Four months into his marriage, Noorulhuda Samshodduha, then 23, had been picked up by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad. For the police, the May 2006 marriage had been a “conspiracy meeting” where friends and relatives had planned the blasts over piping hot dessert. Five years after he walked out on bail, Noorulhuda gets emotional as he talks about how his wife Samreen “stood by him during those difficult years.”
“We had been married for only four months. She could have chosen to walk out but she didnt,” says Noorulhuda, relaxing at the Jaffer Nagar mosque after the early evening prayers. He now hopes to make up for lost time by spending as much time as possible with Samreen and their two-year-old daughter Inshira.
Noorulhuda is among the nine accused in the Malegaon blasts case of 2006 who were granted bail in November 2011. Seven of them – all from Malegaon – walked out of prison, while the remaining two, Asif Khan Bashir Khan and Mohammed Ali Alam Shaikh, from Mumbai, continue to be in jail for their alleged role in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts case.
The 2006 Malegaon case is among a group of cases that are being probed for Hindu extremist links. The disclosure of Rohini Salian, special public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case, to The Indian Express that she has been under pressure from the NIA to “go soft” on the case, has cast a shadow on some of these cases.
On April 22, a NIA special court closed the Modasa blast case. Two months later, a key witness in the 2007 Ajmer dargah blast case turned hostile, the fifteenth to have done so since June last year.
Reports of cases involving alleged Hindu extremists falling apart though don’t bother him, says Noorulhuda. “For 10 years, our families have undergone a lot of hardship. Now I am not scared. Even fear has a limit, beyond which it does not affect you. I have reached that point,” he says.
A follower of the conservative Ahl-e-Hadees sect, Noorulhuda says he was a soft target for the police when the blasts happened since he was already on their radar. He had been detained in 2001 for allegedly being a SIMI worker and ever since, has had to present himself before the police after every terror attack. He was also detained in the Auranagabad arms haul case and the Mumbai train blasts case of 2006.
The police claimed Noorulhuda had planted one of the Malegaon bombs, but he says he was down with chikunguniya and “not in a position to move around that day”.
He claims the police tortured him to extract a confession. Pointing to his straggly beard, he says, “I had a full beard earlier, but during interrogation, the policemen would keep pulling my beard.”
He says he still gets stinging headaches, the effect of “the chemicals I was injected with during my narco tests. We were tortured for 38 days. My most humiliating experience was on Eid when I was stripped and beaten up by the police.”
It has been hard to start from where he left, Noorulhuda adds, “I set up a kirana store but that did not work.” He now works as a casual labourer for Rs 300 a day.
“What Salian said shows secularism is alive”
Last Wednesday, Raees Ahmed Rajjab Ali Mansuri had a dream. “It was a vivid dream. All nine of us were in a courtroom. Suddenly, the judge declared us innocent and said we should pack our bags and head home,” he says, breaking into a smile at the thought.
But Raees adds, he has woken up from that dream long ago. His immediate concern is to sustain his business of selling imitation jewellery that he runs out of a rented shop in the bustling Anjuman Chowk market of the town.
Originally from Allahabad, Raees is the only one among the seven Malegaon accused who is an ‘outsider’. He first came to Malegaon in 1990 after his marriage to the sister of Shabbir Masiullah, the man accused by the ATS of being the main conspirator in the Malegaon blasts and who died earlier this year. “I was working at an embroidery unit in Mumbai. I moved to Saudi Arabia in 1993 while my family stayed in Malegaon. I moved to this town only in 2004,” says Raees.
He says it was his brother-in-law and “close friend” Masiullah who asked him to come to Malegaon to help him with his new battery business.
His world began unravelling after the 2006 Malegaon blasts. A month later, the police knocked on his door. “They came early in the morning. They were rude and said if I resisted, it would be bad for me and my family. I did not want my wife and children to see them behave that way so I went with them,” says Raees.
Like the others, he claims he was subjected to a month of torture before he “confessed”. “They would strip us naked and beat us. I would tell them, beat us if you want but don’t take off our clothes. It is very humiliating for a Muslim,” he says, adding that he was then forced to sign a confession.
Raees claims his experience has not made him bitter. “In fact, what Rohini Salian said gives me hope, it shows that secularism is alive in this country,” he says.
“It’ll be a joke if case is revived”
“What is the point talking about the past? This is like facing a police interrogation all over again,” says Salman Farsi Abdul Latif Aimi, bitter at the mention of those five years he spent in police custody.
One of 11 children of an imam in Malegaon, Salman moved to Govandi, one of Mumbai’s largest slum pockets, in 1998 and took to practising unani. Salman says he had been on the radar of the police in Govandi for his frequent diatribes against makeshift porn theatres in the locality. When the blasts happened, he was accused of conspiracy and picked from his Govandi clinic. After he was released, he decided to move to Malegaon. “I tried to start my practice in Malegaon but got very little money. So I took to goat rearing in Yeola (a nearby town),” he says.
The business did not take off and Salman now works as an “emergency medical service officer” with the Maharashtra Emergency Medical Services in Nampur, 30 km from Malegaon. His job is to stabilise people facing medical emergencies and then drive them to the nearest hospital.
The most vocal among the seven from Malegaon who were arrested, Salman is hurt at having to “fight this battle alone”. He is also bitter about having lost a municipal election he contested in Malegaon in April 2012. “People don’t want to be seen with you but I guess it is because of the fear of the State and the present system.”
Does he fear being picked up once again? “Three different agencies have investigated our case. It will be a joke if the case against us is revived,” he says.
“Why didn’t Salian speak up earlier?”
Farogh Iqbal Ahmed Magdumi spends over 18 hours in his clinic in New Islampura, often staying back till 2 am to treat patients. He says he works extra to “catch up on lost time”. “I feel like a runner who is stopped in the middle of a race. He is then asked to restart the race and catch up with people who have gone ahead. I used to work 12 hours earlier, now I need to work much more,” says Farogh.
The unani doctor’s four-room clinic is up a rickety metal staircase that runs past a hole-in-the-wall kebab shop. The clinic has everything from a wobbly red dentist chair to an optometric machine that Farogh uses to check the eyesight of his patients.
It was from this clinic that Farogh was picked up on November 6, 2006. “I was giving my MA exams. I had appeared for my third paper when they knocked on my door at 10:30 pm and took me away,” says Farogh.
This, however, was not Farogh’s first tryst with the police. An Islamic revivalist and adherent of the Ahl-e-Hadees sect, Farogh had rubbed many people, including clerics and the police, the wrong way. His clinic had been attacked by residents angry over his interpretation of Islam” he would discourage people from visiting dargahs and wearing tabeez, calling them “un-Islamic”. He had also been booked earlier by the police for being a SIMI member, a charge Farogh denies.
The late-night arrest changed his life. He was taken to Kalachowky prison in Mumbai and accused of being a conspirator in the blasts case.
“They do everything possible to humiliate you,” he says, narrating an incident to show how the police allegedly treat terror accused. “I was being interrogated in the cabin of a senior officer when this officer had a visitor. There was no place I could be moved to so he hid me under his table. The officer then entertained this visitor with me under the table. All along, the officer kept his feet on my body and the visitor never realised I was in the room,” says Farogh, claiming he was severely thrashed to extract a confession.
What kept him going, he says, was the hope that it was all a mistake – that the system set in motion “by some misunderstanding” would soon correct itself and he would be out of jail to be with his infant son. For now, he says, he is grateful that he can spend time with his daughter and son.
Asked about Rohini Salian’s revelations about the NIA, Farogh snaps, “The NIA is not the first agency to do this. The CBI and the ATS framed innocents. All that happened when she was there. She should have spoken about it earlier.”
“If it’s jail again, so be it”
In 2006, as an imam in Phoolsavangi village in Yavatmal district, he led the faithful in prayer. Today, nine years after he was arrested and four years after walking on bail, Mohammed Zahid Abdul Majid Ansari scrapes a living selling fodder in the morning and firewood in the evening.
“For a few months after my release in 2011, I worked as an imam in Malegaon but they asked me to leave. No one wants to employ someone with a terror tag,” says Zahid, who now lives on the outskirts of Malegaon.
The poorest amongst the seven accused from Malegaon, Zahid is known among his neighbours for his angst-filled rants about the “situation of Muslims in India,” blaming almost everyone from the police to the state to the media.
In 1999, when he was in class 12, Zahid’s father threw him out of the house after the police detained him for allegedly putting up provocative pictures in Malegaon. “It was a picture of a weeping Babri Masjid. I was not involved but the police booked me, calling me a SIMI agent. I have never returned home since,” says Zahid, who started working as a power loom worker. (Subsequently, his elder brother Javed and younger brother Abid were booked for being SIMI workers. Javed was also picked up in the Aurangabad arms haul case of 2006.)
In 2004, Zahid moved to Pusad, a town in Vidarbha, and stayed there for two months, before moving to Phoolsavangi, 500 km from Malegaon, where he started working as an imam. “I would rarely visit Malegaon as my father did not like my presence. I got married on my own in Phoolsavangi,” says Zahid.
Zahid says he had heard about the Malegaon blasts, but it hit home only when a friend told him that the police were in Phoolsavangi looking for him. “I was scared. A few village elders advised me to run away, but I chose to stay back as I hadn’t done anything wrong. I finally went and met the police,” Zahid says. He was arrested in November 2006, two months after the blasts.
I was told that I was the one who had planted the bomb at Mushawarat Chowk. But at that time, I was leading the Friday prayers in Phoolsavangi,” Zahid says.
Soon after his arrest, villagers of Phoolsavangi submitted an affidavit stating that Zahid was indeed in the village. “Despite that, the police arrested me and kept me in jail. We were thrashed like animals,” he says.
Zahid recalls spending his time in jail memorising the Quran and praying for the baby his wife lost in a miscarriage.
He says the initial jubilation of being able to walk out of jail later ended in frustration. His father still does not speak to him and he rarely visits his family. “I have lost every friend and relative in these five years. People are scared to even share their phone numbers with me,” says Zahid.
His life now revolves around his wife and two-year-old son. Is he worried about other “Hindu cases” collapsing? “We are innocent. If Allah has decreed that we will have to face jail again, so be it” says Zahid.
“Its tough finding a bride”
There are two things Abrar Ahmed Gulam Ahmed, a former electrician, says he is scared of: electricity and the police. “When I was in custody, the police once took me to a room and asked me to urinate in a bucket. Barely had the first drop hit the bucket, I felt a stinging pain and passed out. Later, I opened my eyes to find myself at Cooper Hospital. The doctors told me I had been electrocuted. Now I don’t go anywhere near electricity,” says Abrar, who runs a poultry farm on the outskirts of Malegaon.
He has now taken to drawing sketches based on his jail stint. His favourite and most prized sketch is that of a rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex.
“This dinosaur represents our police. It destroys everything that comes in its path. I had named it after a senior Maharashtra police officer for the trouble he gave me. But my brother forced me to cut out the name,” says Abrar.
Abrar, who belongs to a relatively well-off family in Malegaon, had had a fallout with his family over his marriage to the girl he loved and had been living separately from them when he was arrested for the blasts. But now, his marriage has fallen apart and Abrar is back with his family.
He claims then Malegaon SP Rajvardhan Singh allegedly gave him two phones and a scripted conversation. “I was told to ask someone to read out the script on the phone,” he claims. This scripted conversation, he says, was used by the police to implicate people in the blasts case.
Abrar says he agreed to turn approver and “implicate” the others in the case because he was tired of all the thrashings he got. “I did not even know the others. I just signed wherever the police asked me to,” says Abrar.
Later, he says, he decided to “tell the truth” on the advice of his father and brothers. “I presented an affidavit in court telling how the police had forced me to frame innocents. You cannot sleep peacefully knowing that you have played a role in framing innocents,” says Abrar.
Abrar blames his wife and his brother-in-law, a police informer, for his troubles, claiming they got Rs 25 lakh for turning him in. Soon after his release, he divorced his wife. “I did love her but I regret marrying her against my parents’ wishes. I am keen to marry again but because of my background, it’s tough finding a girl,” says Abrar.
Every day for the last four years, residents of Malegaon would queue up outside Shabbir Ahmed Masiullah’s battery shop in the grubby bylane of Pila Taki in Malegaon for a 45-minute acupressure session. Shabbir had picked this skill from an acupressure healer who he met during his five-year stint in Arthur Road jail.
Shabbir died four months ago when a portion of the wall of his under-construction house collapsed. With his death, people in Malegaon mostly talk about his rudimentary skills, less about his alleged role in the blast. “He cured two women who were in coma. One of the women came for his funeral and was inconsolable,” says Jaleel Ansari, a close relative of Shabbir’s.
Shabbir, accused of being the main conspirator in the 2006 Malegaon attack, was charged with bringing the RDX used in the blasts to Malegaon and assembling the bombs in his godown. Nearly a month before the Malegaon blasts, he had been picked up by the ATS in the Mumbai 2006 train blasts case.
Shabbir had a fallout with his family after he walked out on bail and had been living alone with his wife and children.
Later, however, they had reached a rapprochement. It ended in tragedy with Shabbir dying.
The story so far
Three blasts — in a mosque, a graveyard and a market — ripped through Malegaon on a Friday afternoon on September 8, 2006, killing 31 people and leaving 312 injured. Two months later, nine Muslim youths were arrested – seven of them from Malegaon – by the Maharashtra ATS for their alleged role in the blasts. On December 21, 2006, the ATS filed a chargesheet in the special MCOCA court against the nine accused and four others on the run.
The CBI took over the case in July 2007. The CBI, in its initial investigation, backed the ATS stand and filed a chargesheet against the same accused on February 11, 2010. In 2008, another bomb went off in Malegaon. An investigation led by then ATS chief Hemant Karkare found Hindu extremists to be behind the blast. In 2010, Swami Aseemanand, an alleged Hindu extremist, made a confession in the Mecca Masjid blast case that accused Sunil Joshi had told him that the bomb blasts at Malegaon were the handiwork of his men. In 2011, the case was handed over to the NIA. During the NIA probe, all nine accused chargesheeted by the ATS and CBI retracted their confessions, alleging these were secured under duress.
In November 2011, the nine Muslim accused, chargesheeted by the ATS and CBI, moved court for bail, which was granted without opposition from the NIA. Seven of them — all from Malegaon — walked out of prison, while the remaining two, Asif Khan Bashir Khan and Mohammed Ali Alam Shaikh, from Mumbai, continue to be in jail for their alleged role in the 2006 Mumbai train blasts case. Four years after being released, the nine are yet to be formally discharged in the case.