Incarcerated for nearly 17 years in Delhi’s Tihar jail, two youth from Kashmir, who were falsely implicated for their involvement in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case by Delhi Police, were declared innocent by a court. BILAL HANDOO spoke to their families to recount the horrors they faced in their absence.

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Travesty Of Justice-Cover Story

It took nearly 17 years for the judiciary to acquit two Kashmiri youth who were falsely implicated in the 1996 Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case by Delhi police. Mohammad Ali Bhat, a resident of Srinagar’s Hassanabad’s area, was picked by cops in Nepal where he sold Kashmiri handicrafts from a small shop.

Delhi police had described Bhat as one of the six alleged masterminds involved in the bomb blast which took place in one of Delhi’s busiest marketplaces on May 21 in 1996, killing 13 people and injuring more than 35.

But it all turned out to be a hoax on Thursday when the Delhi High Court set Bhat free, untainted, along with Mirza Nisar Hussain, a resident of old city in Srinagar, who were convicted by a lower court and sentenced to death in 2010.

The verdict has come as a relief for the victims’ ostracized families but the agony and humiliation suffered in the bygone years has created an indelible mark on their lives. The trauma endured in all these years has taken its toll on them.

Bhat’s ageing father, Haji Sher Ali Bhat has partially lost memory because of the struggle he put in during these years to fight for the release of his son. “I would love to tell you all the details and the painful journey my family went through all these years. But I can’t recall what happened.”

The family lives in a two-storied, mediocre house in Srinagar’s old city. Bhat’s mother, Hajira, was diagnosed with cancer soon after his detention. “Her last wish was to meet his son. We couldn’t fulfill it because we were not allowed to meet him. She died in 2000,” Sher Ali told Kashmir Life.

The family still remembers the Sunday in 1996 when Bhat left home to Nepal to attend his handicraft business. “His mother gave him Rs 1000. He was looking handsome in a branded suit which he wore at that time. But who knew that fate was going to curse us soon,” said his father, lowering his head.

Few days after Bhat left for Nepal, the family saw news reports that their son has been arrested in connection with the Lajpat Nagar bomb blast case. “We were stunned on hearing the news. The ground beneath our feet shook. We ran from pillar to post to secure his release but nothing worked out,” Ali said.

Over the last 17 years of his son’s detention, the economic condition of the family took a plunge. Ali, who retired as a government official, took loans from local business dealers in Srinagar to strengthen his handicraft business in Nepal. The family is yet to pay back. “All business was looked after by him. His arrest left everything undone. It dealt a severe financial setback to our family,” said his brother.

At the age of 76, the agonized father of Bhat has been left bitter by the daunting struggle he has waged all these years to prove his son’s innocence. “I am yet to come with terms how to react over this court verdict. We have lost meaning of happiness due to the suffering of all these years.”

At the residence of another acquitted Kashmiri youth, Mirza Nissar Hussain, who was merely 15, when Delhi police picked him up from Nepal, visitors are pouring in to congratulate the family.

Hailing from Namchi Bal area of old city in Srinagar, Nissar was a Class 9 student when he was picked up by cops in Nepal, where he had gone for vacations with his elder brother, Mirza Iftikhar Hussain. Later, the police also blamed him for his involvement in Jaipur bomb blast in late 90’s.

“Barely seven days after Lajpat Nagar blast, I was picked up by cops in the dead of night from my New Delhi apartment. I later got to know that my younger brother, Nissar, was also picked up along with others from Nepal,” said Nissar’s elder brother, Iftikhar who was released untainted in 2010 after being incarcerated for 14 years at New Delhi’s Tihar jail.

Iftikhar says his brother was brought to Sher Gari police station, Srinagar, along with others after which they were sent back to Delhi. “Police had conducted raids at some residences. They claimed to have collected the documents linking Nissar and others to the blast which were then presented as proof of their involvement in the blast.”

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