When Sajid Khan arrived in the city 11 days ago, all he had on his mind was his debt — Rs 3.5 lakh and growing. But the 38-year-old from Niradhanu village in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district believed that Ramzan here would bring some blessings.
Like he had done in the last four years, he planned to spend the holy month in the Karnataka capital begging for zakat — alms that Muslims are obliged to give to the poor. “I hoped I could return with Rs 10,000-Rs 12,000, at least I would be able to pay half the annual interest I owe,” he said.
Instead, he ended up as a fuzzy image, played over and over on local TV channels that whipped up the fear of a “suspected terrorist in Bengaluru”, and shared indiscriminately over WhatsApp: a bearded man, wearing a skull cap, kurta and lungi, approaches a metal detector at a Metro station, which beeps a deep red. In a moment of indecision, before the guard can stop him, the man walks out.
That day, on May 6, Khan had left his wife Sameera and son at the hotel in Cottonpet. They usually begged for alms together, but that day she was unwell. “I had collected a lot of change, and the coins were in a purse around my waist. I stopped in front of what seemed a new, shining market, and went in,” Khan recalled.
He had actually walked into Majestic Metro Station. “I had never been to a Metro station before. I saw a security check going on. I was clutching my lungi and the coins. The guard asked me raise my hands, and I let go. The metal detector made a loud beep. The guard said something to me in Kannada. I didn’t understand. By then, I realised this was not a market. So I walked away,” he said.
The footage of a man being allowed to walk away from a metal detector was flagged by media reports as evidence of lax security in the backdrop of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka. Rumours of “terrorists on a suicide mission” led the police to investigate. “We sent word among our informer network, and were able to locate him on May 10,” said DCP West Ravi Channannavar.
“I had no idea all this was happening. I don’t know about any bombing in Sri Lanka. I don’t have these big phones (smartphones),” Khan said. “If I had known, I would have gone to the police myself.”
Khan was walking past RT Nagar police station when he was held by the police. “If I were a terrorist, would I go near a police station? Do I look like a terrorist to you?” he asked.
Khan said he fully cooperated with the investigation. “The police checked everything. They went to my village as well. Villagers told them how poor we were,” said Khan, who studied till Class III and works as daily wage labour in Jhunjhunu. A few years ago, the family had to mortgage their land to pay for the treatment of his elder brother, who eventually died of brain tumour. “I can somehow feed my children and family. But not pay off this debt,” he said.
“He is a normal citizen. Several people come to the city from Rajasthan to beg for zakat during this time. He was one of them,” said Channannavar.
“The media made me a pawn in their game. Can they bring back my honour?” he asked, tearing up in his hotel room. “How can the media brand anyone a terrorist like this?” asked his wife angrily.
While the police said they had cleared him of charges, he is confined to this lodge, afraid of going outside. He is not sure how he would be able to pay for his stay at the lodge. “How can I ask anyone, even my Muslim brothers, for help? Who knows what doubt they have in their hearts?”
Whether he will return for the next Ramzan is up in the air. “I want this black mark to go. How will that happen? Only you, the media, can do that. You have tarnished an honest person. You have to think about that, not me,” he said.