Jailed, Acquitted Kashmiris Released After 23 Years Try to Reconnect with the World

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Ali Mohammad Bhat, 50, spent 23 years of life in jails in Delhi and Jaipur. Rajashthan High Court acquitted Bhat and four others on July 21 of all charges.

While narrating horrific experiences of inside jail, the released Kashmiris are thankful to Jamaat-e-Islami people for their support and to noted Supreme Court lawyer Kamni Jaiswal, whom they call an angel and Prof S A R Geelani.

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily Exclusive

SRINAGAR — Mirza Nisar sits cross-legged in the corner of a hall at his home in Fateh Kadal locality of Srinagar. Periodically he gets up and welcomes the visitors with warm hugs and broad smiles. He fails to recognize most of them.

His brother, Mirza Iftikhar serves salt tea in porcelain cups and freshly baked Bakirkhani to the visitors. Some also relish ice-cold lemon water to beat the summer heat.

Nisar, 41, arrived in Srinagar two days back after spending 23 years of life in jails in Delhi and Jaipur on false charges.

On July 21, Rajashthan High Court acquitted Nisar and four others including Lateef Ahmad Waja (44) and Ali Mohammad Bhat (50) of Srinagar of all charges in connection with the case of the bomb explosion in Samleti village of Rajasthan in 1996. The other two persons acquitted are Abdul Goni of Doda in Jammu and Rayees Beg of Agra. In 2014, Delhi High Court absolved them of the charges related to the case of explosion in Lajpat Nagar that hapend in 1996.

The police had charged them under different acts and section of the Indian penal code. “I don’t think there is any act that police had missed to use against them,” says Iftikhar who was at the forefront of the legal battle. He goes on to mention the numbers that identify these Acts and sections. “It was 302, 307, 120-B, 121, 345 and others.” These acts show that they were accused of murder and waging war against the state.

Iftikhar has also spent 17 years of his life in Delhi’s Tihar jail. He was released in 2014 after prosecution failed to prove charges against him related to Lajpat Nagar blasts.

Lateef Ahmad Waja can’t believe that he is free and home. He has not been able to sleep properly since his arrival at home. “I think all the time how I am free,” he says. “my eyes are strained,” he says in a feeble tone.

Lateef Ahmad Waja.

The trio was arrested in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal where they would go regularly for the business of handicrafts. It was late afternoon when a group of armed men in plain clothes entered the apartment. Lateef Ahmad Waja was busy offering Asr Namaz. “They showed me the gun and asked me to accompany them.” Waja was taken to a place where he met Nisar and Ali Mohammad. There they came to know that they are under the custody of the special cell of Delhi police.

From Kathmandu, the police took them to Gorakhpur, a border district in east UP. After spending a couple of days there, police drove the trio to Delhi. “The journey to Delhi was painful,” Ali Mohammad Bhat remembers. “We were made to lay flat on the metallic floor of the vehicle as the policemen watched and laughed.”

In Delhi, the police interrogated them for over a week before they were sent to judicial remand. Nisar says, he was stripped naked and beaten by bamboo sticks and leather belts. “I was subjected to electric shocks,” Nisar recollects painfully. He alleges that police was trying to force him to accept the charges. “I was forced to sign blank papers during the interrogation.”

For Ali Mohammad, the interrogation was “psychological torture”. Police would ask same questions repeatedly about the date of birth and life as a toddler, he says.

Iftikhar who also had to endure torture and interrogation is thankful that they were not forced to remove underwear. “Back then police and intelligence agencies were not trained in Israeli tactics of torture,” Iftikhar says. He recounts stories of humiliating torture used on many Muslim inmates who were arrested many years after them. “They were forced to drink urine and sit with pigs,” Iftikhar says.

“When we were in police custody I thought we will be freed after some days because we were innocent,” Bhat says.

Mirza Nisar, 41, on the left.

However, they were presented in court and then shifted to Delhi’s Tihar jail where they spent twenty days. Then they were taken to Jaipur jail on remand in connection to same blast. “We spent nine months in Jaipur jail before returning to Tihar,” Bhat recounts.

During the decade of 2000, they would shuttle between Delhi and Jaipur. After acquittal in Lajpat Nagar blast case, they remained confined to Jaipur jail. “Jaipur was worse than Tihar,” Nasir says. He cites the instance of the murder of a Pakistani inmate who was stoned to death by fellow inmates in the aftermath of Pulwama incident.

“Instead of punishing those who killed him, the jail security restricted Kashmiri and other Muslim inmates to their cells. When they protested their restrictions, they were beaten by non-muslim inmates. “I was beaten badly that I had to be hospitalized,” says Waja. His bald head has the mark of the gash and his leg is still reeling from the injuries. “I can’t sit while I keep my left leg folded for long,” Waja says.  When asked why the police did not protect them, Bhat says, “Police would always support them against us.”

It was after the intervention of local Jamaat-e-Islami people in Jaipur that they were let free from cells. “Jamaat people brought human right workers to the jail and they asked the jail authorities to let us free from cells.”

On Monday when the trio was released, the first thing they did was they went to Jamaat office. “We wanted to say thank you to them,” Nisar says. “They would sometimes provide legal assistance to needy inmates or help in making accommodation arrangements for the relatives who visited inmates from far off places,” Nisar remembers Jamaat people with good words. “They are pearls.”

Nisar is thankful to two persons, in particular, noted Supreme Court lawyer Kamni Jaiswal and Prof S A R Geelani, a Kashmiri academic who was wrongly jailed in connection with 2001 parliament attack. He was acquitted of all charges in 2003.

It was through Geelani that their case reached to the hands of Jaisawal.

“Kamni madam was an angel for us,” Nisar says. “Despite being a big lawyer she did not charge us any fee and fought our case with dedication and ensured we are set free.” Kamini took up their case and appeared as their counsel in Jaipur High Court. “She appeared nearly a dozen times but charged no fee,” Iftikhar says. “We just provided for her hotel and air ticket.”

Nisar says, he sometimes would imagine dying in jail. “It was a scary thought,” Nisar says, “Alhumdulillah I am free now and I want to enjoy this freedom.” He hasn’t yet given much thought to his future, he says.

Ali Mohammad Bhat broke down at the grave of his father who died when Bhat was in jail. — Media photo

In these twenty-three years, a lot has changed for Nisar, Waja, and Bhat. “I lost my father in this time,” Bhat regrets missing his father’s funeral. When he reached home on Wednesday he first went to the graveyard where he broke down. The video of the heartbreaking scene from the graveyard went viral on internet triggering emotional reactions. He plans to open some business and do social work for needy people, he says.

Bhat has used the time spent in jail in learning reading Arabic langauge. A Shia Muslim by faith, he has also read translations and commentaries of the Quran by late Sayyid Qutub of Egypt and late Maulana Maududi of Pakistan. “I wrote complete Quran with my hands while I was in tihar Jail,” Bhat says with pride.

Waja can’t believe he is free. “I think I am in a dream.” His Uncle Abdul Wahid, a medical doctor, is aghast at state for “destroying” the life of his nephew. “He has lost prime years of his youth which he could have used to build his career, marry and raise family,” Wahid says in an angry tone. He tries to make Waja understand, “those who endure a tough time in this world will see better in the world Hereafter”.

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