New Delhi: Abdul Wasey was 18 in 2007, when he was injured in the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad. The blast left nine dead and nearly 60 injured. In 2013, I met him and his father while reporting on the 2013 Dilshuknagar blasts, in which Wasey was injured, once again.
Wasey’s father was a worried man, as this was the second time that he had received a call that his son was in an explosion. Not only was his son in the wrong place at the wrong time twice, the bizarre coincidence had raised the antennas of the doctors who were treating him. They leaked the story to the media, resulting in intense scrutiny and speculation that led the police to Wasey.
I remember Wasey’s father being indignant about this treatment, questioning why no one seemed to care about the psychological trauma his son was going through upon being branded a terror suspect. “The police are asking him if he is affiliated to any group; what he was doing there in the first place. I don’t understand why he can’t be there (Dilshuknagar)!” I recall him saying.
However, Wasey’s story of being branded a terror suspect for belonging to a certain community was not new to the city. In 2007, in the months following the Mecca Majid blast and soon after the twin blasts in Lumbini Park and near Gokul Chaat, up to 60 Muslim men were rounded up by the Hyderabad police and illegally detained and tortured.
The Andhra Pradesh State Minorities Commission (of undivided AP) then appointed advocate L. Ravi Chander to probe these allegations, who found that there was enough evidence that some of them were tortured. Many spent over six months in jail and had to got court for over a year and a half before they were all acquitted. They were then provided with an apology from the state government, along with a “good character” certificate and Rs 3 lakh compensation. I spoke to three men after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court verdict yesterday, all of whom expressed shock at the judgement and had the same questions: “Where did the bombs come from? Who was behind these blasts?”
Ibrahim Junaid is one of these 60 men. He was among the many people who had, in the aftermath of the blast, helped take the injured to hospitals. Two months later, while he was a third year Unani medicine student, he was apprehended and illegally detained by the Hyderabad police under suspicion of plotting and planning the Mecca Masjid blasts.
“I was beaten brutally, my beard pulled at, and accused of being a terrorist and a traitor,” Junaid recalls. He says the police officers interrogating him tried every trick in the book to extract a confession from him. “I questioned the police as to why I was picked up and was further beaten and tortured. When I finally got out of jail, six months later, I was shattered,” he says.
Now a practicing Unani doctor in Hyderabad, he is perplexed by the NIA court judgement acquitting the five accused in the Mecca Masjid case. “I was hoping that justice would finally be delivered for the victims and their families, but the acquittal has left me very disturbed,” he says. For Junaid, the journey so far has been long and arduous. “I lost an entire academic year because of the false charges. Not only that, I lost my place in the college. I had to get a court order to get re-admitted,” he says.
However, the police harassment didn’t stop there. Junaid was often followed by the police and he says he lost his job at a private hospital because of this. “They came to my place of practice and asked them how long I had been working there, what my role was, and apprised them of the false charges,” he says, adding, “Every time there was any attack anywhere else, some of us would be picked up again.” He said the police visited him as recently as 2016. “Eleven years has passed, but people still look at me as an accused despite having been declared innocent. In today’s India, two kinds of people are always attacked – Dalits and Muslims. And now the courts have failed us too.”
Thirty-four-year-old Abdul Wajid Tadban was also one the people who helped transport the injured after the Mecca Masjid blast. He remembers seeing blood everywhere in the mosque and body parts strewn around.
“What I saw that day is indescribable and still imprinted in my memories,” he says. Little did he know that his humanitarian act would bring him under the police’s radar. Three months later, as he was heading out to work, he was surrounded by 25 police officers in mufti, blindfolded and taken away. “I don’t know exactly where I was kept. I suspect it was a farmhouse of sorts, and I was kept here for 12 days.”
His voice shaking, he says, “I was hit brutally; electric shocks given all over my body, including genitals; I was not allowed to sleep and was forced to drink 20-30 litres of water at one go. Between every brutality, the police would give me a 10-15 minute break and ask me to confess to a crime I didn’t do or give names of others from the locality.”
Like Junaid, Tadban too spent over six months in jail. “I used to cry every day and pray to Allah to just get me out of this hellhole. My bail was rejected multiple times, with police accusing me of being an ISI agent or working with the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba.
His life was irreversibly changed and he became a pariah among his friends and relatives. “Everyone thought that if they were to be associated with me then something bad would happen to them too. Even today, I can’t sleep peacefully. I sleep with the help of medicines and am always looking over my shoulder. It’s very difficult for me to get over what happened to me and I don’t think I can ever forget it.”
“Yesterday, the judge has acquitted all five men accused. Where did the bomb come from then? The sky? The ground? And who carried out this horrible attack?” he asks furiously. “Just because I am a Muslim, I was accused of being a Pakistani, of being a traitor. I am a Hindustani and am ashamed at the state of our country now – from Akhlaq to the girl in Kathua – and now I have lost all hope of any justice in this case.”
Mohammed Rayeesuddin, a 37-year-old, also has similar questions for the investigating agencies. He too was falsely implicated in the Mecca Majid blast case, and says he is speechless after the verdict. “First they (Hyderabad police) botched up the investigation by falsely implicating so many of us Hyderabadi youngsters, ruining our lives; then when finally, some honest police and investigating officers conduct an impartial enquiry and find five people as guilty, one of whom confessed, the court cites lack of evidence and hostile witnesses and acquits them. I am a small man, I don’t understand the ways of the courts, but if these institutions can’t deliver justice, where are we supposed to go?”
Rayeesuddin was working as a salesman at a jewellery shop when the blast happened. “I was at home for lunch when I heard that a blast happened at Mecca Masjid and I went there to see if I could help,” he recalls. Three months later, he was picked up by police and kept in detention illegally for a week.
“I think I was kept in a greyhounds cell and I was tortured every single day. My brother had no idea where I was. That was the season of arrests and every other family had one of their sons or husbands or brothers being picked up by the police.” Rayeesuddin too faced police brutality and also was forced to undergo the notorious narco test (which is not admissible in a court of law) along with others.
“Around 25 of us were treated like hardened terrorists and were jailed in high security barracks. We weren’t allowed to meet with family or seek legal counsel at times,” he says. The intense police and media scrutiny in the initial days after their arrest didn’t help matters. “The Telugu and Urdu media reported only the police version. They declared that we were accused even before we were presented before the judge. It was only after pressure from human rights groups that the media began reporting in a much more unbiased manner,” he says.
“I will never forget the headlines accusing me of being a terrorist and traitor.” Eleven years may seem like a lot, but the shadow of false charges has not lifted for him. “I will always be looked at as a suspected terror accused, not as a victim of police brutality. Yesterday, I wanted to go past Mecca Masjid on some work, but I couldn’t because there was intense discussion again about the blasts and the case, and I involuntarily recalled all the torture I was put through. I just have one question now: who did these blasts and who should be held responsible for the nine deaths and injuries from the blast?”
The families of victims too are shell-shocked and disappointed, says Lateef Mohammed Khan, general secretary, Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee. “If the families want to challenge the judgement, we will support them in whichever way we can,” he said, adding that the judge resigning immediately seems very suspicious.
Mohammed Saleem, whose 18-year-old nephew Shaiq Nayeem was killed in the blasts, says that all he feels now is shock and a sense of hopelessness. “Since 11 years, my sister was waiting for the judgement day. And now that it has come, she has become a shell again. She knew she could never get her son back, but we all hoped that the least we could get was justice for his death. Now that hope has been snatched from us,” he said. Questioning the way the investigation was carried out over the last decade, he asks “if now the public has to catch the culprits, as the authorities from police to CBI to NIA have clearly failed to do so.”
D.V.L. Padma Priya is a freelance journalist who was formerly with The Hindu, Hans India and Médecins sans frontières.