KOLKATA — It took 19 years for Murshidabad’s Abdullah Salafi to get a clean chit from the Indian judiciary. On a cold windy night of December, way back in 1998, Abdullah, a religious preacher, was picked up by Sagardidhi Police on his way to a community programme. Without much clarification, the 38-year-old preacher was imprisoned for 90 odd days, before being granted bail.
Abdullah made it to the headlines when arrested and was immediately branded as a traitor and terrorist. Ironically, when he was declared innocent and released by Kolkata’s session court, there were not many takers for the news.
Commenting on finally clearing his name, Abdullah said, “I welcome the court’s decision. But this entire ordeal has made me endure many social stigmas.”
He added, “It was only when I was shifted to the Alipore Central Jail that I understood the reason for my arrest. I had been labelled as an ISI agent by the Special Branch (SB) of Kolkata Police. Akhlaq Ahmed, Abu Nasir and Mritonjoy Das, were three other Muslim youths who had been arrested for the same reason.”
However, the police couldn’t bring any charges against him and hence he had been granted bail after 90 days. However, the bail meant tackling a host of issues and questions that he had to address.
“Even after being granted bail, I witnessed some of my relatives distancing themselves from me. However, there were some who believed that I was innocent. For 19 years I have been visiting the court, attending sessions after sessions to prove my innocence. For many, it could have seemed that I was leading a normal life, as I got my daughters married. But life was hell for me as the police kept trying its best to frame me. Today, Allah has answered my prayers.”
Speaking to Caravan Daily, Abdullah’s advocate, Sanjoy Gupta said, “In 2004, when I took his case, he had been accused under four sections- 121, 121A and later under 121, 467 and 471 of the IPC. However, the investigating agency had failed to produce a charge sheet against him. Following which, Special Judge, Kumkum Sinha of the City Sectional Court, declared him innocent.”
He blamed the long delay in getting justice on the frequent transfers of public prosecutors. He added, “We had no hearings for almost five years for this case.”
Recalling his days in police custody, Abdullah said, “My family has had to suffer the most. They had to face a volley of awkward questions and even face social boycott.”
A simple case of mistaken identity is what caused the ordeal. Elaborating on the same he revealed, “My first name, Abdullah, and this man whom the police were searching for was called Abdullah and had a SIMI link. He was the editor of Rupantor, a Bengali magazine. It was on this ground that I was granted bail.”
However, having had to wait for nearly two decades has turned Abdullah bitter about the regional media, which had gone overboard in branding him as a terrorist.
He said, “When I was arrested many Bengali papers declared me a traitor. Today when I have been given a clean chit, they all have chosen not to cover the news at all.” However, he maintained that the verdict brought huge relief not just for him but for the whole community, as it reinstates the belief that we have in the judiciary.