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The Rediff Special/ Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai
'I am not a terrorist'
August 10, 2006
August 10 will be the second most important date in Shaikh Aziz Ahmed's life. That is when a TADA court in Mumbai will pass the verdict on him in the 1993 serial blasts case.
The most important date in his life would be March 22, 1993, the day the police knocked on his door, 10 days after a series of bomb blasts savaged the country's financial capital, killing more than 250 people and injuring over 700 others.
Hours before the court passes a verdict on him, a cursory look at the building housing Ahmed's one room kitchen home at New Kazi Street in south Mumbai's Pydhonie area reveals beyond doubt that it needs urgent repair.
Broken windows and a leaky roof mean even a stubborn drizzle can leave a puddle inside the house.
Looking back at the horror of more than a decade, Ahmed, who now walks with a limp, a consequence of years of police torture, says his twin daughters Uneza and Zaria are the only reason that has kept him alive.
"Today, they are my life. My sons have seen me going through pain in life and they are more mature today, but my daughters have no idea about the kind of torture their father has undergone for 13 years," says Ahmed.
A marine engineer, Ahmed gave up his job in Mumbai in the 1980s to start an import-export business in Dubai. In 1990, he invested whatever he had earned till then and rented a shop in Dubai. He began getting orders for various consumer goods and started making regular trips to Mumbai to supply goods to his customers.
On one such visit, Ahmed arrived in Mumbai on March 22. He had planned to return to Dubai on April 4.
But fate had other plans. The police came and told Ahmed they needed him for interrogation regarding the blasts.
The unsuspecting Ahmed went with the policemen. Little did he know that his life would not be the same again, either for him or his family.
"I just did not know about the horror waiting in store for me. The police took me and beat me up black and blue. They kept asking me where the next bomb would explode," he recalls.
The police gave Ahmed no explanation apart from the fact that they were tipped off that he was a conspirator in the serial bombings.
According to the police, Ahmed was an integral part of the gang that carried out the blasts and was present at the meeting where Ibrahim Mushtaq 'Tiger' Memon and Dawood Ibrahim planned the crime.
The police were sure that Memon had planned more blasts in the city and believed Ahmed knew about it.
His repeated pleas that a business rival could have accused him fell on deaf ears.
"I told them I had nothing to do with the blasts, but they didn't listen to me. They tied me and beat me with rods, gave me electric shocks all over my body and private parts. They were in no mood to listen," he recalls.
Even as the police charged Ahmed under TADA, his wife Zeenat and sons Uzer and Zarar were thrust into an unfamiliar world of poverty.
Zeenat was forced to tutor neighbourhood children at her home to make ends meet.
Recalls Zeenat: "At times, I had to beg for Rs 50 from friends. From a wealthy life, we were reduced to a situation where even survival was tough."
Meanwhile, life became tougher for Ahmed. "In jail, the police used to torture all the accused and on many occasions, the policemen even misbehaved with the wives, sisters and daughters of the accused. There was no one to hear our plea. They just called us terrorists," he remembers.
"That is when I learnt that the only motto of the Mumbai police is to solve the crime. They will catch any innocent man, frame him and 'solve' the case. They have no concern about how the life of the victim is smashed after that."
Ahmed got bail in September 1995 on the basis of his deteriorating health.
He was arrested again in 1997. Four months later, he got bail again and has been trying to pick up the pieces of his life since.
When he returned home, welcoming him along with his wife and children were a debt of Rs 7 lakh (Rs 700,000) and insults like 'Aziz Angar' and 'Aziz TADA" from neighbours in the mostly Muslim area. Neither has he paid off the debts nor have the insults stopped.
Still Ahmed hopes he will get justice. "I am confident I will come out clean. The prosecution has proved nothing against me. They made up a good story but failed to prove anything in court. I am not a terrorist. I have been patient and I am sure I will get justice."
"Moreover," he asks, "if I had been involved, would I have come back to Mumbai ten days after the serial blasts? This is common sense."
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