By Uma Sudhir
“You tell the world beta that we are not terrorists, that we can never be terrorists.’’ An almost vehement plea from the mother of the young man who is being credited with causing a change of heart in Swami Aseemanand, leading to his reported confession before investigating agencies.
“He told my son he saw Krishna’s face in my Kaleem and that is why he wanted to confess whatever he knew about the Mecca Masjid blast and other blasts. People used to say my sons are terrorists. We would not get even a house on rent. I hope all that will change now.’’
I was meeting Abdul Kaleem’s family on the day he was to come home on bail later that evening. His mother, sister and younger brother were at the Kushaiguda city courts in Hyderabad trying to complete the formalities and paying the sureties for his conditional release, after 80 days inside Chanchalguda Jail.
The family feels that Kaleem going to jail this time was almost pre-ordained by a higher power. Kaleem was arrested in October for allegedly trying to pass on a cellphone to his brother Khaja who is inside Cherlapally Jail, accused of terror links. Aseemanand was brought to Chanchalguda Jail after his arrest in November 2010 for investigations linked to the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case.
“Allah ke fazlon karam se aur mere bhai ki wajah se woh insaan badal gaya. Hamare zariye Allah talla , Aseemanand ko ek achchee naseehat, insaaniyat yaad dila diye,’’ Kaleem’s sister Shehnaz Parveen tells me.
Did Kaleem know who Aseemanand is and why he was brought to Chanchalguda Jail, I ask her. Yes, I had told him and he told me he wanted to tell Aseemanand about how he had spent one and a half years inside Chanchalguda Jail, after being arrested in relation to the same case.
Shenaz says Kaleem was only being himself if Aseemanand says Kaleem was respectful and served him food or brought him water. Was there no anger in him, I ask. Shenaz tells me her brother told her “woh khud itne kamzor dikhte hain, unpar main kya gussa karoon’’.
Later in the evening, when Kaleem walked out of jail, a small hero’s welcome was awaiting him. Not just his family, but all those Muslim youth who were accused of terror after the Mecca Masjid and twin blasts in Hyderabad in 2007 were feeling vindicated.
“Till I was told about his statements in the media, I did not know he was going to confess like this. We used to sit together and talk and I told him how I lost one and a half years of my life and how my law degree eduction was disrupted because of all this. I am grateful to Allah that it has all turned out like this,’’ Kaleem told us.
I met Rayeesuddin, Junaid, Raheem and others, all of who I had first met in 2008 for a report titled `The other side of terror’ that I did one year after the twin blasts in Hyderabad on August 25. They were among close to a hundred youth, all Muslim, picked up for questioning after the Mecca Masjid and twin blasts. They were allegedly subjected to torture in illegal custody, publicized as suspects behind the bomb blasts but the cases slapped on them were unrelated to either the Mecca Masjid or the twin blasts.
“They charged me with conspiracy and waging war against the state by watching CDs of the Gujarat carnage in a burial ground in Boribunda. Who supplies current to an abandoned place of burial when most homes don’t have a regular supply,’’ Rayees had asked then in wry humour. Not that I could see anything so criminal about watching a CD, even if its contents had been objectionable.
“The fact is I, Khaja (Kaleem’s brother) and Shahed Bilal (said to be south India commander of Huji) lived in the same neighbourhood as children. So we knew each other. While questioning, the police would ask me, do you know Shahed Bilal. I would say, yes. They would get excited and say, he knows Shahed Bilal, so he must be part of the conspiracy. How can knowing somebody be a crime? Knowing him became a crime. Similarly friends who knew me were picked up, simply because they knew me. The chain kept growing like that.’’
Rayees says Kaleem spent time in jail the same time as him and was also named as an accused in the same case number 198, for allegedly conspiring against the state. They were among 22 of the 32 Muslims named as accused and subsequently acquitted. But the case is still open.
“I am still named an `absconder’ in the case of 2004 where violence broke out near the DGP’s office after Gujarat police officer Narendra Amin shot dead my friend Mujahid at pointblank range. I was an eyewitness to the murder. I have been in police custody, chargesheeted and also acquitted in the other case, but I am still called `absconding’. After some years, they will suddenly say he was absconding for so many years and now we have caught this `dreaded terrrorist’.’’
“I don’t know how anyone can really right the wrongs that we have suffered. But at least after this, they must give us a clean chit. Close case number 198 and talk about compensating youth who lost so much by being labelled terrorists,’’says Rayees.
There is consensus among Rayees and other Muslim youth like himself as also civil rights groups that the so-called confession by Swami Aseemanand appears way too simplistic to be taken at face value.
“Kaleem is a nice boy. While Aseemanand may have been impressed with him, I am sure he has other motivations driving his action,’’ says civil liberties activist Lateef Khan. “Aseemanand is probably trying to divert attention from local groups that may have helped him. He also gains public sympathy and the sympathy of the courts. May be he is trying to ensure his own safety as well by turning a prosecution witness.
“As a civil rights activist, I can only say that whether it is a Kaleem or an Aseemanand. a Muslim or a Hindu who is accused of a crime, due process must be followed in conducting a fair and free and scientific investigation. Only then can confidence in the law and justice machinery be restored.’’