Mohd. Rashid’s father had to shut his shop because his customers called him a “terrorist” and a “jihadi”. Mohd. Shahid still has not got back the job — the only source of livelihood for his family — which he lost when the police came knocking on his doors nine years ago.
“Nothing can compensate me for those dreadful years when I had to live with the tag of being a terrorist... when my family was ostracised by society,” said Mr. Rashid, 35, a few days after his acquittal.
“I used to cry a lot in my cell, thinking of my fate, wondering whether I would ever be able to see my family again,” said Mr. Shahid. He was 22 at the time of his arrest.
The two, along with three others, were arrested by Delhi Police Special Cell in 2013 under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for having connections with the Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and being involved in a plan to kidnap a businessman for ransom to raise money to carry out terror acts in India.
On May 9, all the five were acquitted by a Delhi court, which stated that the prosecution’s case was based upon “surmises and conjectures rather than any credible evidence”.
Mr. Rashid, who used to work as a school teacher in Haryana’s Nuh district, recalled the nine-year-long trauma he suffered from the time of his arrest in 2013 till his acquittal earlier this month.
“I used to work as a teacher at a school and also took tuitions at home. The police falsely implicated me in the case and I lost several crucial years of my life,” Mr. Rashid said.
Speaking of the time he spent inside a small cell inside the Tihar jail, Mr. Rashid said that he had lost hope of ever being granted bail, let alone being acquitted.
“I kept remembering my family and how they must be dealing with the stigma of being a terrorist’s kin. My relatives and our neighbours snapped all ties with my family. I could not even get a last glimpse of my grandparents who passed away a few years ago,” he added.
After his arrest, customers stopped coming to his father’s grocery store. His father began to be referred to as a “terrorist” and a “jihadi”.
“My father had to ultimately shut his shop as it was becoming too much to bear,” Mr. Rashid said.
“Fellow inmates in the jail saw me as a dreaded criminal. For someone like me, who had never visited a court in my life or even seen a jail till my arrest, it was a traumatising period,” he added.
Recalling the day he was arrested, Mr. Shahid, who used to work as an Imam in Nuh’s Meoli village, said, “I was preparing for Friday prayers when the police came to my house. They said they had found some evidence against me on someone’s phone and that they had come to arrest me. They did not even let me complete my prayers”.
Mr. Shahid was the only person among the five to be granted bail by the Delhi High Court in 2018.
He added that he did not even get to know the case under which he had been booked till a month after his arrest.
“Lawyers at Tihar jail’s legal aid centre told us that we had been booked under UAPA and that it was very difficult to get bail,” Mr. Shahid said.
Life after acquittal
Mr. Rashid said that nothing can bring back the nine crucial years he lost in trying to prove his innocence.
“My niece and nephews do not recognise me. Returning home after so many years seems surreal and strange at the same time. The court now says that there is no evidence against us but what about the trauma and suffering we’ve been through?” Mr. Rashid said. He still has not got back his teaching job.
Neither has Mr. Shahid. Despite being out on bail for the past four years, during which he had to attend court hearings, Mr. Shahid was not able to get back his job as an Imam. “My job was the only source of my family’s livelihood. Now that I have been cleared of all charges, I will try to return to duty,” Mr. Shahid said.