A traumatic past and an insecure future have made their present rather painful.

Besides torture and six-month incarceration, what haunts them most is the stigma of being branded anti-national. Even two years after their acquittal in the conspiracy cases filed against them after the Mecca Masjid blast in May 2007 and the twin blasts here in August the same year, the agony continues for 18 youngsters.

What has opened the festering wounds is last week's terror attack here when an unarmed policeman was gunned down by activists of the Tehreek Galba-E-Islam to avenge the killing of nine Muslims in the Mecca Masjid blast and five more in the subsequent police firing.

Incidentally, the CBI declared recently that it was Hindu fundamentalist organisation Abhinav Bharat that was responsible for the Masjid, Malegaon and Ajmer blasts.

The 18 youth were accused of supplying explosives to the perpetrators of the Masjid blast. However, none of them was booked in the blast case. Instead, they were booked in separate conspiracy cases.

For some strange reason, the police booked two separate cases following the Mecca Masjid blast — one pertaining to the explosion and the other to the finding of an unexploded improvised explosive device. While the explosion case was handed over to the CBI, the other one was investigated by the local police.

The 18 youth were arrested in different conspiracy cases under crime number 100 of the Charminar police station, crime number 75 by the special investigation team and crime number 198 of the Gopalpuram police station. After illegal detentions, ranging from five to 12 days, they were remanded. But a city court declared them “not guilty” of all the charges.

The incarceration affected the youth so much that most of them refused to speak about their trauma. Only two of them, Abdul Kareem and Syed Abdul Khader, volunteered to speak about the societal discrimination they face even now.

If the torture and humiliation they suffered at the hands of the police is something they cannot forget, the attitude of the media, they say, is like rubbing salt into their wounds. After the gunning down of the constable, some media organisations, visual and print, put out stories recalling their acquittal and dug up footages showing them coming out of the court.

“Does this not make the viewers and readers believe that we were responsible for the Masjid blast? This is happening despite the CBI director going on record that it was a Hindu fundamentalist organisation that organised the blast in Mecca Masjid,” Kareem says. “It is the mindset even among the media professionals that makes society view us with suspicion.”

The arrest virtually shattered their lives. Many of them were forced to vacate rented houses. Some others saw marriages of their sisters being cancelled. “People do not call us and neither do they take our calls. All of a sudden, we are not invited to social gatherings or weddings. Tell me what wrong have I done to deserve this treatment from society? Courts have exonerated us, but society continues to ostracise us,” says Khader, who runs an auto-rickshaw. Kareem sells padlocks to eke out a living.

Both say they are thankful to the former SIT chief, Hemant Karkare, who was gunned down in the Mumbai terror attacks, for bringing out the angle of a Hindu fundamentalist organisation being responsible for some of the terror attacks in the country.