Spectre of new arrests haunts those who suffered after Malegaon

For the past three months, the 40-year-old Shabbir Ahmed Massiullah has spent every morning at Malegaon’s T.M. High School. He sits patiently for four hours outside his son Maaz’s classroom. Throughout the class, the 11-year-old keeps looking at his father, checking if he is there.

On August 2, 2006, the police had barged into their home in Maharashtra’s Malegaon town, near Nasik, and taken Shabbir away. Maaz was only four then.

Overnight, Maaz’s hero was branded a terrorist. Taunted by his classmates, Maaz stopped going to school. He stayed home for almost seven years.

Shabbir was released on bail in 2011, but it took nearly two years to get his son back in school. “When I hugged my son for the first time after I returned, he didn’t speak much. He kept to himself. When I asked about schools, he flatly refused to go.

“If I go to school the police might re-arrest you,” he said. “So I wait outside his classroom till he is done,” says Shabbir, who once had a battery shop. He now practises acupressure, a skill he learnt in jail.

Shabbir was among the nine Muslim men arrested for the blasts in the powerloom town, once the hub of the banned extremist group Students Islamic Movement of India. Five years later, in 2011, they were granted bail after Swami Aseemanand — under arrest for the Mecca Masjid blast — confessed that the Hindu right was behind the Malegaon blasts.

0Initially the case was probed by Maharashtra’s Anti-Terror Squad and then by the CBI. After the confession, it came to the National Investigating Agency (NIA).

By August-end, the NIA told the court that there was no evidence against them and it would not contest their discharge plea.

So, seven years after they were arrested, these men are a whisker away from being declared innocent.

Less than a km away in Zaffarnagar, we meet 56-year-old Shamsuddha Zoha whose son Noorul Hooda was the first man arrested in the case. He was picked up around midnight, a reason why she still finds it difficult to sleep at night. “I sleep near the door. Through the night I peep through the slat to see if the police are coming. They took my son away saying he would be back in 10 minutes. He returned after five-and-a-half years,” she says.

With her son branded as a terrorist, no one was willing to marry her daughters. Her daughters are finally married now, after Noor’s release.

Noor used to work at Shabbir’s battery shop and earned Rs. 5,000 a month. He now rents a run-down grocery store along National Highway-3. “I had to take a Rs. 1-lakh loan to get into this business, but I make Rs.1, 500 a month,” he says. “The beatings in jail left me with a clot on my head. When it bleeds, I feel like someone is drilling a hole in my head,” he says.

Held for

Babri posters

In the interiors of Malegaon, we meet Maulana Zahid Abdul Majeed. Once a priest, he now makes a living as a woodcutter, earning Rs.1,000 a month. He lives in a ramshackle house, built with tarpaulin sheets. His wife is 8 months pregnant but is painfully thin.

Maulana Zahid first came under the police scanner in 1998. “I was booked for sticking a Babri Masjid poster. After that, I was seen as a suspicious character regularly rounded up in preventive arrests,” he says. But life changed completely after his arrest in 2006. “My father disowned me. He blames me for my brother’s arrest in the 2006 Aurangabad arms haul case,” says Zahid.

Bizarrely, the case built by the anti-terror squad rested on the confession of one man, a police informant called Abrar Ahmed. It was he who implicated those held. The ATS ended up arresting him as well. He finally retracted his confession in 2009. But the ATS and CBI chose to ignore that.

But once Aseemand admitted to the role of the Hindu right and the case reached the NIA in 2011, alibis were taken more seriously. Maulana Zahid, accused of planting one of the bombs, says he was not in Malegaon on the day of the blasts. “More than 20 people had given evidence that I was in Yavatmal on the day. Luckily the NIA believed them.”

On October 19, a Mumbai sessions court is likely to take a decision on the applications of these nine men, asking to be discharged from the case.

Even this discharge, considered a mere formality, faces a final barrier. Members of Hindu groups subsequently arrested have intervened to oppose the discharge.