When Yakub Memon’s made a final attempt to prevent his execution, getting a Supreme Court bench to convene past midnight, a woman sat alone in her single-room home in New Delhi’s Okhla neighbourhood praying for a miracle.
Rehmana Yusuf Farukhi’s worries were very personal. Her husband Mohd Arif, a Pakistani national, is on death row for his alleged role in the Red Fort attack of December 25, 2000, when alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba militants stormed the complex, killing three Army men, and escaped. Arif has been in Tihar for almost 15 years and she fears he is next in line for execution “anytime now”.
“I thought if Yakub Memon lived, they may let Arif live as well. There is hardly any hope now,’’ says Rehmana, 43, sitting on her bed. Yet she adds: “I am still hoping for a miracle. If they look at the case again, they may see the truth.’’ For the last 15 years, she has followed every twist in the case, the “loopholes” and why she “knows he is innocent”.
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The Supreme Court upheld Arif’s death sentence on August 10, 2011, and dismissed his review petition on August 28, 2012, and his curative petition on January 23, 2014. He hasn’t yet applied for mercy. There is one petition seeking an oral hearing after the court dismissed his curative petition.
The day he was arrested, Arif and Rehmana were visiting her sister and mother in east Delhi. “It was late in the evening. From the window, I could see a few men standing outside. All of a sudden, they barged in and took Arif, me, my mother, sister and younger brother to the police station. They let the others go but arrested Arif and me.”
The police said that the day after the attack, they had found a mobile number written on a slip of paper during their search inside Red Fort.
They would later trace it to Arif and the phone records to the attack. The police said that after his arrest, Arif confessed to his role and told them about an associate, Abu Shamal, who was hiding in a house in Batla House. That night, the police took Arif to Batla House, where Abu Shamal was killed in an alleged encounter. The police say that after the encounter, they took Arif back to his flat, where they recovered a “pay-in slip” of Standard Chartered showing a deposit of Rs 5 lakh in an account that they traced to a Kashmiri businessman, Nazir Ahmad Qasid, and his son Farooq. The police alleged that Arif had joined Lashkar meetings at Qasid’s Srinagar home and funneled money to the businessman’s bank accounts in Srinagar for Lashkar activities. Rehmana and nine others were accused of this conspiracy. She says her account with the money the police linked to the hawala operation was, in fact, what her mother had saved for her marriage.
As the case came up before the trial court, the prosecution alleged Arif was a Lashkar militant who had entered India in August 1999 and camped in Srinagar, before moving to Delhi for the attack. They alleged that Rehmana “had full knowledge” of the conspiracy and, “significantly enough”, had married Arif only 14 days before the attack.
Rehmana grew up in Moradabad but in the early 1990s, she says, she moved to Delhi to live with her sister, a divorcee, in Ghazipur in Delhi. She was 28 when her family put out an advertisement seeking a groom. “He (Arif) responded. My family asked around in his neighbourhood and everyone praised him. He didn’t ask for a dowry. I had had a spinal surgery and I think that must have weighed on my family’s mind when they agreed. My marriage and happiness lasted 14 days,” says Rehmana, 43, leaning on her walking stick.
She says she didn’t know Arif was a Pakistani national. “He had hidden this from me too. When we got married, he told me he was from Jammu and had shifted to Delhi after his parents died. Ever since we were arrested, I have been asking him why he hid his identity and he has said he had been asked not to divulge it to anyone.”
There was more she would learn — that he had supposedly worked in Pakistan for R&AW, something he has consistently maintained in court and which has been recorded in every judgment but never entertained.
He told the court he had been working for X-branch, R&AW, since 1997. In June 2000, he said, he went to Kathmandu by a PIA flight to give some papers to one Sanjeev Gupta. He said his brother had been arrested for supporting Paktoonmili, a political party, which, he alleged was supported by R&AW, and his cousin advised him not to return to Pakistan. “Thereafter, Gupta accompanied me up to Raxaul and from there I came by train,” he told the court. He said Gupta put him up with one Nain Singh who “advised me not to tell anyone my real name and address’’. Arif said he helped Nain with his business of moneylending. Singh, Arif alleged, framed him because he had been demanding the money that was due to him.
Who is Nain Singh? In its verdict on Arif’s death sentence, Delhi High Court said: “It does appear to us that Nain Singh… was employed in some intelligence wing of the Government of India and it could even be R&AW.” The Supreme Court, while upholding Arif’s death sentence, described the defence counsel’s theory about the role played by Nain Singh as “fantastic”.
Meanwhile, Rehmana was acquitted by Delhi High Court; she had spent five years, four months and four days in Tihar. Life outside jail, she soon found, was cruel. Her sisters disowned her, tired of the police knocking on their door. “They do that every August 15 and January 26. No one talks to me because they are scared they may be implicated as well. I would go out and people would call me atankwadi (terrorist). I have spent days in railway stations, nights in Nizamuddin dargah. People even started calling me pagli.”
Through all this, she says, it was her mother who stood by her. “But she was dependent on my sisters. Finally, when the court released my account and gave back my bail bond, my mother helped me get this room in Okhla. She died two years ago. And now I am alone,” she says.
By then, she had made up her mind that she would stick by Arif. “When I was arrested, the police were pressing me to seek talaq. My family too kept insisting that I leave him,’’ she says. “I thought of it. We didn’t have a love marriage but I knew the truth. He may not have told me he is a Pakistani but that day, when the police say he was in Lal Qila , he was with me. It was a Friday and he had gone out briefly for prayers – you can ask the imam and other people who prayed there.” She says she thought that if she kept telling the courts what she knew, he might return to her one day. “I am a witness to his innocence.”
Rehmana meets Arif every Saturday. She recalls the first time she met him in Tihar, 17 months after their arrest. “I was in the women’s wing. When I finally met him, he seemed hopeful. He said that once there is an investigation into how he left Pakistan and came to India, he will be exonerated,’’ she says. “That hasn’t happened. I will keep trying to bring out the truth even if they hang him. That’s the only reason why I live now”.
PROSECUTION vs DEFENCE
Much of the case against Arif stands on a chit with a phone number the police claim to have found in Red Fort the day after the attack. Rehmana claims, “When we were arrested, the police recovered nothing from our home but claimed several things.” While producing evidence, police said they found a revolver during a body search after Arif’s arrest. They said that during another body search several hours later, they found a mobile that had used the number written on the chit. The time when police found this chit was different in the testimonies of officials; the high court said the “inconsistency is natural” as “they were deposing in court after a long time.”
The pistol number shown in the expert’s report didn’t match the number provided in the police’s seizure memo. The high court judgment said, “That error could be an inadvertent mistake.”
Call details for October and November 2000, two months before the attack, included calls to the number of the seized phone from a number of the Delhi special cell. “The HC judgment said, “… It is also possible that (Arif’s) known people in police might be calling him… It appears to us that this accused must have taken advantage of his acquaintance with policemen and intelligence officials and under the shelter of that acquaintance he must have been carrying out nefarious activities…”