Freed after 12 years in prison, Tariq Ahmed Dar describes the torture he faced, and how judges repeatedly questioned the prosecuting agencies’ case against him.
Srinagar: On November 10, 2005, Tariq Ahmed Dar, an MBA graduate from Solina area in Srinagar, who was working for a leading multinational pharmaceutical company in the Valley at that time, was returning home from work in south Kashmir. On his way back, he was going to pick up his wife, pregnant with their second daughter, from a doctor’s clinic in the city. “It’ll take me just 15 minutes to reach you,” he’d called her to say, minutes before his car was suddenly intercepted by four men in civilian clothes, who blindfolded him, tied his legs and arms and whisked him away in a police vehicle. “I never knew those 15 minutes would turn into 12 years of separation from my family.”
Now 40, Dar returned home on February 17, after over a decade of imprisonment in Tihar jail.
A day before, he was convicted by a Delhi court, while the other two accused in the 2005 Delhi blasts case – Kashmir University student Muhammad Rafiq Shah and a shawl weaver Mohammad Hussain Fazili – were acquitted of all charges. Although Dar was awarded a sentence of 10 years imprisonment under Sections 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, he was released because he had already served 12 years in prison following his arrest in 2005. Convicted on minor charges in a related money-laundering case, which were not initially framed by the police, the court said in its judgment, “In the absence of any evidence regarding Dar being involved in the conspiracy behind these blasts, none of the charges framed against him are made out.”
On February 25, 2017, the Indian Express reported that the police and government had known all along that Dar and the two men charged with him were not involved in the 2005 blasts. Yet the case against them continued for over a decade.
Dar walked free from Tihar’s jail number 3 but he didn’t want to sleep another night in Delhi. He wanted to reach home as soon as possible.
Back home now, Dar says he was never given a chance to narrate his whole story.
He cannot forget that November day over a decade ago when he was taken to an undisclosed police lockup in Srinagar, where he says he was tortured and beaten through the night. The next morning, when he was taken out blindfolded by the same men who had arrested him, he says he thought he was going to be killed. “I began to say my final prayers,” Dar recalls in between greeting visitors and relatives at his residence here in Solina. “After being driven out on the road for a while, when I heard the sound of an aircraft, I realised that I have been brought to the airport to be flown outside the state,” he says.
After reaching Delhi airport, the blindfold was removed and he was taken to Lodhi Colony, where he was kept in the lockup of Delhi Police’s Special Cell. “There they started asking me about the Delhi blasts and why I’d come to Delhi before the blasts,” he says, adding that he told them he had come to the city for work. “From the day one of my arrest, I told them that I knew nothing about the blasts and who carried it out.”
Meanwhile, Dar learned that the Jammu and Kashmir Police had registered a kidnapping case against unknown people in Srinagar and his family had also filed a petition in the Kashmir high court regarding his arrest. “When you’re arrested in any terror case, there’s a proper procedure to be followed and any accused has to be produced before the magistrate first,” Dar points out. “But when I was arrested, I was not even presented before a magistrate and neither was I brought back to Srinagar again for more investigation to prove my terror links,” he says. “The Delhi Police made up a fabricated terror case against me in order to frame me. They kept me in illegal detention for over a month.”
Dar recalled that during his detention, whenever he would profess his innocence and say he was not involved in any way in the Delhi blasts, personnel from the Delhi Police would say: “Agar tum threat nahi ho, potential threat to ho hi” (You may not be a threat now, but you are definitely a potential threat).
Dar also recalls how a Delhi court judge raised doubts against the Delhi Police Special Cell, asking them why they always arrest young Kashmiris at the railway station in Delhi, almost always showing a recovery of “Rs 5 Lakhs, 2kgs of RDX and a pistol,” and accusing them of planning to carry out some blast in the capital, almost always around August 15 or January 26. “Why do you always find them there,” he had asked the prosecuting agencies, Dar recalls the judge as saying. “Is it some fixed schedule you have to follow to frame them?”
During his detention in the Lodhi Colony police lockup, Dar says he was “tortured a lot” for the first five days. “They would beat me up for the whole night and I was also put through water boarding,” he recalls, adding that rats were also released into his cell to extract a confession from him. “They would stretch my legs, besides regularly beating me, and also hang me from chains without my clothes on.” Dar says the police officials also recorded his torture, showing the videos to other detainees brought to the lock up to instil fear.
When, despite being cruelly tortured, Dar continued to maintain his innocence, he says the police then did the unthinkable: “Can you believe it, they brought a pig inside my cell and started rubbing the pig with my body,” he tells me in disbelief. “That was very painful and humiliating, but I still didn’t confess to anything because I knew I was innocent.”
From the Lodhi Colony police cell, Dar says he was taken to another Special Cell lockup in Friends Colony and then to Bengaluru for a narco analysis test, which he had agreed to undertake. Fifty-five days after his arrest in Srinagar, he was shifted to Tihar jail where he was kept in the high security ward, under round-the-clock watch, until his release earlier this month.
While lodged in Tihar jail, Dar learned that the recording of his narco analysis test had been leaked to a news channel, which aired it. “I was the first person in India on whom narco analysis test was done,” Dar says, adding that the leaked recording caused a furore. “In the next hearing, the judge asked the prosecuting agencies to explain how an officially sealed and confidential narco analysis CD was leaked to the channel when it was supposed to be confidential and not even shown to the accused.” Soon, the entire matter was hushed up, Dar says.
Once, while his case was being heard, Dar says the Delhi Police told the judge that he had brought some explosives in a truck to New Delhi from Srinagar. “When they were questioned by the judge about how I could drive a truck with explosives undetected all the way to Delhi, the police then said it was some miscalculation on their part and that there was no truck involved,” he recalls. “Similarly they could not prove how I used my mobile SIM illegally or for any terror activities. Even that police evidence fell flat.”
Dar says he found it funny that he was accused of being the “Laskhar-e-Tayyaba’s chief spokesperson”, “coordinator” and its “financial advisor”. “Can they explain how a person working with a leading multinational company in the Valley with a clean record can be a LeT spokesperson, and that too, a chief spokesperson, as accused by the Delhi Police,” he asks, almost laughing. “Maybe because I was looking after the company’s business in the entire Valley and was coordinating with other units and other employees, I automatically became some coordinator for LeT as well!”
Over the course of his nearly 12-year detention in the Delhi blasts case, about 337 witnesses recorded their statements in the court. “In the first 10 years all that the witnesses would say in the court was that the blasts happened and that they saw some injured people. That was all. Then one of the judges asked why they need to waste the court’s time in every hearing. He said he will write what they’re all saying just once, in one statement mentioning all the names of the witnesses.” The next day, when Dar appeared in the court again for another hearing, he found that judge had been transferred.
At another hearing, he recalls, another judge questioned the prosecuting agencies. “Is there any case against these people?” Dar says the judge asked them in court. “Kyon in pe koi recovery nahi lagaya hai” (Why haven’t you framed them yet by showing some recovery of weapons). Dar recalls the judge throwing the file at the police authorities saying he could tell that the case was “made up” and that the charges had been “fabricated”.
Dar says it took them almost 11 years to prove that they were not guilty of carrying out the 2005 Delhi blasts. “Then a new section was created which was not in the actual FIR and in the original charge sheet either,” he says. “Section 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act was slapped against me. But this section is vague,” he says. Under this section, he was accused of “supporting militant activities,” he points out, “but its scope is such you can convict the whole Kashmir population under this section”. He denies making telephone calls to anyone for any terror related activities before his arrest.
Initially, Dar says, he was accused of being the “mastermind” of the Delhi blasts. “At least this is clear now that I’m not an accused in the blast case and as for being accused under section 39, the maximum punishment for that is ten years and I have already been jailed for about 12 years,” he says.
While in the custody of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, Dar says they also accessed his bank transactions. Since he was the only person managing the company’s operations in the entire Valley, he says he had an account in State Bank of India as his salary would come from the company’s Singapore office. “My distributor had opened another JK Bank account in Batamaloo area here, and then I had another account opened by the company in HDFC Bank when they started operating in the Valley where my company salary would be deposited every month,” he explains. “That is how I had those accounts but the Delhi Police presented my company transactions in my bank accounts in such a manner as if it was some illegal money meant for carrying out some terror activities.”
“This is how I became the so called mastermind of Delhi blasts, as I was called by the media in Delhi,” he says with a smile. “It’s a joke.”
Dar’s reunion with this family was emotional. His 11-year-old daughter, Fatima, who was born after his arrest, asks him why so many people are coming to their house now.
“Being away from her was haunting me as I couldn’t see her when she was born,” he says. “But when I saw her on my return here, I felt very pained as she also reminded me of many other daughters and Fatimas’ of Kashmir who were blinded by pellets last year,” he adds. “Even my daughter could have been one of them.”
Although the court said he had no involvement in the Delhi blasts, Dar says he did not get justice. “The victims of the Delhi blasts who lost their kith and kin also did not get the justice either as they don’t even know who actually carried out the blasts,” he says. “On the other hand, the people responsible for framing innocent people like us and using state resources to frame helpless people are rewarded by the state instead of being punished for falsely implicating people on terror charges.”
“This is injustice for all. And if you call it justice, then you’ll have to change the meaning of injustice,” Dar says.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based out of Srinagar, Kashmir.