Seventy-five-year-old Rubaih Khatun trembles with fear at the mention of a visitor or a police jeep coming to their house. And Mohd Shekhawat Ali bristles with anger over the way local newspapers and TV channels are painting his brother as “an al-Qaeda terrorist”.
In Paschimakachha, a Muslim-dominated village in Odisha’s Cuttack district, the family of 37-year-old Abdul Rehman Ali debunks all allegations of him being a “terrorist”.
“It’s a police allegation. Let them provide the courts with evidence. To me, my brother is innocent,” said his elder brother Mohd Shekhawat.
“My mother is yet to recover from the shock of the police coming to our house at 2 am and arresting my brother. What kind of police action is this?” he said.
One of the four sons of retired policeman Mohd Usman Ali, who died three years ago, Rehman is a father of three. He was running a madrasa in nearby Biletaruan village for the last four years.
His eldest brother, Rahmat Ali, a former engineer with All India Radio in Cuttack, died six years ago due to kidney failure. Another brother, Tahir Ali, was arrested in 2002 for his alleged involvement in the US consulate attack in Kolkata. He was released after spending 90 days in jail. Villagers said Tahir was a Biju Janata Dal worker.
Saying that his brother was “too busy looking after the affairs of the madrasa and his own family” to be dealing with terrorist recruitment, Shekhawat said, “He is a devout Muslim… When he started his madrasa, he had to endure a lot of hardship. He had to beg for funds.”
After completing his theological education at a madrasa in neighbouring Kendrapara district, Rehman went to Darul Uloom Deoband school in Saharanpur, where he studied for seven years, his brother said.
“He is a good speaker and well versed in Quran. In any meetings held in our village or other districts, he is called to explain the Quran,” said a neighbour.
Another villager said, “You can say he was a little fanatic in his religious views. But to term him a terrorist is too much.”
Rehman’s family said the Delhi Police team was making too much of the seizures of a mobile phone, a tablet and some compact discs as well as his visit to Saudi Arabia. “It’s a lie that he visited Dubai or London. He went to Saudi Arabia twice — once for Haj and the second time for Umrah,” said his brother.
Meanwhile, 12 km away, at Biletaruan village, over 80 children at Rehman’s madrasa were a harried a lot on Thursday, as officials from school and education department started verifying their antecedents. The madrasa-cum-hostel operates from a two-room, asbestos-roofed structure in a paddyfield. A tarpaulin covered structure serves as a makeshift mosque.
Of the 85 children, 80 are from Ranchi and its adjoining areas.
Shakeel Ansari, a student from Dumri village in Jharkhand, said Rehman cared for them like his own sons. Abdul Wahid, one of the five teachers at the madrasa, was worried about the madrasa’s future.