For 80-odd days in 2006, school teacher Abdul Wahid Sheikh thought the repeated police detention and torture that he was going through were part of “routine” investigations into the serial blasts in Mumbai in July that year. Reality dawned on September 29, when Sheikh was arrested for the blasts along with 12 others.
Eleven years later, Sheikh, 38, is a free man as a court has acquitted him. He has written a book on his nine years in prison. Sheikh has described the torture, maddening loneliness and systematic abuse of the system that make young men like him fodder for security agencies eager to show quick success.
In Begunah Quaidi (Innocent Prisoner), Sheikh writes about the doctored narco analysis in Bangalore, the medical tests that never were, broken limbs papered over by fitness certificates. He has cited a saga of conspiracies, false evidence and blackmailed witnesses that raise serious questions about anti-terror operations.
Sheikh, who was the only one among the 13 people to be acquitted in 2015, is determined to ensure others too get justice. He is convinced about their innocence. “They would perform narco on us both legally and illegally. Illegally, they would bring the jail doctor to a room, inject us with some substance and then ask questions. We were innocent. So initially we were happy to hear about the narco analysis. We thought the truth would come out,’’ he said.
He added that the truth did not matter. “Even in the legal tests done by Dr S Malini (since sacked) in Bangalore, the CDs were doctored. I was asked what comes after five. In the CD, the question was changed to ‘how many Pakistani men came to your house’.’’ Sheikh said that in case of another accused, Sajid, the question was how TV works. It was changed to how bombs are detonated, so that the answer “by remote” sounded more sinister in the evidence than it actually was.
Sheikh mentions the “torture cells” inside the offices of the anti-terrorist squad, the sound-proof, air-conditioned dark rooms. He writes about how prisoners are left naked with the AC on in full blast, given electric shocks in their nipples and private parts and chemicals put in their anus.
“They get witnesses by coercing people who are already defending themselves in some cases. They are promised reprieve. They had picked me up because I had been arrested once before for being a part of SIMI in 2001,’’ he said.
“I have since been acquitted in that case too. They made a close relative of mine give evidence against me, but in the end that man backtracked in court. They had asked me to turn approver so that I would be spared. I refused.’’
Sheikh is determined to warn other potential victims. “While in prison, I told one prisoner that do not say anything during narco. Warned in time, he only said ‘my name is Arif and I am innocent’ in reply to every question. They could not use the test against him.That is the kind of awareness I want to generate with my book.’’
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