Aamir Baig’s engagement day will be etched forever in his memory for a different reason. That was the day his brother Mirza Rizwan Baig, 37, committed suicide by hanging himself with a nylon rope from a door in his home at Chaush Colony, Himayat Baugh.
On April 7, Rizwan decided to stay back when the entire family left for the engagement ceremony. “When we came back, a horrible sight greeted us,” says Mirza Shahnawaz Baig, his eldest brother.
Three months before, in January, Rizwan was questioned by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in Mumbai. During the second round of questioning, he was severely disturbed, say the two relatives accompanying him, and refused to return home. Shahnawaz Baig had to come overnight and take him back. He was admitted to a private nursing home and diagnosed as being a chronic schizophrenic. He never recovered thereafter, says Shahnawaz, who blames ‘torture and harassment’ by the ATS for his brother’s death.
His family refused to collect his body till a case of abetment to suicide was registered against the ATS, but they had to relent as the police refused to do so. Tempers ran high at his funeral and last Friday, the city witnessed a silent protest to demand an end to the harassment of Muslim youths and their illegal detention and arrest.
Mirza Rizwan Baig ran a small grocery shop next to his house. Years before the family moved to Aurangabad from Beed, he was treated for bipolar disorder, but Shahnawaz told The Hindu that he had recovered by 2000. He displayed no symptoms after that. He led a “normal” life and was married with three children, the youngest being a girl of six months. Shahnawaz and the family are frustrated by Rizwan’s death and say it all began when he got some money to be paid to a man called Kashif Biyabani, later arrested as a suspect in the Pune blasts of August 2012. Kashif’s brother Akef was arrested in connection with the Aurangabad arms haul of 2006.
After the arrest of Zabiuddin Ansari or Abu Jundal in June 2012, and his subsequent interrogation, the police learnt that he had sent Rs. 40,000 to Rizwan Baig through a man called Abdul Rafe, which was to be paid to Biyabani, around two years ago. The money was still with Rizwan since Biyabani reportedly did not accept it, fearing a trap. However, last year, officials from the Mumbai Crime Branch recovered the money from Rizwan, and Shahnawaz says his statement was recorded and the matter ended there.
Rizwan remained a prime witness in the November 26 terror strike and also in the Pune blasts case, according to the police. His family says it didn’t know about this. Once again last December, the local police said the ATS wanted to question Rizwan, and he would have to go to the Kalachowky police station. On January 2, accompanied by a relative, an associate and a constable, Rizwan went to Mumbai in a private vehicle. On that day and the next, he was questioned for long hours. Again on January 6, Rizwan was called, and this time his brother-in-law Momin Sameer and another relative accompanied him. After his questioning on the second day, Rizwan came out and said he was being beaten by the police and he kept saying he would surrender to them. He said he was being repeatedly questioned, beaten and asked to give names, says Mr. Sameer, who then contacted Shahnawaz.
“I left that night on January 8 and brought Rizwan home. I gave him sleeping pills so he would be quiet during the journey. We had to admit him to a nursing home since he was getting violent,” says Shahnawaz. He spent a fortnight in the nursing home from January 10. He was to be questioned again on January 13 but he was in no state to go. He also had a severe ear injury.
Shahnawaz admits that he did not inform the ATS that his brother was once diagnosed with a mental illness. “I didn’t tell them anything because I thought he had recovered, and he was quite normal from 2000 to 2012,” he points out. The stress of questioning and harassment could have brought on his mental illness, says Shahnawaz.
While ATS chief Rakesh Maria did not answer a call or text message, highly placed police officials said the ATS did not know about Rizwan’s mental illness, nor were they informed. Denying that he was tortured or harassed, they said he was a prime witness and not a suspect, which was why he was only called for questioning.
Aurangabad Commissioner of Police Sanjay Kumar told The Hindu that there was no substantial evidence suggesting that Rizwan was tortured by the ATS, so a case of abetment to suicide could not be filed. He said the police were investigating a case of accidental death, and Rizwan had a history of mental illness. “If the ATS had tortured him, why wasn’t a police complaint filed in January itself? His relatives had accompanied him and if there was anything amiss they should have told the police. There was no mark of physical violence on him,” he said.
Mr. Kumar reiterated that Rizwan was a prime witness in two key cases and Rs. 40,000 was recovered from him, the money sent by Abu Jundal.
However, there is another reason the ATS was interested in Rizwan Baig. His brother Fahad, an alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative, had disappeared in 2005 and was allegedly shot dead in an encounter by the army, something the ATS learnt after the arrest of another terror suspect Mohammed Amir Shakil Ahmed. Shahnawaz says he was questioned after the reported death of Fahad by the ATS in Pune, but he really does not know anything.
Sources reveal that the ATS did question Rizwan about Fahad and his connections. The family say it had no news from Fahad after he left home suddenly in 2005.
Rizwan seems to have been a victim of circumstance. Police sources say Rizwan might not have been involved in any conspiracy, and he was only a witness. His family is in anguish, and the future of his wife and children hangs in the balance. They are firm in their demand for an in-depth investigation into the role of the ATS in his death. So far, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.