FAKE TERRORISTS 3, A series on Kashmiri youth
Shakeel Ahmad Khan, 50
Hazratbal, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir
WHY: Arrested for allegedly plotting to assassinate top politicians like Murli Manohar Joshi and former J&K governor Jagmohan. Served four years and three months at Tihar Jail
WHEN: 24 April 1992.
WHERE: Lajpat Nagar II, New Delhi
SHAKEEL AHMAD KHAN, 50, vividly remembers the week in April 1992 when the Valley shook with killings and arrests during cordons. Like many others in Srinagar’s Hazratbal locality, a frightened Khan, then 31, decided to come to Delhi and find work, leaving behind his wife and three children, on 19 April 1992
“I never knew my decision would result in permanent isolation and a terrorist tag,” says Khan who has studied till Class VIII and had a government job at Srinagar’s State Motor Garage. Within days of his landing in Delhi, Khan was arrested by the Delhi Police for “carrying explosives”.
Prior to his arrest, Khan remembers that he was staying at a carpet trader friend’s place before a raiding party led by then ACP Sham Singh nabbed him. The police claimed to have arrested Shakeel along with six other Kashmiris from a red colour Maruti van at Lajpat Nagar II. Later an FIR (169/92) was slapped against all the accused under Sections 4, 5 TADA (P) Act; 4, 5 Explosive Substance Act and 120 B IPC 25/54/59 Arms Act.
“I was arrested from my friend’s residence on 24 April (1992) but the police lied about it and said they picked me up on 29 April. I was taken to Badarpur and Lodhi Road police stations and tortured. The police wanted me to admit that I had plotted to kill BJP leaders, including Murli Manohar Joshi and former Jammu & Kashmir governor Jagmohan. Every time I refused, I was severely thrashed and abused,” he claims.
On 29 April, Khan found himself sitting in a courtroom as prosecutors portrayed him as a “Kashmiri terrorist” who was planning to target top politicians and busy places in Delhi. The trial stretched for four years and three months before Khan was granted bail to visit his family for the first time. After all these years of incarceration at Tihar Jail, Khan returned but Kashmir and its people had changed before the autumn of 1996.
“When I went home, Kashmir was up in flames. Militants who would roam freely in Hazratbal were now running for life as Nabid (renegades/government gunmen) had taken over. Friends and acquaintances suggested that I go back to Delhi. But Delhi had scared me since then,” he says.
Khan’s wife and children had been living on relief money donated by a local shrine all those years. They were ostracised by relatives and society. Worse, his elder son Imran Ahmad quit his studies to work as a mechanic and the family had to sell their autorickshaw and a portion of the house.
“I wept for weeks when I learnt that they had been eating only once a day,” says Khan.
Khan’s ordeal finally ended in August 2002 when all the seven men were declared innocent and acquitted of all charges by Additional Sessions Judge SN Dhingra at a Delhi court.
The judge pointed to serious holes in the prosecution’s “unreliable” story. The court observed that the men had been arrested much earlier than what the police claimed and the prosecution story about the recoveries “stands in a cloud of doubt”.
“The police couldn’t prove their lies. But I lost those precious years because of those lies. No one has ever tried finding out why the police did that and from where they got the arms to falsely implicate us?” Khan demands to know.
Today, this Hazratbal resident with his grownup children and his former job, has slowly integrated into society over the years.
Recalling the experience of Tihar Jail still sends shivers down his spine. He sums up his journey thus. “My bad luck, I could say. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in Tihar where staffers abuse you, inmates beat you and the strongest criminals make you clean their cells. Who says Tihar is run by the police? It’s crime-hardened criminals who manage it for them,” he says.
Baba Umar is a Correpsondent with Tehelka.