An unused phone and literature that is freely available in the market forms the bulk of evidence in a terrorism case for MP ATS.
On 26th July 2006 the Jabalpur police in Madhya Pradesh called for a press conference. It commended itself for nabbing SIMI terrorists. Seven men were paraded in front of the media and ‘seized’ books were presented as proof of their participation in the activities of the banned SIMI. Sarfaraz Ahmed, 34 who ran a pickle shop was one of the accused. The police claimed that apart from SIMI literature they seized a phone from him. Belonging to alleged SIMI operative Imran Ansari, the phone was being used for continuing SIMI activities, according to the police. Except, that phone had been disconnected for a year and there was no evidence to link the seized phone to Imran Ansari. Besides, why would any terrorist, as dangerous as SIMI members are made out to be, use a phone that belonged to a prominent member of the banned organisation? Yet, Sarfaraz served two years in prison, before being granted bail, and then finally acquitted as late as 2013.
Sarfaraz was picked up from his house in Char Khamba Chowk in Jabalpur. The Jabalpur police brought along Imran Ansari and asked Sarfaraz if he recognized him. Sarfaraz did. They had both been active in religious circles organising functions for the Muslim community. Is that a crime in itself? Enough to put you behind bars for two years? The absurdities don’t end here.
Sarfaraz had been lodged in the Jabalpur Central Jail for just over a week when the Khandwa police came and arrested him. They claimed that he had been arrested in Khandwa with Imran Ansari’s phone. However, the first time Sarfaraz ventured into Khandwa was in police custody.
He was charged under sections 3, 10 and 13 of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. 295, 153 (a) and (b) of the IPC. And in a move that confounds all logic he was also charged with sedition! The case in Khandwa dragged on for six long years.
While Sarfaraz was in jail, his younger brother Riaz, brought him a copy of the holy Quran, in the hope that it would sustain him through the dark times. That was not to be. The Quran was torn when Riaz got into a scuffle with the guards because he didn’t want them to touch it without ablutions. When the news spread about the torn Quran a protesting crowd gathered outside the police station. Like all crowds this too consisted, of a few, not all, rouge elements who pelted stones. One of them smashed into a judge’s car window. Riaz was booked under the National Security Act and spent a year in prison.
Fearing arrest Sarfaraz’s youngest brothers, Siraj and Sartaj, had to stay away from home. The responsibility of the household and handling the court cases fell squarely on Shakila Bi, their mother. She made ends meet by tailoring and selling her jewellery.
I ask her how long Sarfaraz was in jail. She has difficulty remembering. Her daughter Sarvari sends Riyaz’s 8-year-old daughter to find out from Sarfaraz. I wonder what she makes of the whole thing. What it is to grow up in an environment where illegal arrests, fabricated charges and illegal detention are normalised to an extent where even an 8-year-old is no stranger to it.