Camera: Shiv Maurya, Athar Rather, Sanjoy Deb, Ribhu Chatterjee Producer: Zijah Sherwani Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
'122 Muslims Charged With Terror Acquitted After 20 Years'
'11 Years in Jail Under Anti-Terror Law, Kashmiri Man Acquitted'
These headlines in the Indian newspapers say it all.
From the Malegaon blast case in 2006 to the serial blasts in Jaipur, Delhi, Kanpur, and Mumbai, in all these cases there’s one common thread – apart from the innocents who were killed, the wrongful arrest of Muslims who were held as accused, suffered in jail for years, and were eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence.
However, unlike their arrests, the acquittal hardly makes any news.
Many people from the Muslim community have suffered for years when booked under the contentious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). They are arrested, jailed for years, and eventually acquitted.
The ordeal of 16 such people is compiled in the book Baizzat Bari by Manisha Bhalla and Dr Aleemullah Khan.
Here are a few instances of shoddy investigation, false charges, and the presumption of guilt, all taken from Baizzat Bari.
"Islamophobia is increasingly growing. For example, mob lynching, love jihad, incidents of meat or arrests under UAPA. Although people from other religions have also been arrested, arrests of Muslims are served as fodder in such cases."Manisha Bhalla, Author Baizzat Bari
"Such cases are thousands in number. And hundreds have been acquitted. These 16 stories describe the mindset and the intention behind a planned way in which a community and its youth are demoralised. And how they are forced to live in fear."Dr Aleemullah Khan, Author Baizzat Bari
Both Dr Farogh Makhdoomi and Mohd Ilyas were arrested on terror charges. Although in different cases, there are many similarities in their stories – from arrest to acquittal.
Dr Makhdoomi from Malegaon is a Unani doctor. He was arrested for the blasts that rocked his town in 2006. After spending five years in jail, he was acquitted for lack of evidence.
His acquittal with eight others has been challenged by the state in the high court.
Mohd Ilyas runs a kirana shop in Kota, Rajasthan. He was also acquitted in the 2008 Jaipur blast case after spending over four years in jail. Again, there was no evidence against him.
While Ilyas was arrested because he was a member of the now-banned Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) in the past, Dr Maghdoomi still can't figure out why he was arrested.
When the police arrested Ilyas in 2008, around 30 people from his neighbourhood went to the police station with him as witnesses to his innocence. But his charge sheet reads that he was caught attending a SIMI meeting where the attendees were abusing Hindu gods.
Ilyas was put in a jail cell meant for the bomb blast accused, and the media reports labelled him as a terrorist but he was never charged or tried in court for the Jaipur bomb blast case. His trial was under the UAPA for being a member of SIMI.
"The senior-most officer looked at me and said, 'This man has no connection with the blasts, even I am feeling bad but we have to show something.' I still remember his words. When he filed the FIR last time, he said, 'This man sitting here, he has no connection with the case but we have to show because we have orders from the top'."Mohd Ilyas, Acquitted in 2008 Jaipur blast case
It was said that Dr Makhdoomi had attended meetings in connection with the Malegaon blasts. Makhdoomi says that he was attending to his patients at the time when the said meetings were held. He repeatedly asked the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) to check his clinic for patient logs to prove his innocence. Finally, after five years, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) opened his sealed clinic, checked his register, cross-checked with his patients, and filed the report stating that the arrest made by the ATS was wrong.
"I was ready to give written voluntary custody. I told them to go ahead with the investigation, if you find out my involvement then you can arrest me and if not, leave me. But the intoxication of Muslim hate is overpowering the investigation agency that they are not ready to listen to the truth. They behave like they have done some great work and go on propagating lies through the media. There was no evidence against me in the 20,000 pages of the charge sheet."Dr Farogh Makhdoomi, Acquitted in 2006 Malegaon blast case
Same as in Mohd Ilyas's case, the Mumbai ATS also contended that the accused are linked with the banned SIMI. That they triggered the 2006 Malegaon blasts near Hamidia mosque to instigate the Muslims and incite communal riots.
On 25 April 2016, the Mumbai special court discharged all nine accused, saying they were used as 'scapegoats.'
In his judgment, Judge VV Patil said,
“It seems to me highly impossible that the accused who are Muslim would have decided to kill their own people to create disharmony in two communities that, too, on a day that is Shab-e-Baraat.”
"People in the judicial system, be it police officers, prosecutors or judges. They all need to be sensitised and oriented. They are part of the judicial system but they are not constitutionally conditioned. The moment we start judging the judicial system on our constitutional values we find the justice system to be very weak. And because of that such mistakes happen. And these mistakes have happened, if not then how people have been acquitted in the trials?"VN Rai, Former IPS OfficerSIT Head Samjhauta Bombing (2007-2010)
The Quint reached out to KP Raghuvanshi, former chief of Maharashtra's ATS. The retired additional director general of police had led the ATS investigation of the Malegaon blasts as well as the Mumbai train blasts of 2006. He reiterated that the ATS had done the investigation in a professional manner. However, he declined to comment further citing the matter is in the high court and sub judice.
"I was in police custody remand for 18-20 days. The maximum torture happened there only. I was forced to admit to the crime I did not do."Mohd Ilyas, Acquitted in 2008 Jaipur blast case
The law is clear on custodial torture. Any confession made to the police under duress is inadmissible in criminal trials.
Custodial Torture, Story of Tariq Ahmed Dar
The story of Tariq Dar, reveals allegations of torture in police custody.
Tariq Dar is an MBA graduate. He was framed as mastermind of the 2005 Delhi serial bomb blasts. He was allegedly tortured for over a decade in jail before he was finally acquitted in 2017.
Four years on, he is back in jail – this time arrested by India's counter-terrorism task force NIA, just days before The Quint was to interview him.
In the book, Tariq talks vividly of the alleged physical torture he endured in jail.
"The investigating officer and officers who arrested him asked, 'You still don't know why this is happening?' 'Aren't you a Muslim?' 'Don't you still understand that you are a potential threat to this country and Hindutva?' To which Tariq Dar replied, 'Should I take this as a war against Islam?' The officer said, 'You still don't get it?' Tariq replied, 'If it is so, then I am ready to be martyred'."Manisha Bhalla, Author Baizzat Bari
After the NIA conducted multiple raids in Kashmir in October 2021, Tariq Dar was arrested with four others from Srinagar. He has again been accused of being a terror associate.
Specifically, an 'overground worker' for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM).
The Quint repeatedly tried to reach out to his family at their Srinagar home, but they could not be traced. According to their neighbours, Tariq's daughter and wife have left home and are living with their relatives in some other town.
"In any investigation, the level of torture reflects how poor you are in your capacity as an investigator. You can physically overpower against physical resistance. But torturing during questioning doesn't make sense because the person is in your custody. And you do this because you are in the dark and you feel that torturing will give you the way."VN Rai, Former IPS Officer, SIT Head Samjhauta Bombing (2007-2010)
Absence of Compensation
When your past keeps haunting you, how difficult is it to rebuild your life?
Ilyas was arrested on the day the result for his pre-BEd examination came. He would have trained to become a teacher if he wasn't arrested and incarcerated for four+ years. He had nothing when he returned – he was economically destroyed, his brothers had broken all relations with him.
It will be impossible to rub off the stigma: Mohd Ilyas knows it all too well. But he tries to bring in some semblance of normalcy by giving part-time Mathematics and English tuitions.
Teaching is what gives him happiness: It’s a life he always wanted to live but now all he’s got is a kirana store – his only source of income.
"If that incident hadn't happened, I'd have been a government teacher with a good salary. My children would have been established, they would have been married somewhere good. All of this should be compensated, and that compensation should be taken from the people who accused me of false charges so that they get a lesson."Mohd Ilyas, Acquitted in 2008 Jaipur blast case
Dr Farogh got support from people around. People went to him for their treatment to financially support him. But that's not enough as compared to the loss he has suffered.
He was earning Rs 65,000 per month in 2006 when he was arrested. Quite a huge sum for that time.
But today, after 11 years of being out of jail, Farogh hasn't been able to earn as much anymore. The jail term wrecked his economic prospects.
"Who is going to compensate for my loss? After the case was discharged, we moved to the high court to file an application for compensation. There was a possibility that the high court or government would have established an inquiry commission to recommend the compensation. Instead, the state has challenged the discharge in the high court. Our case is still pending in the high court."Dr Farogh Makhdoomi, Acquitted in 2006 Malegaon blast case
Farogh had bought a 3,000 sq ft plot to construct a hospital before his arrest. His family had to sell the land to cover the expenses of his trial, travel, and cost of lawyers. The plot which was sold for six lakh, is valued at six crore now.
"They cannot compensate for the psychological torture and mental agony but these can be reduced by giving double of what we have lost in five years. To get us back to the place that we have lost in the society. I feel ashamed that there is no law in our country for those who have been wrongly incarcerated, and there is no actions against the culprits."Dr Farogh Makhdoomi, Acquitted in 2006 Malegaon blast case
They struggle to lead a normal life, a life of dignity where their past doesn't overshadow their present. But that hardly happens.
These acquittals are an indictment of the investigating agencies and their malpractices. The court made scathing observations about the investigation but no one was held accountable.
"We don't want revenge. We want to change them. And to bring a change, only love and truth works. You cannot use violence to bring a change."Dr Farogh Makhdoomi, Acquitted in 2006 Malegaon blast case
Were these men acquitted with their prestige and reputation intact? Perhaps NO.
They want to forget and move on. They want to start afresh and make up for the lost years. But can they?