The only tall structure that Wahid Shaikh (36) saw during the last nine years was the spiraling watch tower from where guards of the Arthur Road Jail kept an eye on inmates of the ‘anda’ (egg-shaped) cell, which houses hardcore criminals.
A fortnight after being acquitted of all charges for his role in the 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts, Wahid said he felt overwhelmed by the vertical monoliths that have sprung up in his city, altering its skyline.
“I see this city has grown. Skywalks, a metro, big towers and malls have sprouted in this city. However, these changes have had no effect on reality. I see that Muslims are still fearful, isolated, forced to live in ghettos,” said Wahid, who spent seven out of his nine years in near-solitary confinement.
Wahid was one of the 13 Indians accused of planning and carrying out the Mumbai train blasts of 2006. He was charged with having given his house in the Mumbra suburbs to Pakistani nationals, who along with 13 Indian conspirators allegedly assembled and planted bombs in trains. A Mumbai court recently ruled that there was no merit in the accusations against Wahid and set him free on a solvent surety of Rs 25,000.
Born in Pune to Din Mohammed Shaikh who had migrated from Uttar Pradesh, Wahid’s family shifted to Vikhroli, a distant suburb of Mumbai, early in his life. The eldest of three brothers, Wahid completed his Class 12 from Maharashtra College in the Muslim-dominated locality of Nagpada. Later, he did a Diploma in Education from Mahim and became a teacher in Mumbai.
During this period he, along with a group of young Muslims, started working on social causes in his locality. There were frequent tiffs with trustees of the local Jama Masjid in Vikhroli, who did not subscribe to Wahid’s adherence to the Ahl-e-Hadees sect. In 2001, Wahid was booked for being part of Students Islamic Movement of India, a banned organisation. One of the members who was arrested along with Wahid later became a key prosecution witness in the 2006 blasts case.
“They kept us in jail for two months in Thane. We were subsequently acquitted. However, since then, whenever anything happened in Mumbai they would call me for questioning,” said Wahid.
In 2003, he married the sister of Sajid Ansari — also arrested in the train blast case — and moved to Mumbra.
But on July 11, 2006 — the day of the blasts — his life took a dramatic turn. The police questioned Wahid that evening. He was later called four times before his arrest on September 29.
About his time in jail, Wahid said: “The most dreaded torture was being forced into a narrow space between two rooms. The space is so cramped, you feel as if you are being buried alive.”
During the trial, Wahid completed his MA in English and is now pursuing his LLB. He insists that even the other accused in the case are innocent. “The brothers I have left behind are innocent. If I have been acquitted, it means the police story that Pakistanis came to my house was false. If that story is false, the entire back-story falls through,” argued Wahid. He added that he plans to write a book on his experiences in jail.
“In jail, even getting a packet of biscuits gave us great joy. We would crave for chicken or mutton. However, since I have been released, my cravings have ended.”
About the trauma his family went through, Wahid said: “My son (11) recently drew a picture of a prisoner behind bars in a drawing competition. He hates the police.”
Asked about his biggest loss in the past nine years, Wahid said: “Maine nau saal main is nizam se faith kho diya (I have lost faith in the government and the courts).”
But despite everything, Wahid hopes that the school where he worked earlier would hire him again.