhat – Photo: Shams Irfan

In a historic judgment last year by Delhi High Court six Kashmiris, earlier branded by Delhi Police as terrorists, were acquitted of all charges. They joined many more of their brethren who had lived the prime of their lives in harsh jail conditions before being declared innocent.

One of them was Abdul Majid Bhat. Arrested on July 7, 2005, he was picked up and brought to Rambagh police station in Srinagar and handed over to Delhi Police’s special team waiting for him. Majid, who is in his early fifties, now says he was secretly taken to Dwarka police station in Delhi. Within two days he was produced before media as a “big catch” from Pahargunj in Delhi and falsely accused of carrying with him three detonators and plans to attack, among other targets, Indira Gandhi International Airport.

Majid spent the next six years in jail trying to prove his innocence before the court. He used the newly enacted Right to Information Act (RTI) to prove that all the evidence produced by the Delhi Police was fabricated.

Majid is understandably very bitter about his lost years. “My family has already suffered a lot during these last six years. Every other day army would raid my house and harass my family,” he says. “We have been through hell again and again, but now I just want to live in peace with my family.”

It may be possible for Majid to plan a normal life again, but not for someone who lost 14 years of his youth proving his innocence. Mirza Iftikhar Hussain is 40 now. A Delhi court acquitted him in April 2010 but not before 14 years of incarceration in the feared Tihar Jail. He was 24 at the time of his wrongful arrest and now finds it difficult to get back to regular social life. Those fourteen years of imprisonment, he says, were the darkest years of his life. Mirza has little hope of making something out of his remaining years.

Arrested for his alleged involvement in the 21 May 1996 Lajpat Nagar blasts in Delhi, Mirza says for the first eight years there was no hearing of his case. His case was closed. Then the high court ordered reopening the case. Initially, he had thought his imprisonment will end after a few years. “The high court gave four orders to reopen the case after the initial years of imprisonment, but still I was imprisoned for all those 14 years,” Mirza says.

At the time of arrest from his rented room in Bhogal area by the Delhi Police’s special cell Mirza had a flourishing Pashmina shawl business in Delhi. The police, however, claimed to have arrested him from a railway station. Before imprisoning him in Tihar jail, Mirza says he was interrogated in the ‘operations cell’ of Delhi police at Lodhi Road.

Soon after his arrest, one of his brothers, Mirza Nisar, who was working as a salesman in Nepal, was picked up and brought to Delhi. Imprisoned for the past 16 years, his brother on the death row in Tihar. “The police charged him for being involved in the Lajpat Nagar blasts,” he says. “They have also implicated him in another case of Jaipur blasts.”

During his long trial Mirza says the police could not produce any evidence against him before the court. “Police had brought fake eye witnesses, but even police witnesses turned hostile during my trial,” he says. This ultimately resulted in his acquittal, but not before 14 years of his life were wasted. In April 2010, District Judge SP Garg of the Patiala High Court acquitted Mirza of all charges, along with three others.

As his case stretched over long years, Mirza remembers the words of one of the judges when he pleaded for a quick judgment during a hearing. “Tum logun ko kya pata hai upper kya kichdey pak rahe hai (You have no idea of the conspiracies being hatched at the higher levels),” the judge told them. “The judge wanted to convey that he had pressures from higher authorities,” says Mirza. “He wanted to give punishment to some of the accused and acquit the rest.”

After the death of their father in 1995, the two brothers had begun their family business, but it was destroyed with their arrest in 1996. One of their family shops in Mussoorie was-

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