Abdul Qayyum has kept the exact count of the time he has spent in prison, down to seconds. Qayyum, who was arrested on December 13, 2007, said he spent 10 years and eight months in prison. “That is 23,50,64,200 seconds. Main kabhi kabhi poochta hoon mujhe itna waqt kyun jail mein guzaarna pada? (I wonder sometimes why I had to spend so much time in jail),” he said. The only one among the seven accused to be acquitted, Qayyum kept smiling and waving to people in the courtroom after the judgment was pronounced.
Among the more well-known undertrials in the Mumbai sessions court, Qayyum stepped out to receive congratulations from many. A close aide of Qayyum said he had been hopeful of an acquittal ever since he was arrested. “It took a long time. He will decide what he wants to do once he is out,” the friend said.
A relative of the convicted Firoz Khan said that he had only told them that he had been given ‘lambi saza’ (lengthy punishment). “We hope that the court will not give him harsh punishment,” she said. Riyaz Siddiqui’s relatives too seemed happy that he had been acquitted of the larger conspiracy. “I knew I had nothing to do with the conspiracy and I am glad I was acquitted of it. But I am sad that I will still have the tag of being convicted,” Siddiqui said. His family members hoped there will be a favourable judgment next week when he faces trial in the murder of city builder Pradeep Jain. Siddiqui had turned an approver in that case in which he was tried separately from Abu Salem, who was awarded life imprisonment in 2015.
The corridor outside the courtroom was packed with family members who had been instructed to stay away from a grill door that leads to the TADA court. Every few minutes, as news spread of a conviction, fear for a family member trumped curiosity for Salem’s fate. The din in the corridor grew sharply when Salem’s conviction was confirmed.
When it was all over, the young son of convict Taher Merchant could no longer control himself and wept openly. With his father only a few feet away on the other side of the grill, relatives of the other convicts told the boy not to cry. “Himmat mat har beta. Woh tumko rote dekehngey toh unko kaisa lagega? (Do not lose hope son. How will your father feel if he sees you crying?),” said the wife of a convict as she tried to console him. In contrast, Karimulla Khan’s young sons Firoz (27) and Shahzib (22), stayed tense and quiet throughout, only breaking their silence to whisper among themselves or to congratulate Qayyum.
Fahad Sayyed, a friend of the brothers, said that after his father’s arrest, Firoz quit his studies to find work. “Their mother Umarjahan is on dialysis treatment and recently underwent surgery of her eyes. She can’t see well and walks with difficulty. Firoz is the one earning for the family now,” he said.
Tension remained high among family and friends of Mustafa Dossa, the first to be convicted on Friday. As anxiety mounted over whether or not they would be allowed to meet him before he was led away to jail, a member of Dossa’s entourage Googled TADA on his phone and began to read the sections under which he had been convicted.