The Accidental Terror Suspect
Every question alarms Sajid Khan. With his eyes wide open, he makes an effort to listen to every word said in the room, eager to tell his side of the story.
Holed up in a dingy lodge room in west Bengaluru for two days, this visitor from Rajasthan is apprehensive of strangers, and he has his reasons too. A week ago he was branded a ‘suspected terrorist’ by the media in Bengaluru, and he didn’t even know about it for four days.
On the wall of the lodge, next to a red stain of a stray spit of pan, hangs a black vest coat which Sajid wore on 6 May when he went to Majestic Metro Station. A CCTV footage from that evening showed him walking out of the station after the lights on a metal detector beeped. Soon after, media outlets ran stories about him trying to bomb the station and some even called the black jacket a bomb vest.
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Now under police protection for his own safety, Sajid is still shocked by what transpired during the last week. “Saab, they are talking about a bomb, but I can’t even afford to buy firecrackers for children,” says the 38-year-old, pointing at his wife and two-year-old son who are sitting on the floor of the lodge.
A Pilgrimage to Feed Family
Four years ago, after a drought in his village Jhujhunu in Rajasthan affected his crops, Sajid came to Bengaluru for the first time. Some of his relatives who were already in Bengaluru told him that in the city large sums are given as zakat (alms given during Ramazan) and it could aid his family during the tough times.
Since then, every year, along with his family he comes to Bengaluru and collects zakat near dhargas and other establishments. In this one month, before leaving the city on the night of Eid, he would make enough money for his family to survive for a few months in Rajasthan.
The Night at the Metro Station
“I didn’t know it was a metro station,” said Sajid, recalling the events of 6 May. After spending the evening begging in the busy shopping complexes of Majestic area, he saw several people walking into a big building. “I thought it was a shopping complex and I walked in. The coins I had collected during the day, worth approximately Rs 200, were in my pocket. I was holding on to my dhoti, which was a habit,” he said.
As soon as he entered, the security guard asked him to free his hands and the red lights on the metal detector door frame were already blinking. The security guards who spoke Kannada told him something, which he didn’t understand, but by then realising the building was not a shopping complex, he walked out.
Since it was getting dark and his wife, who had collapsed earlier that day because of low blood pressure, was alone, he went back to their accommodation.
A Media Show Oblivious to Sajid
He was oblivious to the media reports painting him a terror suspect, since he didn’t have access to a television. For two days, TV channels ran reports of a suspected terrorist roaming loose in the city, after failing to detonate a bomb at the metro station.
Under pressure, the Bengaluru Police issued alerts to all metro stations in the city and assigned three special teams to track down the ‘terror suspect’. But less than a kilometre away from the metro station, Sajid had turned in for the night after feeding his wife, unaware that he was a man of interest for the entire city.
For the next three days, Sajid continued begging. Instead of the Majestic area, he went to different parts of the city unnoticed, until he was detained on 10 May.
End of A Wild Goose Chase
On 10 May, after walking around Majestic area, he went to a dargah in RT Nagar area of Bengaluru. An autoricksaw driver, who had seen the media reports, alerted the local police who began a search in the area.
While Sajid was walking back from the mosque, someone held him from behind. A policeman, who held in hands firmly, asked him to go with him. Sajid asked what he had done, but the cop merely said the senior officer wanted to see him.
It was at the police station, four days after he went to the metro station, he learnt what had transpired. Police questioned him for several more hours and his statements were recorded. He was taken to his accommodation for a search, where his wife fainted again seeing policemen charging into the house.
Overnight, police were convinced Sajid was just a beggar who didn’t even know about the concept of a metro train.
‘If You Allow, I Will Stay’
Sajid has been kept in a lodge room by the police until the end of all police procedures. Police also feared he could be attacked if let out, since the media reports were still circulating on the social media and the clean chit given to him never made it to the prime-time news.
While his son is hooked to the mobile phone of the constable guarding them, Sajid is concerned. Every day he sits at home is income lost for his family, since he has to make enough money for few months before the holy month ends. He is unclear whether he would want to come to Bengaluru again. “If the people of this city are kind and allow me, I will come back. Now I don’t know what I will do,” he said.
Even though he is confused about what to do next, he is clear about something – he will never visit a metro station in his life. Just at the calls for azan begins, Sajid said even though he was scared, he knew nothing wrong will happen to a righteous man, especially in the month of Ramzan.