Javed, now 32, saw Mobina for the first time during a visit to Pakistan nearly 15 years ago. For both, it was love at first sight. She lived in Karachi though, and he was a resident of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. They kept in touch through phone calls, made by Javed, a television mechanic, from a local PCO. Often, he would also write her letters in Urdu and Hindi, taking the help of friends Maqsood and Taj Mohammad as he was illiterate.
It were these calls and letters, believes Javed, that led the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force to charge them with being ISI agents, who had passed on sensitive information about military installations in nearby Bareilly, Dehradun and Meerut to Pakistan. The three were arrested on August 13, 2002, and booked under the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), which had been enacted that year, drawing much attention to the case. More than 11 years later, on January 19, a Rampur court acquitted them for lack of any evidence.
The arrests came two years after Javed went for the second time to Pakistan, staying at Mobina’s house. His first visit was in 1999. He had visited Pakistan to meet his mother’s side of the family there.
Javed recalls that the visit had been planned suddenly. “It was on the insistence of my mother that I agreed to take her to Pakistan along with my sister. Her uncle, whom she had not met since 1947, was very ill. There I saw Mobina alias Gudiya, one of my cousins.”
It was at great cost, he remembers, that they kept in touch. “In those days ISD calls were very expensive, Rs 65 per minute. Even then I would call her three-four times a day. When you are in love, these things hardly matter. Aapko pata hai jab aap pyaar mein hote ho, emotions par kaabu nahin hota.”
Though police claimed they recovered a diary, hand-drawn maps of Bareilly, Dehradun and Maeerut cantonments and a letter written in Urdu from the three friends, and cited this as evidence that they were passing on information to ISI, handwriting on none of the samples matched theirs. Javed only learned to read and write while lodged in Rampur district jail, studying till Class VIII.
Police also claimed that when Javed went to Pakistan in 2000, he met one ‘Aamir Bhai’, an ISI agent who “motivated” him to collect information about military installations in India. But the phone number police submitted as proof turned out to be that of Mobina’s residence in Karachi, as confirmed by Interpol. Police submitted receipts of the PCO too as evidence, but could not produce any witness to show that Javed made calls to ISI ‘contacts’ from there. The allegations could not be proved, admits Sanjeev Agarwal, the district government counsel.
In 2013, the government withdrew the charges of POTA. The Akhilesh Yadav government had moved the court last year to also withdraw the charges against the three men. Influential Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan is the MLA from Rampur.
Says Javed: “When police arrested me, they asked me about my friends. I gave 20 names, but they picked up only Maqsood and Taj as I told them they had helped me read the letters Mobina sent. I could neither read or write Hindi or Urdu, Mobina only replied in Urdu.”
Javed says he shudders when he thinks what police did to him. “Physical torture was only one thing, they used to give me electric shocks, forced me to sign blank papers. To escape the torture, I signed on those papers.” He had to sell his land as well as borrow money from relatives to pay the legal fees, he adds.
Javed’s father Mohammad Shafique says they are a respectable family and would “never think of doing anything against our country”. “I am a carpenter and a good one. My work makes it to Delhi and Mumbai markets. I never went to any political party to seek help for my son’s release, I just believed in the legal system. I knew the court will acquit him as he was innocent.”
Bitter at what his son went through, he adds: “When Javed left home, he was 21, now he is 32. His youth is gone… his life is completely scarred.”
While Taj Mohammad could not be contacted, Maqsood says the arrest destroyed all that he had dreamed of. “My family did not have money to fund my education so I collected money for it by doing embroidery work. I used to earn Rs 50-100 per day. When police arrested me, I was in B.Sc final year at Hindu College in Moradabad. I had just returned from college that day when police came looking for me.”
While he was not tortured, Maqsood says, “The mere allegation of spying for Pakistan broke me. My health deteriorated, I required psychological counselling.”
He has not stepped out of his house since his release. “I do not trust anybody now,” Maqsood says, refusing to be photographed.
Javed has not tried to get in touch with Mobina since coming out of jail. “There is no point calling her, she would have got married by now,” he says. “I want to begin a new life now, start my TV repair shop again.”