Branded “terrorists” for nearly 12 years under the Terrorists and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA), the five convicts, who were acquitted by the Supreme Court, returned home Sunday evening to break their fast (roza) with their families. The Indian Express met some of the prisoners and found them relieved to be free of the tag.
Former Gujarat minister Mohammad Surti (78) came out of the Lajpore jail in Surat, walking with the aid of a walker. He had to be carried to the vehicle by his son Amin. He said, “Earlier, people, including my friends and relatives, used to meet me with fear. Now, after my release as an ‘innocent’, they meet me without fear and even feel proud.” Surti was state minister of transport and ports in the Congress government between 1980-85.
Surti and four others —identified as Mustaq Patel, Hussain Ghadiyali, Salim Memon and Yusuf Nalbadh — were released from jail on Sunday evening, after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Friday in the two blasts that killed a school girl in Surat in January 1993. The blasts were believed to have been carried out to avenge the Babri Masjid demolition.
Of the 12 acquitted in the case, two have died, one has been absconding and the rest have finished their sentence. They were arrested in 1995 and sentenced for up to 20 years under TADA, a law which is now repealed. Their supporters and family members came with a musical band and garlands to greet them outside the jail.
Outside his home in Rampura, Surti’s wife Ameena, her daughter and society residents waited to break their fast with Surti. “After coming out, I received many calls from Congress leaders from Surat city as well as from the state and Centre, who have wished me. I will not disclose their names.
My daughter, who is in London, also called me up and congratulated me and she is coming down to celebrate Eid.” Surti further said, “Now, I am tension-free as the black spot on my character has been removed.” He added that earlier when people came to meet him during parole, they came discreetly.
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During his time in prison, Surti’s business did not do well. The family was into shrimp farming, but the land provided on lease by the government, was taken back. His son, Amin, then got into supplying chemicals to the textile industry.
Surti, who is a Hafiz (who knows the Quran by heart) and Aalim (qualified scholar designated by a madrasa), spent most of the time in prison reciting the Holy book. He says, “The initial three years in the jail were tough as the jail police used to harass us, beat us and humiliate us. After three years, the behavior of jail officials started getting sympathetic towards us and for the last few years, whenever a new jail superintendent got transferred to our jail, he would meet us once in two or three months.” He added, “As a minister, I have experienced political power and it was ironical that this very power was used against me.”
Hussain Ghadiyali (75), a resident of Ranitalao in Surat, is originally from Hansot taluka in Bharuch district. He was welcomed by his daughter, sons and other relatives. He was immediately taken to his ancestral home in Hansot to meet relatives, who came to receive him on Sunday evening.
Ghadiyali said, “We stayed in jail for over 11 years with a taint on our foreheads. Coming out from the jail without the tarnish is something we had never dreamt of. In these last years, I lost my wife and my children gave up their education. Slowly, everything should become normal and the happy days will be back.” He is happy that his Hindu friends also came to receive him with flowers. “There is no wish left in my life. Our life in jail was a bad dream and now we will dream about good things,” he says.
Fire crackers were burst in Kharwa chawl in Varachha to celebrate the return of Mustaq Patel. Sweets were distributed and the poor were fed. Patel said, “I have come home and will never ever do anything in my life which lands me in jail. My first priority is my three children of whom two are in colleges. I will start a small business with my wife and I don’t want to remember or discuss my days in jail or the people I met there. I have fixed my targets to better the future of my children.”