"September 27, 2000. How can I forget that day," says Kaleem Akhtar, one of three men who were acquitted by a local court in Lucknow on Thursday in a decade-old blast case for want of evidence against them.
"I was five months into my (teaching) job at a trust-run primary school in Sankhu (a village close to Kargil) and had just resumed classes after the lunch break. Midway into the period, I was summoned to the principal's office and told that some police officer wanted to meet me," he recounts.
Only 23 years old then, Kaleem was nervous as he entered the principal's office to find a superintendent rank police officer seated there.
The officer questioned him about his background and purpose of living in Kargil-Kaleem was a resident of Lucknow. He was then taken to a local police station where he was further questioned about his credentials related to the SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) of which he was a member. (The organization was not banned then.)
However, even days after he was taken into custody, Kaleem had no clue of his crime.
"Back then I was under the impression that the police was questioning me only to know about SIMI. I think it was on the verge on being banned," says Kaleem, 37.
It was only after he was produced in a CJM court in Kargil and then transferred to Lucknow Jail, that Kaleem realized that he was an accused in the August 15, 2000 bomb blast at Sahkarita Bhawan, near the Assembly House in Lucknow.
The blast, however, caused no casualties or injuries.
Kaleem was slapped with severe charges like Section 121, 121A, 122, 123 and 124A of the Indian Penal Code, dealing with conspiracy and waging war against the nation.
Kaleem's counsel Mohammed Shoaib claims youth like Kaleem were arrested back then merely to legitimize the ban on the organization. SIMI was eventually banned in 2001 exactly a year after Kaleem was picked up from Kargil.
Though he was granted bail a year after his arrest, Kaleem spent 14 long years living under the stigma of being a terror accused and the sword of conviction dangling over his head.
"I was summoned by the Court once every 15 days. In all, I got 300 hearings over the years. This ordeal destabilized me. I couldn't focus on my work-I left my teaching job and shifted to selling cloth- as my life revolved around the court," he says.
Kaleem also alleges that the police regularly harassed his family to withdraw his bail application. "They beat my brothers in front of my mother while enquiring about me," he says.
Terrified of further harassment, Kaleem even refused to be photographed for this report.
Sayyed Abdul Mubeen, a resident of Siddharthnagar in east UP and Gulzar Ahmed Vani, who hails from Baramulla in Kashmir, were acquitted along with Kaleem but they still face trial in similar cases in Barabanki and Agra. While Mubeen was released in 2006, Vani is still behind bars.