Shahwan remembers the day nearly 11 years ago that the Gujarat Police came to arrest his father Adam Sulaiman Mansuri alias Adam Ajmeri. He especially remembers how his mother pleaded with them, telling them her husband was an innocent mechanic and not a terrorist involved in the attack on the Akshardham temple of a year ago. Shahwan remembers the visits to jail on Eid, and that every time, his father broke down, saying he had nothing to give him for the festival.
On a day that little else registered in the Narendra Modi wave sweeping the country, came the news that the Ajmeris had been waiting for. Pulling up the Gujarat Police for framing “innocent” people in the Akshardham case, the Supreme Court ordered that all the six convicted by the lower court, including Adam, be freed. It also accused the then Gujarat home minister of “non-application of mind”. Modi had held the portfolio in November 2003 when sanction to prosecute the six under POTA was granted. Two of the accused have already finished their terms.
In September 2002, two armed attackers had entered the Akshardham temple complex in Gandhinagar, and killed 30 people and injured more than 80. Both the attackers had been killed. Adam and four others were arrested from Shahpur and Dariapur areas of Ahmedabad in August 2003, and the sixth accused from Uttar Pradesh days later.
Sentenced to death, Adam is currently lodged in Sabarmati Central Jail.
News of Adam’s acquittal sent a cheer through his Shahpur mohalla. His emotional wife Naseem Bano, 40, said she had struggled to raise Shahwan and elder brother Almas (20) on the money she made from embroidery work and stitching of burqas.
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“My own family, brothers cut all ties saying my husband was a terrorist. Those in the neighbourhood supported us as they knew the real Adam — a poor mechanic who worked with his father to make ends meet.” Adam’s family kept Naseem out even when his mother died six months ago.
Recently the brothers opened a small handkerchief shop at home. Shahwan, who is waiting for his Class X board results, hopes to study further. “My father always told my elder brother to take care of Ammi. My brother dropped out to work but it is my father’s wish that I study,” he says.
Dressed in a new pair of jeans and shirt bought for a family wedding, the 16-year-old adds, “Now that Abba is coming back, family members will realise that he was framed.”
Just 4 km away, in Kankodi ni Pol in Dariapur, is the house of another Akshardham convict, Mohammad Salim Hanif Sheikh. It is currently rented out.
Despite the charges against the Riyadh-based Sheikh, this pol surrounded by Hindu pols in Kalupur never lost its respect for him. Salim and brother Irfan were known as Seth na Dikra in their mohalla. Their father Hanif Sheikh used to run a small jewellery store with Irfan and wife Mumtaz.
Salim’s cousin and neighbour Kausar Sheikh says, “Salimbhai was the one man in Kalupur loved and respected by all. He was absolutely chivalrous, respectful and a person of morals. This charge ruined his family.”
Salim, who was alleged to have links with key conspirator Abu Hamza and given life term, used to work in Riyadh and came home once in two-three months. He was arrested just two days before he was to return to Riyadh.
The family spent its entire savings fighting the case and now Irfan drives an autorickshaw for a living. Salim’s wife Parveen lives at her mother’s house in Juhapura with their two children.
Neighbours remember Hanif running from home to home to seek support for his son, to try and convince the police that Salim was innocent.
Says Salim’s aunt Shehnaz, “His mother Mumtaz pleaded with police officers. They told her ‘Your son is a terrorist who killed innocent pilgrims. There is no mercy for him’. He was treated very badly.”
Dabgarwad, which lies a short distance away, is known as ‘Abdul Latif’s area’. It was from here that another Akshardham accused serving death sentence, Abdul Qayyum Mansuri alias Mufti Baba, was picked up.
While some believe he had mafia and terror links, including with Dawood Ibrahim aide Abdul Latif, others talk of his knowledge of the Quran.
Mansuri had been teaching at the Haji Sakhi Masjid of Dariapur when he was held. He had also set up a hospital, Lokhandwala General Hospital.
Says Mansuri’s brother Salim Sheikh, “He is a learned man and was a social worker. The case was built by D G Vanzara and Mufti was made a target because they wanted someone who was strong, well-known and had contacts.”
Salim is a member of the Jamiat-Ulema-E-Hind that had been fighting for Mansuri’s release. On Saturday, his wife and two teenage children were busy trying to collect a copy of the Supreme Court judgment. At home, Mansuri’s ailing mother waited alone to finally see her son.
Shahwan says he will ensure he doesn’t meet his father’s fate. “My brother and I will make money in such a way that no police can ever frame us just because we are poor and weak.”