Srinagar, June 30 : All the charges pressed against Bashir Ahmed Baba by the Indian police proved to be false and it took the Indian courts 12 years to come to that conclusion.
During his 12-year long illegal detention in the western Indian state of Gujarat, Bashir Ahmed Baba often missed the streets and bylanes of Srinagar’s Rainawari neighbourhood, the place where he was raised. He would dream of returning home one day and walking down his favourite childhood streets as a free man.
Now 44-year-old Baba finds himself in a place he barely recognizes. He talks, almost complains of traffic jams, haphazard building constructions, new roads and flyovers that have come up in his absence across Kashmir. But one thing that he doesn’t talk much about is his time in prison.
Last week he was cleared of all charges including the controversial Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
“I spent 12 years in prison because I was accused falsely of a crime I didn’t commit. But this too must be a test from Allah or maybe even better. Maybe I was meant to go through something even more terrible. Maybe I would have met an accident and spent the next 12 years in a comma. Who knows, maybe this was Allah’s way to protect me,” Baba told media while sitting beside his ageing mother at his home.
In February 2010, Baba, then a 32-year-old, left his home to attend a training workshop that was arranged for him by his employer, a German non-governmental organisation that ran a project in India for the medical support of children in rural areas. The venue for the training was Gujarat, the home state of incumbent Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who at that time led the state as a chief minister. Baba was supposed to return home in two weeks. But six days into his training the anti-terrorism squad or ATS of the Gujarat police picked him and his colleague from their dorm room in Ahmedabad, the capital of Gujarat.
According to Baba, between February 27 and March 13, the ATS kept him under detention and interrogated him until they pressed charges against him. India’s reputed media organisations ran stories about Baba, portraying him as a terrorist who had set out to recruit Muslim men in Gujarat. Quoting unnamed sources, the Indian media also branded Baba as the “Pepsi bomber” for his supposed skill to make explosives in soft drink cans.
“I didn’t even know about the crimes they were accusing me of. I was beaten badly. During my detention, I fell sick as well. I was taken to the hospital for treatment. Finally, I was presented in front of a judge. The next 12 years were just about spending time in jail and attending court hearings every now and then,” Baba said.
Baba has a diploma in computer applications. Before falling prey to police brutality in Gujarat, he devoted his time to building a computer training centre for the Kashmiri youth. He also worked for an NGO that provided medical help to poor and vulnerable children. In light of his performance at the NGO, he was sent to Gujarat for a sophisticated ‘camp management training’.
“It was a horrible experience. I had heard about youngsters of Kashmiri being arrested randomly. I could see my future playing out in front of me,” he said.
Bashir Ahmed Baba lost precious years of his life to wrongful imprisonment. Baba’s case is one among several cases in which Kashmiri youth have been imprisoned in Indian cities under terrorism charges. This trend started three decades ago when the Kashmiris intensified their struggle for securing their inalienable right to self-determination in 1989.
The Baba family’s finances dwindled because they had to bear the costs of both the terrorism case against Baba and his father’s illness. The family’s poor conditions became so visible that one day when Baba’s lawyer Javaid Khan visited the family he decided not to charge any fee. The veteran lawyer, Baba said, passed a week before he was cleared of all charges.