Special Reports

An evening with a “terror mastermind”

Today I received a wonderful gift. It was from a boy called Imran, one of the 40 innocent Muslim boys (all between 17 and 25 years of age) who were arrested in relation to the bomb blasts in the twin cities of Hyderabad and  Secunderabad. They were released after a long campaign led by Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee and Hyderabad Forum for Justice against the illegality of their detention and torture. Out of these,  Imran was named a 'mastermind' and kept away from other boys in a top security barrack with Naxalite leaders. He was the last to be released, after 16 months detention, longest period among the detained Muslim youth.

I saw him for the first time when Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee began video documentating of the detainees' testimonies. First we recorded Rayees' testimony who was a named witness in the killing of Mojahid, the son of Moulana Islahi, during their protest against arrest of Moulana Naseeruddin. He was tortured and also made to confess to his “crime.” Imran  looked hardly out of teenage, dressed in modern clothes, with a latest edition of Nokia cellphone, extremely articulate in English.

Once he started, there was no stopping him, we hardly needed to prod him to speak. He was 21 or 22 when he got arrested, a student of engineering, working in ICICI as a part-time employee, a dutiful but happy go-lucky young man, with more Hindu friends than Muslim. Having been a resident of Bowinpally all his life, with a father working in NGRI, having studied in Kendriya Vidyalaya, he said, he never 'felt he was a Muslim' nor did his neighbourhood, friends, school made him feel so. More than angry, he still retains the surprise that, of all the people, he was arrested for being a “Muslim”, that too being "a terrorist". The charge looked so outrageous to him that he never believed, despite terrible torture, that anything can come out of it. He was arrested for a 'high tech crime' - of assisting the terrorists to launder money - because of which he was named a mastermind. "Do police know what bank employees do? Don't they know what engineering students read? My textbooks were shown as evidence of my knowledge of 'high-tech' crime, is there anything more ridiculous than this?"

During the torture in a private farm house, he heard screams of other detainees but did not get to meet them. And, alongside the rest of the detainees, he also had to “confess” to his “crime”. "I challenge all the officers. If anyone is tortured like that for two days, he will confess to any crime," he siad. Police threats to his family's welfare also made him to 'admit' to his 'crimes'. What made him survive the prison and the torture was the experience of staying with the Naxalite leaders, whom he affectionately calls Ganeshanna, Shankaranna etc., from whom he derived a lot of inspiration. He told us, 'they eat only one meal a day, though they are given food twice. They are in the prison not for personal gain, but for other people. If people who do such good things get arrested, its ok for me to get arrested too".

After Imran came out on bail, police harassment still continues, he and his family are marked as Muslim, people in the local mosque have stopped speaking to him; his sister's marriage prospects are in jeopardy. But he is determined to write for civil services and join the system. "If one stays out of the system, there is nothing one can do. One should enter the system and change it from within". The boy exuded such faith in India, India's secularism, Indian courts, contrary to my own much depleted one. One could not miss the youthful naivete, or the liberal innocence when he speaks (me, a Muslim?) but to speak it after the brutal torture for being one! One really did not have the courage to puncture that professed faith or innnocence or hope. Last heard, he was working with LokSatta and was giving passionate election speeches.

We met him today again at an Iftar party organized by Lateef Khan and Rafat Seema. Juanid had also come. So we exchanged pleasantries as usual. Towards the end, suddenly Imran says he wants to give something; comes out with a neatly packaged gifts, distributes them to three of us and says, "When I was in jail, it was statements of you people that gave me hope. While the entire media was calling me all kinds of things, it was people like you who said I may be innocent. The work that you do is tremendous. I also want to do such work, not only for Muslims, but for people of all communities." The packaged thing was deeply embarassing but what he said was worth a treasure!    A.Suneetha

Anveshi Research Centre for Women's Studies, Hyderabad

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2009 on page no. 17

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