Acquitted after spending 11 years behind bars for the 2008 attack on a CRPF camp in Rampur, Mohammad Kausar and Gulab Khan say they are not sure if the court order would prove enough to rid them of “terrorist” tag.
Before they were arrested, Kausar (48) ran an electronics shop near his house in Kunda area of Pratapgarh while Khan (41) owned a welding shop at Baheri locality in Bareilly. With their families having sold their shops as well as spent their savings fighting their case, the two said it wouldn’t be easy for them to pick up the pieces.
On Saturday, a Rampur local court awarded death sentence to four accused, including two Pakistani nationals, for the 2008 attack, in which seven CRPF jawans and a rickshaw-puller were killed. A fifth accused was sentenced to life. Khan and Kausar, who were accused of hiding weapons used in the crime at their residences before the attack, were acquitted for want of evidence.
Kausar was arrested on February 9, more than a month after the attack, from his shop in Pratapgarh, 486 km from Rampur. “A senior police officer asked me two-three questions and then put me in a room. Two days later, I was produced before a court, which sent me to jail. In the two-minute interaction with a senior police officer, I maintained I was innocent,” Kausar told The Indian Express over the phone.
Kausar, who studied upto Class 9, said he worked for 10 years at an electronics shop in Saudi Arabia before returning to India in 2005. After his arrest, he said, there was no one in the family to run the shop he opened in Kunda and it was shut down. “Because of financial crisis, my three children had to drop out of school. My wife Salma Bano started stitching clothes for a living. Relatives stopped coming to my house. To raise money to fight the case, the family later sold the shop.”
Released from Bareilly Central Jail on Sunday, Kausar said he feared that his ordeal was not over. “People don’t easily believe a person who has spent over a decade in jail. The court has acquitted me but people will not accept me as innocent. I have to fight once again to get their trust.”
Khan’s wife Naajara told The Indian Express from their home in Bareilly, that she thanks god for his return. “We did not lose hope that he would return home one day because we knew he had been implicated falsely. Our hard work has finally paid off.”
Khan was arrested from his shop in Bareilly, around 70 km from Rampur, on February 10. A day later, police produced him in court and he was sent to judicial custody.
Khan said his family was forced to shut the shop as none of them knew iron wielding work. “Naajara started stitching clothes but that was only enough to arrange food for the family. Even power connection to my house was snapped because of non-payment of bills,” said Khan, ruing that his appeals that he was innocent fell on deaf ears.
Khan’s elder brother Kamal Khan said his three children dropped out of school as they couldn’t pay the fees. His brother-in-law Mohammad Shaheen said every step in these 11 years had been a struggle.
While he completed his graduation inside jail, Khan is afraid it might mean little. “I have to see how society reacts to me now. I have lost precious days of my life.” Kamal said it is not easy to start life afresh in the 40s.
The CRPF camp in Rampur was struck in the early hours of January 1, 2008. The Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force arrested Mohammad Shareef, Jung Bahadur (both from UP), Sabauddin (belonging to Bihar), and two alleged Pakistanis and Lashkar-e-Toiba operatives Imran Shahzad and Mohammad Farooq for the attack, apart from Kausar and Khan. Police said Bahadur and Sabauddin had taken the two Pakistanis to the CRPF camp, and stood outside as guard while they carried out the attack.
Police claimed to have recovered two AK-47s, later proved forensically to have been used in the attack, from the Pakistani nationals and Sabaduddin, as well as to have lifted their fingerprints from the spot.
On Saturday, Shahzad, Farooq, Shareef and Sabauddin were sentenced to death, while Jung Bahadur was given life.
Sabauddin is also facing trial in connection with the December 2005 attack at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, in which one retired professor was killed.