When govt will apologise to its innocent “terror” victims: Manisha Sethi


“When actor Shah Rukh Khan was detained for a couple of hours at a New York airport recently, the media as well as Indian authorities went into overdrive and sought an apology from the United States administration. When American officials promptly said “sorry” for SRK’s detention, the Indian government rejected the ‘mechanical apology’. Ironically, the very same government is in no mood to apologise to the hundreds of Muslim youth who have been illegally detained, tortured, branded terrorists and condemned, in spite of being innocent, says Manisha Sethi, Member of Jamia Teacher’s Solidarity Association.

Says Manisha Sethi, “These youth have waited for an apology for their wasted years, for the stigma, the loss of dignity and the torture they have undergone. May we ask the hyper-active and hyper-sensitive Indian government to tender apologies – and a genuine apology please, not a mechanical one – for illegally detaining, incarcerating, torturing – in short, destroying and tearing apart the lives of hundreds of its own citizens – supposedly to fight terror.”

Mohammad Amir Khan had to spend ‘half his life in prison before the case against him fell apart as there was no evidence against him. ‘Will someone apologise to him for his lost childhood, his grief-crazed mother’s paralysis, his heartbroken father’s early death and his broken, crumbling home?’ asks Sethi.

Khan spent 14 years in jail in connection with 20 cases of bomb blasts. A resident of Azad Market in New Delhi, Khan was picked up on February 20, 1998, and implicated in 20 blast cases. Today, he has been acquitted in 17 cases and a sentence of life imprisonment against him has been overturned by the Delhi high court. Two of his cases are currently going through the appeal process. Those years in jail have not only taken a toll on him, but on his entire family. His father Hashim Khan died of a heart attack after struggling to prove that his son was innocent. Ironically, when Mohammad returned home after his acquittal, his mother was barely able to recognise him as she had suffered a brain hemorrhage and a paralytic stroke. Life will never be the same for Mohammad. He is still afraid of a witch-hunt by the police and prefers to spend most of his time at home, since he fears that the police may try to frame him again.

Syed Maqbool Shah had to spend 14 years in a high-security prison because the Delhi police falsely claimed that the tyre of a stolen car, used in the Lajpat Nagar blasts in 1996, was recovered from him. In 2010, the courts pronounced Shah innocent. By then, all that was left of his life could be bundled up in a small pouch: his mercy petition, copies of handwritten letters pleading for justice addressed to all the chief ministers of Jammu and Kashmir since, Union home ministers and the International Committee of Red Cross, his jail diaries and a passport-size photo of Shah when he was merely 17 years old, taken at the time of his arrest. He was arrested on May 21, 1996, and sent to Tihar Jail. Today, he is 32 years old and finally a free man, who is wondering how to make a fresh start. He carries with him diaries which detail his sufferings in jail and hopes to get them published soon. He was in Delhi with his brothers at the time of the blasts. He was picked up during a raid and then charged under anti-terror laws and the Indian Explosives Act. He was studying in class 12 at the time of the incident.

After a marathon legal battle, fraught with anxiety and grief, he was finally declared innocent. The joy of his release was shadowed by the death of his father and sister, who had fought hard to prove his innocence. Soon after being released, Shah left for the graveyard where his family members had been buried. Today, Shah wants justice, rehabilitation and at least an apology. But that seems unlikely. When he contacted the J&K chief minister’s office and the Union home ministry, he was told that they were unaware of his case. No one can ever compensate him for his loss. The only thing Shah wants now is a government job, so that he can support himself and live with dignity.

Shakeel Ahmed Khan spent six years in jail after being booked under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act for allegedly conspiring to assassinate BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi and former J&K governor Jagmohan. His family was reduced to penury and survived with donations from a local shrine.

Khan, a resident of Kashmir, had come to Delhi in search of work. He was picked up by the police and charged under the Explosives Act soon after he arrived in Delhi. During detention, every time he pleaded that he was innocent, he was tortured more. After years of legal battle, justice finally came his way. Throughout his ordeal, his wife and children had survived on the relief money donated by a local shrine. They could not manage with the meagre amount and survived on just one meal a day, says a weeping Khan. Today his life is limping back to normal but the damage has already been done. Will he get an apology from the government?

These are just a few of the many men whose lives have been damaged irreversibly by a vindictive and unapologetic system. “Who will pay for the 11 men who spent three years in solitary cells on charges of helping SIMI? The Andhra Pradesh government has channelised funds of the Mecca Masjid administration as compensation to some of the Muslim men who were wrongfully implicated in the double blasts case. But an apology is still not forthcoming,” says Manisha Sethi.

Dozens of those falsely implicated by the Special Cell of the Delhi police – Saquib Rehman, Bashir Ahmed Shah, Nazir Ali Sofi, Ghulam Moinuddin Dar, Abdul Majid Bhat, Abdul Qayoom Khan, Birender Singh, Imran Kirmani, Gulzar Ahmed Ganai and Amin Hajam – had been accused of being operatives of the Inter Services Intelligence, Laskar-e-Tayiba or Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. They were all later acquitted by the courts. “Does anyone, anywhere in the machinery of our government ever feel any remorse when young men like Rashid Hussain (an engineer picked up in connection with Jaipur blasts) are detained for questioning and when their employers Infosys – otherwise the paragons of corporate social responsibility – refuse to let them return to their jobs,” asks Sethi.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2012 on page no. 5

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