Coming to grips with freedom

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LAST WEEK, TEHELKA published stories of four ordinary men branded as terrorists and jailed by the Special Cell of Delhi Police. Continuing with the series, Brijesh Pandey profiles two more “terrorists”, recently freed by the lower courts, who are struggling to overcome their trauma

‘They Still Think Of Me As A Terrorist’

GULZAR AHMED GANAI, BA student
MOHAMMAD AMIN HAJAM, J&K Revenue Department

Traumatised ‘I will never travel anywhere in India again,’ says Gulzar Ganai, second from left
Photo: A Sarthak

“I WILL NEVER travel anywhere in India again,” Gulzar Ahmed Ganai, 23, declares. And well he might for his only trip outside Kashmir — to Delhi in 2006 — completely changed his life and that of his cousin Mohammad Amin Hajam, 32, a junior assistant in the Jammu and Kashmir Revenue Department in Pattan. Ganai, a BA student at the time, arrived in Delhi on November 23, 2006 with Hajam, who wanted to buy gold ornaments for his elder sister’s marriage and get his camcorder repaired.

Instead, the cousins were paraded publicly by the Special Cell of Delhi Police on December 10, 2006, as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) members from whom 1.5 kg of RDX and Rs 6 lakh had been recovered. Police claimed they had intercepted a call from Mohammad Akmal alias Abu Tahir, a LeT divisional commander in Kashmir, saying that he was sending two men to collect a consignment of explosives, arms and hawala money meant for terrorist activities. On the basis of this intercept, a police team led by the late Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma claimed to have arrested Ganai and Hajam as they alighted from a Delhi bus on route No 729 from Dhaula Kuan to Mahipalpur on December 10. The police even produced a photograph of the accused from the arrest site.

But Ganai has a different story, which Additional Sessions Judge Dharmesh Sharma of the Patiala House Court agreed with, while setting the cousins free on November 12 last year. Justice Sharma was critical of “the way proceedings and documentation work was done at the spot”, saying “it smacks of a very unprofessional attitude”. He added, “… I wonder if it is a human mistake [by the Special Cell] or something else”, and asked “if the mistakes are bonafide or mistakes committed while attempting to cook up the entire story”.

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‘What stunned all of us was the brazenness with which the thing was planted,’ says their lawyer

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Ganai says Hajam and he had been in Delhi for four days and were about to return to Kashmir when “about 30 armed men in civilian dress stopped and encircled the auto-rickshaw we were travelling by Kashmiri Gate [near Red Fort]. We were pushed into a white Santro and then blindfolded and handcuffed. We were then taken to what we later found was the office of Special Cell in Lodhi Colony. We were tortured and abused and electric shocks were followed by 12 days of relentless questioning.” ‘You’re from Lashkar. You have come here to carry out bomb blasts’, they were repeatedly told.

Around 9.30 pm on December 10, 2006 Ganai and Hajam were told: “Come, we have to take you somewhere.” “We thought they were going to kill us,” Ganai recalls. The cousins were handcuffed, made to board a white jeep that had small “windows covered with thick gauze” and driven to “some market place near a flyover”. Their handcuffs were opened there and they were told to step down and sit on the road “in front of a few shops”, he says. “They put my bag in front of me and opened it. It had a lot of money and something else in it. None of it was mine.”

One of the armed men who was in the vehicle with them, carrying “AK-type guns and pistols” took some photographs. Ganai says police told passers-by “we have caught terrorists with money and RDX”. The “terrorists” were then driven back to the “same place [the Special Cell office]”. The next day, they were produced in the Tees Hazari court where the “judge didn’t ask” them anything, remanding them to five days’ police custody. “During those five days they made me sign on many sheets of blank paper,” says Ganai. What followed was three years in Tihar Jail.

However, the evidence the Special Cell had so triumphantly produced before the media was shown up to be fabricated. When Sonu Dahiya and Thati Ram, the conductor and driver respectively of the bus on which police claimed the cousins were travelling appeared in court, the case fell apart. On being questioned by lawyer MS Khan, Dahiya and Ram said the last trip of the bus had been cancelled on December 10, 2006 and no vehicle was plying at 9.15 pm — the time at which police claimed to have arrested the cousins as they alighted at Mahipalpur. “What stunned all of us was the brazenness with which the whole thing was planted on Ganani and Hajam. The police did not even bother to check whether the bus ran on that day or not,” Khan says. But this was not all. After looking at the “site” photographs, the court said it was “astonishing” that “the background of the place” was not visible. “This is a grave lapse in investigation; the photo should have been taken from a better angle,” it added. The Special Cell never produced the camera memory card to authenticate its claim.

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FACT FILE

 Both were arrested on December 10, 2006; 1.5 Kg RDX and Rs 6 lakh ‘recovered’ from them

 Accused of being conduits for LeT commander Abu Tahir

 Acquitted after three years in November 2009

 Judge wondered if police made bonafide mistakes or were trying to ‘cook up’ the story

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Worse still, ACP (Special Cell) Sanjeev Yadav, under whose supervision the case was handled, admitted in court that the form accompanying the RDX that was sent to the Central Forensic Science Laboratory for testing was wrongly prepared. Contradicting its own case, the form that the Special Cell filled showed that the RDX had been recovered from Hajam and the detonator and money from Ganai; the police had claimed the opposite in public. “There is no explanation about the error in filling up the CFSL form and the contradiction in the statements of ACP Sanjeev Yadav,” Justice Sharma said.

They may have been released but such has been their trauma that Hajam does not even want to talk about the episode and Ganai refuses to be photographed. “Not even my house,” he says. As we leave his house, a village elder walks up to Ganai. “My son is also in jail for the last one year. He was picked up outside the village while going to work. Can you help?”

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