The first thing that strikes you about Aamir is his overwhelming optimism. He was abducted by the police in 1998 when he was 18 years old, and tortured and beaten in jail.
In India, that‘s the amount of time people serve when they are sentenced to life in prison.
Kidnapped, Not Arrested
At around 9:00 pm on 20 February 1998, Aamir was picked up by a group of men near his home in old Delhi. They did not identify themselves as policemen and kept Aamir in custody illegally for seven days. He still calls his abduction a kidnapping, not an arrest.
He was severely tortured during that time. His abductors made him sign blank papers. Later, he found out he had been framed for a series of low-intensity bomb blasts that took place in Delhi and adjoining areas between 1996 and 1997.
He did not know why he had been picked up till he was finally presented in court.
In Prison, Dreams Shattered
I knew I was innocent and I would get out of prison one day. So I decided to continue my studies. I finished a BBM and enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree.
But Aamir’s attempts at getting an education were thwarted by his jailor. The warden at the time had a “special love” for those accused in cases of terrorism, according to Aamir. The jailor had Aamir beaten up and thrown in solitary confinement for five months.
The cell was dark, without a ray of light. In those five months, Aamir’s books were taken away. His eyesight suffered as did his memory and overall mental health.
Aamir was unable to continue his studies. He had hoped to become a lawyer or journalist.
A Free Man, But With Some Questions
Of the 17 cases against Aamir, 15 were dismissed by 2010. He was moved from Delhi to Dasna jail in Ghaziabad for the remainder of the cases. There, he could not find a lawyer for a long time. No one wanted to accept the case of a “terrorist” and a “Pakistani”.
Finally, a human rights lawyer from Delhi fought for him. Fifteen material witnesses did not support the police’s story. Aamir walked out of prison a free man in 2012.
He has been working with human rights NGOs since his release. He now lives in Delhi with his wife and his daughter.
But he still has some questions. Was he “arrested” because of his name? Is that why he wasn’t granted bail for 14 years, while others accused of terrorism got bail, just because they had a different religion, a different last name?
Editor: Kunal Mehra
Cameraperson: Sanjoy Deb
(This story was originally published on 4 March 2016 and has been republished after the accused in the Hyderabad suicide blast case were acquitted on 10 August 2017.)
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