September 23, 2021 1:38:17 am
A month after Covid-19 pandemic began last March, Rizwan Momin would travel as far as Nallasopara and Bhiwandi, 60 and 40 km away, respectively, in a tempo, to distribute meals to people.
“He never differentiated between a Hindu and Muslim when he helped them. How can such a person be accused of being involved in a terror module?” asked his mother Nazma.
The 40-year-old teacher was arrested by Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad on September 19 under sections 18 (punishment for conspiracy) and 19 (punishment for harbouring) of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 and Section 201 (destruction of evidence) of the Indian Penal Code, a day after the ATS arrested Zakir Hussain Shaikh, a Jogeshwari-based autorickshaw driver, for an alleged terror plot.
Days after his arrest, Rizwan’s family resident in Bandra asserted that he could not have done anything wrong. They said it was Zakir, who had taken advantage of Rizwan’s “helpful” attitude and “trapped” him. The family said they had no idea of Zakir’s antecedents as an accused arrested in 2001 in the assassination conspiracy case of then home minister L K Advani, until after his arrest last week.
“Zakir took undue advantage of my son’s helpful nature. He must have gone to Rizwan’s Mumbra house asking for shelter and he would have allowed him to stay for a couple of days… Issi ne mere bache ko fassaya hai,” said Nazma.
One of the allegations against Rizwan is that Zakir stayed with him for four days, immediately prior to his arrest on September 18. Rizwan was arrested the next day.
Both men were produced in court earlier this week and sent to judicial custody. The two had met through a common friend named Arif, said Rizwan’s younger brother Imran.
When Rizwan did not get a job, he began taking tuitions at home, eventually renting a place to accommodate the growing number of students. He used to teach math and most other subjects except languages, his family members said. His coaching classes appear to have expanded over the last few months, even during the pandemic.
Apart from his first rented place and another coaching centre he opened in Andheri a few years ago, he started two more centres over the last five months – in Mumbra and Kurla – but it is unclear how many students studied there.
The Mumbra centre was lying locked when The Indian Express visited, and neighbours said they had never seen any students there.
Rizwan’s family continues to live in a tiny apartment in a lane off SV Road in Bandra, while he had recently taken an apartment in Mumbra.
Imran said after an aunt was diagnosed with cancer, Rizwan began meeting Zakir more frequently, even taking his advice on which doctors to consult. Rizwan also helped Zakir financially, as the auto driver, who is a diabetes patient, would often ask him and Rizwan’s business partner Rahil for money to buy medicines.
Zakir also played go-between with Rizwan’s family – Rizwan had got married for the second time recently, and was unable to tell his family. “In fact, only a fortnight ago, we came to know through Zakir that Rizwan had got married for the second time,” said Imran.
The ATS has accused Rizwan of destroying Zakir’s cellphone.
“Zakir is a very sweet talker because of which even I had started believing that he was a genuine guy,” said Imran.
The family members have requested the Maharashtra government and the ATS to let Rizwan go if they know he is innocent. “In the past, we have come across instances where people got jailed and were acquitted after a decade. We do not want something like that to happen with him,” said his cousin.
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