Abdul Gani Goni, 57, has spent 23 years of his life in jail, facing charges that police of three states failed to establish during trials. However, he still has faith in India and its establishments.
“Why not? If there are people who are bad, there are also people who are good and honest. The former are fewer, but they cause much damage. The good and honest people are not allowed to work by those who are bad,” Goni said.
“The corrupt are not the only ones to occupy higher positions, the honest also get a chance,” he added, referring to the ordeal that began with his arrest by Gujarat ATS in 1996 and ended with his release 23 years later along with five others from Jaipur Central Jail on Tuesday.
They were acquitted by the Rajasthan High Court in the Samleti blast case. The High Court held that prosecution had failed to provide evidence of conspiracy and could not establish a link between them and the main accused, Dr Abdul Hameed, whose death sentence was upheld. While one was from UP’s Agra district, Goni hailed from J&K’s Bhaderwah town and the others from Srinagar.
Goni said he was associated with Allahwale, an organisation whose members preach about religion. For this, he recalled, in 1996 he went to Banglawali masjid in Delhi, and then to Vishakhapatnam with a group of 10-15 people. After spending 40 days there, they boarded Delhi-bound Samta Express on May 30. At a station, Goni said, some people boarded the train and asked passengers their names. On learning that he was from Jammu and Kashmir, they took him into custody blindfolded.
“Next morning, I learnt I was at Shahi Bagh ATS in Ahmedabad. After questioning started, they realised I was innocent. A young police officer ordered my release. However, a Deputy SP instructed officials to hold me for a day. There had been a blast in Delhi (Lajpat Nagar) and they were looking for a Kashmiri to frame. There was a red alert but I had no knowledge about it,” Goni said, adding that they continued to keep him in “illegal detention”.
He said he was kept in 14 days’ police remand without being produced before a judge. “They showed me to be a Pakistani national. They were in such a hurry to send me to Sabarmati jail that they did not even get my signatures on the chargesheet or my purported statement,” he said, adding that the officers knew he was innocent but had to detain him until they got the real culprits.
Within hours of reaching Sabarmati jail, he said, he was taken to Rajasthan on transit remand. “During the entire 18-hour journey to Jaipur, they made me sit on the stepney of the jeep, handcuffed and face covered with a cloth.” There they slapped two cases —- for blasts in Sawai Mansingh Stadium at Jaipur and a bus near Samleti village —- on him and sought 14-day police remand in each case. “They kept me in detention but did not question me for 28 days,” he said. “They produced me before an IGP Rathore. He gave me tea in his office and told me he knew I was innocent, and that he would ensure I am not framed.”
Then he was taken to Jaipur Central jail. However, within two hours, they brought him out on 14-day police remand in the stadium blast case, and then sent him back to jail. Eight days later he was taken to Delhi in connection with the Lajpat Nagar blast, and kept there for 14 days “without any questioning’’. On the last day, he said, the investigating officer made him sign a statement purportedly recorded under Section 161 of CrPC, but it did not contain any serious charge.
“The judge sent me to Tihar jail pending trial. While trial started in Delhi and Ahmedabad, Rajasthan police in 1998 withdrew charges of my involvement in the stadium blast as they had arrested another group,” Goni said. In September 2008, a court in Gujarat acquitted him of the charge of being a Pakistani terrorist.
In 2010, he was acquitted in the Lajpat Nagar blast case, with the judge observing that he was kept in jail for 14 years though the charges were not maintainable, Goni recalled. After this he was taken into custody by Rajasthan police to face trial in the Samleti blast case. In 2014, the trial court gave life term to five accused. They appealed in the Rajasthan High Court, which pronounced its order earlier this week.
A BSc graduate from Jammu University, Goni was 34 at the time of his arrest. He was running a middle school along with a private tuition centre in Bhaderwah. Goni said his false implication in case after case and prolonged trials had ruined his life. He could not meet his mother, who died in hospital, as he could not get parole from Supreme Court, he said. Pointing out that he would try to start life afresh, Goni said that many of his students are now doctors, engineers and even judges. “I may not be able to recognise them, but they will certainly recognise me,” he said.