Ashiq Ali Bhatt, now 30 years old, cannot stop smiling as he sits in one of the courtrooms at Tis Hazari complex with his father whom he was meeting after 15 years. Bhatt was anxiously waiting for the legal formalities to get over so that he could walk free from Tihar Jail in the next few hours. Arrested and jailed for planning a 26/11-type attack in Delhi, Bhatt is content that he has finally been cleared of the terror charges — after four years.”If I had committed some wrong and then put behind bars, it would still have been acceptable. But I had to spend four years in prison for a crime I never committed. There is no point mentioning the torture I went through. Nobody can bring back those years,” says Bhatt, dressed in a white kurta-pyjama as he waits for the judge to complete the legal formalities which would lead to his release.
Bhatt, a resident of Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, and Javed Ahmed Tantray (37) from Kupwara were acquitted by a sessions court last week with the judge saying it was a “clear-cut plant case” by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police. Police had claimed the duo were members of the banned Hizbul Mujahideen and were in Delhi to carry out suicide attacks ahead of Independence Day celebrations in the capital in 2009. Police also claimed to have recovered two AK-47 rifles, two pairs of loaded magazines and two hand grenades from their car.
Belonging to poor background, their families had to borrow Rs 20,000 to submit as surety before the court.
“They had picked me from Gorakhpur while I was boarding a train for Jammu. After keeping me in detention for four days in Delhi, they produced me before the court on charges of planning suicide attacks. It was the first time, that too in police custody, that I met Tantray — the other person who was arrested and said to have been planning the attacks with me. Police threatened and beat us up to accept the charges,” says Bhatt.
Bhatt’s father Abdul Lateef, a daily-wage labourer, never came to Delhi all these years as it was too expensive.
“As soon as I got the news that my son had been acquitted, we decided to reach Delhi. We stood all day and night in the general compartment of the train and finally reached here on Sunday. I could not have afforded any other thing, even on a very good day, I earn a mere Rs 100,” says Lateef.
“My son left home when he was very young — maybe 14 or 15 years old. We had no idea where he was until 2009 when we got a call from police that he has been arrested in Delhi. Even then we could not come as we had no money. I’m meeting him today.”
Bhatt says he went to Nepal in search of employment. He claims he was working there at a shop but is silent when asked about the exact nature of his job. In 2009, he came to Gorakhpur to return to Jammu but was picked up by policemen in plainclothes.
“Nobody should go through what I have been through. It’s like hell living in prison. Thankfully, I took to reading the Quran and could keep myself sane all these years,” says Bhatt.
Tantray used to work at a chemist’s shop in Kupwara. “I was 33 years old when I was arrested.
I had come to Delhi for some work. I swear I will not come back here again in my life. As soon as
I reached Delhi, I was picked up by plainclothes policemen and put behind bars. I do not know what will I do once I return home, maybe I will smoke a hookah and live in my village all my life,” says a bitter Tantrey.