IN THE maze of India’s terror cases, Habib Ahmad Khan, a homeopathic doctor, is the oldest convict. He is 85, almost deaf and blind, suffers from a heart disease and is unable to move without help. Last month, 23 years after his arrest, the Supreme Court upheld his life sentence.
Back at his home in Rae Bareli’s Kaharon Ka Adda, his 75-year-old wife Qaisar Jahan says she hasn’t given up the hope of him coming out of prison alive.
“I am sure the government will listen to my plea for mercy. Our life is over, we are both waiting for death. I want him to come home before I die. I want him to die at home,” Jahan says.
Jahan broke her knee a few years ago and has been bedridden since. “I haven’t been able to meet him in jail for five or six years. I know he is not well. But I can’t walk. I also get dizzy. And then, there isn’t a bigger disease than old age,’’ she says.
Records show that Khan, who is lodged in jail in Jaipur, suffers from “ischemic heart disease (angina pectoris) with moderate to severe hypertension”, has lost most of his eyesight even after his eyes were operated upon in jail, and “needs an attendant for help” in moving around.
Khan was arrested on January 14, 1994, and booked under TADA for five blasts on trains, which killed two and injured eight, on the first anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition.
The CBI filed charges against 16 men for the blasts, ostensibly carried out to avenge the demolition. The agency claimed that in custody, Khan had confessed to attending a meeting in September 1993 where the plan to “take revenge” was discussed.
“Initially, myself and some others who were in the meeting, did not agree… by doing this, some innocent people may lose their lives. But after some time, it was decided that we should be united,” Khan’s custodial confession states.
The CBI’s main evidence against Khan, however, was that Jalees Ansari of Mumbai, who was dubbed the mastermind of the blasts, sent Rs 3,000 by post to him, which he handed to another co-accused.
Khan retracted his confession later, saying he was “tortured” and “made to sign on blank papers”.
But the Supreme Court found “the confessional statement to be admissible”. And as the CBI produced documentary evidence establishing that Khan had received the money, the Supreme Court said his “role and involvement in the conspiracy stands established”.
On May 11, 2016, Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit upheld the life sentence of 10 of the accused, including Khan.
Khan’s son Mohammad Asif, 52, says his father knew Ansari and that the latter had sent Rs 3,000 through post because “my sister was getting married”.
Khan was granted bail by a trial court on August 23, 1995, which was extended more than 30 times, allowing him to be free for three years and eight months. But on June 4, 1999, Khan was arrested again, and has been in prison since. On February 28, 2004, the designated (TADA) court in Ajmer sentenced him to life.
With the apex court upholding that verdict, the options before Khan are fast closing: he can file for a review, seek remission from the government and, if all fails, hope for mercy from the President.
Khan and Jahan have five sons, three daughters and 23 grandchildren.
Jahan says she clearly remembers that January morning in 1994, when police came to to get Khan. “He was about to go for a bath. Policemen told him the SP sahib wanted to meet him. I thought he would be back by evening. That day changed our life forever,” she says.
“The last time I met him, I didn’t know I would not be able to meet him again. I haven’t even talked to him on phone ever. We are married for 59 years and in these last days of our lives, I wish we could be together,” adds Jahan.
She says their children too have not been able “to meet him properly” in jail.
“He is very weak. We went for a meeting last year before Ramzan. But we were separated by two iron fences. He couldn’t see us or hear anything. We had to shout to let him know who we were,” says Asif.
For a year now, no one from the family has gone to see him. “The mulaqat (meeting) process is cumbersome. We had requested to be allowed to speak to him on phone. We filled a form, too, but nothing happened,” says Asif.
Recalling that they used to be financially well off and that Khan was a respected man in the area “till they took him away”, Jahan says, “When I met him last, he asked me to pray for him. Do you think they will let him come back home to die?”