Dr. Khan secured bail only in February 2011, after eight bail applications that he drafted himself
There have been some famous prison memoirs, but Dr. Anwar Ali Javed Ali Khan’s took an educational tack. His book “Learn Urdu in 30 days,” now into its third edition, is quite popular and he gets requests from as far as the U.S. for this primer of sorts. If Dr. Khan didn’t pour out grim reminiscences of his eight years in prison after his arrest on terror charges, that’s because he’s the man he is. He completed his PhD while in jail by getting a court order to give his viva at the University of Pune under police escort and helped fellow under-trials draft their bail and other applications.
“I helped so many people with my drafting skills and they were released on bail,” says Dr. Khan, 47, a former lecturer in Urdu at the National Defence Academy (NDA), which terminated his services a day after his arrest on May 11, 2003, for his suspected involvement in the Mulund bomb blast in March in Mumbai. He was later charged with the Ghatkopar and Vile Parle blasts too.
He was discharged, along with eight others, from the Ghatkopar case on March 4, 2004, by the special judge to try cases under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) for want of sufficient grounds to proceed against them. The prosecutor submitted that they “could not be connected with sufficient material so as to furnish sufficient ground to prosecute them.”
However, Dr. Khan says as soon as he was released from jail, he was re-arrested for the Mulund and Vile Parle bomb blasts case which has been dragging on. He managed to secure bail only in February 28, 2011, after eight bail applications which he drafted himself. “I knew my case, it was so easy to prove how baseless it was,” he points out.
Despite an unforgettable stay in prison, he still has faith in the judiciary, but his chances of getting a job are dim. He was denied one as an Urdu lecturer due to his “terror” connections and he has little hope now that he will ever be employed. He and his family, including three children and his mother, subsist on proceeds from his bestselling book, tuitions and odd jobs. “Teaching is a passion for me; even in jail I missed it so much. I like to teach in a classroom environment,” he says.
He was appointed as a lecturer in Urdu in the NDA in 1996, but on a temporary basis. All was well till 2003. “Some policemen came to my house and left a message asking me report to Mumbai — I went on May 9 and they questioned me for many hours. They asked my advocate to leave and formally arrested me on May 11,” he says. Dr. Khan and another suspect Saqib Nachen, who was released after 10 years in jail, had decided to form a legal aid cell — the Muslim Legal Aid and Welfare Foundation in 2002 and it was in the initial stages of planning. “We wanted a board of patrons and had three meetings. During the initial questioning, the police wanted to know about the meetings. I told them we didn’t plan any bomb blast,” Dr. Khan says. Obviously the police thought otherwise.
Dr. Khan says the police accused him under the Arms Act as well because they recovered “a pistol from his flat in Pune.”
“That flat was locked for over a year and they took the keys from my mother who was living with me after my father died. They claim the pistol was in the kitchen,” he says.
After writing his book, he got permission from the court to get it published in 2009. His PhD thesis, a critical analysis of Allama Mehvi Siddiqui — a poet from Lucknow — was ready in 2002. “I was only waiting for the viva and that was a struggle too. The University of Pune refused to conduct it till I wrote to the Minority Commission. They didn’t give me bail — finally I went with police escort,” he says.
It was in 2007 that he was awarded his doctorate and he was permitted to attend the convocation. “Lord Meghnad Desai was the chief guest,” he recalls. While the police say the three meetings of the Foundation were linked to the blasts, they haven’t been able to produce evidence as yet to link Dr. Khan to the conspiracy.
He says the NDA terminated his services for absenteeism. “I didn’t have an opportunity to explain,” he adds.
When he went to jail, Dr. Khan remembers that no one believed the police and people were very supportive. “In fact, one policeman told me that since I had a lot of respect in Pune, I should be paraded on the streets with handcuffs,” he says.
“I wasn’t expecting to be arrested and arraigned. It took time for me to adjust and I tried to mentally prepare myself for the ordeal. Jail is a life of deprivation. I missed everything — my family, teaching…” he says. But the one thing he did catch up on was reading fiction. They were allowed newspapers and he would mark the top fiction books and ask his wife to bring them. His favourite author is Dan Brown and now he reads thrillers when he gets time. He still has to report to the local police station every 15 days but for one and a half years, he used to mark daily attendance.
After his release on bail, Dr. Khan and others filed for Rs. five lakh compensation each, but the POTA judge told them to approach the State government. He has to get around to doing that. The NDA has not yet responded to emailed questions seeking clarification on the issue.