Grounded for 5 years, will he ever fly again?

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Photo: Fahad Shah

Imran Ahmad Kirmani, 29
Nelipora hamlet, Handwara Jammu & Kashmir

WHY: Arrested on the purported charges of being a Lashkar-e- Toiba operative planning to carry out 9/11-style terror attacks in the country. He was sent to Tihar Jail.
WHEN: 15 November 2006.
WHERE: Dwarka, New Delhi.

ANYBODY ACCUSED of crime is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. But Kashmiri youth Imran Ahmad Kirmani didn’t enjoy that luxury. For nearly five years, the aeronautical engineer was left to cool his heels inside the notorious Tihar jail on the cooked-up charges of being a terrorist who was planning a 9/11-style attack in the country.

On 15 November 2006, national media outlets screamed that the Delhi Police had foiled a major terror plot by nabbing a terrorist. The police alleged that Imran was a Lashkar-e-Toiba operative and 4 lakh was found on him, which they claimed was to be used to carry out terror attacks.

“Those were the dark days of my life,” recalls Imran, 29, who was acquitted by the Tis Hazari Court on 12 May of all the charges slapped by the police. “I am a free man, but who will return my five years and a promising career? No one answered that in the courtroom.”

Hailing from Nelipora hamlet of Handwara, almost 70 km from Srinagar, Imran’s is a story of Kashmiri youth who had a modest background and doting.parents. He joined the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial College of Aeronautical Engineering in Jaipur for which his father Ghulam Rasool Kirmani, a retired government teacher, spent most of his life savings. Imran also worked part time at a Gurgaon-based aviation academy to supplement his fees.

However, the terror charges stalled his career before it could take off. “I was about to get a job at Air Deccan when the Delhi Police’s special cell picked me up from my flat in Dwarka,” he says.

Soon Imran became another member of a growing list of Kashmiris detained on false charges. He was paraded before the media as a terrorist arrested from a shopping mall ready to launch spectacular attacks. The charges included waging war against the nation and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act under 121, 122, 123 IPC and 120B (criminal conspiracies).

“I wasn’t arrested from a mall. The police seized me from my flat along with Rs 4 lakh my father had given me for buying a flat. I was present

THE MEDIUM-BUILT man with a long face and a little beard claims he was tortured during the initial days while the media showed no interest in his side of the story. His father and mother Sara Begum had protested his innocence constantly. They even appealed to the then President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam. The case went on for five years because of Delhi Police’s inability to produce any evidence to back its accusations.

Despite what the family members believe was “overwhelming evidence” pointing to Imran’s innocence, the wheels of justice rotated so slowly that it destroyed his much-cherished goal of working for a top airline. Along with the psychological torture, the Kirmanis had to liquidate all resources, including their house and two kanal (approximately 10,880 sq ft) of prime agricultural land to secure Imran’s release.

“During this long period, seven judges heard the case. But Justice SS Rathi was the only one who understood the case,” says the elder Kirmani, who is happy that his son is finally a free man. He says he won’t seek damages from any agency but the government should work on his son’s rehabilitation and job.

While Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is reportedly following Imran’s case to provide rehabilitation, the National Conference’s Handwara legislator Chowdhary Muhammad Ramzan told TEHELKA that he too will help the family “if any assistance is sought”. “Imran is as good as any other citizen and deserves rehabilitation,” says the MLA.

Baba Umar is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
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