“Who will answer for the death of my five children? Who killed them? The verdict has taken the life out of me. I was never asked by anyone to testify in court,” Rana Shaukat Ali (61) told The Indian Express over phone from his home in Pakistan’s Faisalabad.
Ali and his wife Rubsana (54) lost five of their children in the 2007 Samjhauta Express blast. The couple survived with their youngest daughter, Aksa Shehzadi, who is now 12. Now, they have another daughter Khajija (7).
Before delivering the verdict acquitting the four accused in the case, the special NIA court Wednesday dismissed an application seeking permission for deposition of Pakistani witnesses.
The application was filed by Pakistan resident Rahila Wakil, who claimed that no proper summons were sent to 13 Pakistani witnesses.
“Hindu or Muslim, they were children after all. Who killed them? You tell me,” said Rubsana.
The couple said they had visited India thrice after the blast, and not once were they intimated by Indian or Pakistani authorities that they could testify in court. “If I could have given my statement, maybe the trial could have taken a different turn,” Ali said.
In 2007, the couple and their six children visited Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar for a relative’s wedding. “I still remember my children dancing. My eldest daughter Aisha Tabassum (16) was to take her Class X exams. I remember brushing her hair,” Rubsana said.
Ali remembers that ill-fated journey. His sons Rana Mohammad Bilal (12) and Rana Mohammad Amir (11) were tucked under blankets, and Aisha was chatting with her sister Asma Shehzadi (8).
When the blast took place, Ali jumped out of the train in the chaos. His wife followed with their youngest daughter. “There was smoke all over. My children burnt to death,” Ali said.
Ali recalled that two men sitting in his coach had been questioned by Railway Police. “They said they were going to Ahmedabad, and the policemen asked them what they were doing on a train to Lahore. They deboarded 10-15 minutes before the blast. I kept telling investigators that I can identify them. No one listened.”
He said he received over Rs 20 lakh from Northern Railways as compensation, which he used to open a grocery store and fund his daughter’s education.
During their stay in Delhi in the days after the blast, the couple were looked after by Ashok Randhawa, a victim of the Sarojini Nagar bomb blast in 2005. Randhawa had set up a tent outside the Safdarjung hospital burns ward. “The mother used to faint at the ICU and the father kept crying. I told them they must live for their youngest child,” said Randhawa.