NEW DELHI: “Do not ask what we have gone through in these 14 years, and how we were made to feel as if were the criminals,” said the wife of Habib Hava, an electrician, who has just been acquitted by the Supreme Court in the Ahmedabad Tiffin Blast case. She can barely voice her relief that her husband will soon be with her, saying, “please pray, and that we can live a normal life now.”
If it were not for the Supreme Court and the tenacity of some organisations like the Jamiat Ulema i Hind (Arshad Madani) and a host of lawyers who refuse to give up, countless innocent Muslim youth would have been doomed to the gallows by the police, the administrative system, and often the lower courts.
A pattern is emerging: a terror blast; police move in to arrest scores of Muslim youth in the city, or locality; they are tortured and interrogated; some are freed; cases are filed against the others for terrorism and related sections; they spend years in jail; in between a few are acquitted by the lower courts occasionally; others are given life imprisonment, being lucky if they do not get death; a lifetime later, the higher courts acquit them.
Their lives are destroyed, their families usually lower middle class rendered destitute, they emerge from jail un-employable. And no one is held accountable. The policemen who arrested them remain with impunity. There is no compensation for the years lost, for the torture and for the imprisonment. There is no rehabilitation. That they have been freed is suppose to be enough compensation, and most of the time they are so grateful, and so broken from within, that all they want is to remain quiet, away from the cops and the law if they are so allowed.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court released four Muslim men—in jail for 14 years for what was known as the Ahmedabad Tiffin Bomb Blast case. In 2002, on May 29 five bombs were placed inside the Municipal Corporaion buses of Ahmedabad. Two did not work, three did in which about 11 passengers in different buses sustained minor injuries. This was after the massive violence in Gujarat in which nearly 2000 were killed, if not more, by organised mobs.
Initially no action was taken. The case was transferred to the Crime Branch and about a year later 21 Muslim youth were rounded up. Four were left right at the beginning of the case. Another 12 were acquitted by a special POTA court on May 12, 2006. The trial court convicted five of them to 10 years imprisonment. The Gujarat High Court acquitted one person of all charges on January 24, 2011 and convicted the remaining four to life imprisonment, instead of the initial ten years.
All were poor and unable to bear the legal fees. Arshad Madani who has been quietly working to provide legal aid to many such men languishing in jails across the country, engaged a host of lawyeers including KTS Tulsi, Kamini Jasiwal, Gaurav Agarwal, Ejaz Maqbool and others to represent the four accused in the Supreme Court. On Wednesday the efforts paid off and a SC Bench of Justice Pinaki Ghose and R.F.Nariman acquitted two –Hanif Paklitwala and Habib Hava–of the accused without any charges, and reduced the sentence of the other two—Kalim Karimi and Anas Machiswala— directing their release as well.
In the meantime their families—following the set pattern—have suffered acutely. Pakitwala, with a small business manufacturing schoolbags that lies in tatters now, is a case in point. In these 14 years his mother died. His wife, unable to manage, died as well. His sister took in his three small children and looked after them, More recently she died as well. He will be released from jail after the formalities are completed by next week, along with the others.
The torture while in police custody is now established, regardless of the government in power. Muslim youth arrested, and acquitted after years in jail have gone through this in Maharasthra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka also when the Congress was in power, with the harassment and discrimination reaching epic proportions by complicit state governments and the police force. Under pressure to ‘act’ after a terror attack, the police moves to arrest Muslim youth without pause for thought. And after torturing them, and sending them to jail leave it to their resources to get out if they can. Most cannot.
From the earlier uneducated, poor youth the police attention has shifted to the educated as in Maharashtra where senior lawyers told this writer that a large number of qualified, professional young people had become the targets for the police. One of the acquitted in the Tiffin blast case Hanif Hava is an electrician whose father had to give up retirement and go back to the job to make ends meet. As the lawyers said, “these boys become unemployable, no one gives them a job, and their families often have to leave their homes.”
In Hyderabad after the Mecca Masjid blasts of 2007, over a 100 boys were rounded up by the police. Over days of interrogation and torture they were released in batches until over 20-25 remained in police custody. They were tortured with the police using rollers on their bodies, beating the soles of their feet until these bled and were torn apart, used electric shocks on their genitals— with the details being documented by this writer and civil rights bodies in Hyderabad. Finally, after over a decade in jail, they were all acquitted. This writer interviewed their families and the young men, to find all in deep distress. Later, in 2013 then Union Home Minister Sushik Kumar Shinde officially attributed this terror attack to operatives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
But the lives of these men had been destroyed. They could not pick up their lives easily. One who drove an auto rickshaw could not get the job back. Another who was a salesman remained without a job for years. And as he said even at the onset, he was required to show his face at the local police station every week and that the cops ensured took the better part of the day.
“Who will give me leave every week to do this,” he said admitting that once would be employers knew he had been in jail they immediately shut the door. The families, in several instances, had to leave their little rented tenements and shift several times to avoid pointing fingers, and taunts from locals.
As Hava’s wife told The Citizen, “what examples can I give. It is impossible to share what we have faced, how we have survived all these years.” Compensation? None of the families spoken to were even looking for this, all they wanted was a chance at living normally again.