July 26, 2019 2:49:36 am
As soon as he arrived in Srinagar, he asked his relatives to drive him straight to his father’s grave. He had last seen his father, Sher Ali Bhat, 12 years ago. On reaching, Mohammad Ali Bhat (48) flung himself on the mound crying: “I wanted my father to extend his arms and hold me so I could tell him I am finally home.”
His mother, who lay buried next to his father, also died while Bhat spent 23 years incarcerated in Delhi and Jaipur before being acquitted on Monday in the 1996 Samleti blast case.
On Wednesday, sitting in a large hall in his house, where his family had put up colourful lights, rugs and cushions, he was introduced to several people he could not recognise. “We used to tell the kids that their uncle is in the airline business and therefore always abroad,” said his younger brother Mohammad Ajaz Bhat.
Bhatt recalled the day he was picked up in June 1996 from his rented room in Kathmandu, where he sold Kashmiri carpets, “I was cooking beans when policemen in plainclothes walked in. I first thought they were customers,” he said. “They took me to police headquarters in Kathmandu and then to Delhi.” He was 25 years old then.
Unable to contact his relatives, he said he first wrote to his family on pieces of a kite that fell into the jail premises in Jaipur. “A Pakistani inmate gave me a pencil stub and I wrote on that kite to tell my family I was alright,” he said.
Having spent a day at home, he said he felt reborn: “It was in my fate, these 23 years, they would have been taken from me one way or another.”
Kashmir summed up for you. Released after 23 years for no crime of his, Ali Mohammed Bhat visits his father’s grave right after touching down in Srinagar.
This is beyond heartbreaking. #Kashmir pic.twitter.com/MGBUInQcxz
— Saqib Mugloo (@Saqibmugloo) July 24, 2019
At his home in Srinagar’s Fateh Kadal, Lateef Ahmad Waja (42) was also struggling to recognise faces while his mother Noor Jehan and other relatives fussed over him.
“After a few years, I forgot my old life and could not imagine a future. I accepted jail as my home and inmates as my family,” Waja said, adding that he kept his passion for cricket alive. “I used to play before I was arrested in Kathmandu, but in once I was resigned to life in jail, I started playing again.”
He saw his family through a wire mesh in jail. “After a while, I stopped asking my mother to come. I did not want her to travel for two days to see me for half an hour, but my brother kept coming.”
Although they were picked up the same day from the same area, Bhat and Waja said they did not know each other until the trial began. But as Kashmiris, they recognised each other on the streets.
The youngest of the group was 17 the day he was picked up. “I am still grappling with this new world. I cannot sleep on the bed because I am used to sleeping on the cement floor. It feels like waking up from a long dream,” Mirza Nisar said.
All the accused said that it was their belief in their innocence that kept them going all these years. While acquitting them on Monday, the Rajasthan High Court said the prosecution had failed to provide evidence of conspiracy.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.