Past traumatic, future uncertain for Akshardham acquitted

Past traumatic, future uncertain for Akshardham acquitted

He languished in jail for 11 long years, only to find out that he had been framed. For 45-year-old Mohammad Saleem, prison life has is now a traumatic past. However, he is staring at an even darker future.

Saleem was amongst the six accused acquitted by Supreme Court last week; the apex court slammed the Gujarat Police for its shoddy investigation into the 2002 attack on the Akshardham Temple.

Recollecting the horrifying day he was summoned by cops, Saleem said he had just returned from Saudi Arabia in August 2003, where he used to work as a tailor. “The Ahmedabad crime branch cops picked me up from my residence in Dariapur in the walled city area, alleging that some `fake’ details had been given in my passport application,” he said. They had assured him then that he would be released after some questioning, he added.

“I never imagined that I was being booked for the terror attack,” said Saleem.

What astonished him further was that he was then asked by the police to choose between the Godhra case, the Haren Pandya murder case or the Akshardham case. “I pleaded with them that I had been out of India for 13 years; why should I confess to something I am not involved in?” he recounted, teary-eyed.

In 2006, a Pota (Prevention Of Terrorism Act) court had sentenced Saleem to life imprisonment. Three others—Mufti Abdul Qayuum Adam Ajmeri and Chand—were awarded the death penalty.

Abdul Miyan Qadri was given 10-year imprisonment and Atlaf Hussain was sentenced to a five-year term. The Gujarat High Court had upheld the lower court verdict.

Now, having being freed, Saleem is traumatised by the prospect of living on with the tag of a terrorist. His family has already paid the price while he was behind bars. His mother has been unwell ever since his arrest, and his 15-year-old son had to drop out of an English medium school and take admission in a Gujarati medium school.

“I had always dreamt of having my children educated in English medium schools. But when he reached Standard VI, I was arrested and he had to drop out and seek admission in a municipal school,” said Saleem. His brother Irfan was on the verge of finishing graduation when Saleem was arrested. With the family’s only earning member in prison, Irfan had to leave studies and take care of his family.

“My life has been turned upside down in these last 11 years. I had planned to complete graduation and do some business, but  had to dump every plan and spend the past decade doing the rounds of courts, police station and jail,” said Irfan, glad now that his brother is out.

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