Stigmatised as a terrorist, after five harrowing months in prison in Hyderabad, Ibrahim Junaid, a young man of 25 years, is now out on bail, trying desperately to prove his innocence, and to complete his medical studies. He was illegally abducted by policemen in civilian clothes, tortured and jailed. This is his testimony.
As was his practice every Friday, Ibrahim walked on a hot summer afternoon on May 18, 2007 with his friends from the Unani medical college to the historic Mecca Masjid nearby. The prayers and the weekly sermon were over, and the crowds of worshippers were drifting to the exit of the mosque. Suddenly Ibrahim heard a terrifying explosion behind him, and turned to find the mosque choked with dense smoke and the screams of men running in every direction, bloodied bodies strewn around the floor. Ibrahim saw a man with his skull half open, and many scattered, severed limbs. People panicked further with rumours that more bombs would explode. As he was running out, he found one of his college professors lying unconscious, his limbs fractured. He called out to his friends in the mayhem, and they lifted him out on their shoulders, and rushed him to the hospital in their principal’s car. Ibrahim heard later that the city police announced within hours that the attack had been planned by an obscure Islamic terrorist group based in Bangladesh, and it fired on a crowd of Muslim protesters enraged at what they perceived to be police failures to prevent the terror attack on the mosque. Gloom fell like a dark shadow across the old city.
For days after the bomb attack, Ibrahim just slept at his home, haunted by images of the dead and twisted bodies in the mosque. On the eighth day after the explosion, he received summons from the Special Investigation Cell of the Hyderabad Police. The officer questioned him about who was responsible for the attack. Ibrahim said he did not know, but countered him hotly, asking how the police were so convinced that the terrorists might not have been of another community. He was grilled the whole day, and for the next three consecutive days, and then again from time to time. They then began to ask him whether he himself had not planted the bomb.
May be it was because of an early skirmish with the law when he was jailed after protesting the installation of a deity of Ganesh in a Muslim graveyard that the police chose to pick him up. May be it was because he kept a beard and was deeply religious. May be it was because his parents decided, when he was 12, to interrupt his studies in a Christian missionary school, and send him instead (as a day scholar) to study at a local madrassa. They wanted at least one son to be a Hafiz, or one who memorises the entire Quran. They were not disappointed, because Ibrahim successfully graduated in four years from the madrassa. He does not regret the decision his parents made for him. He still wanted to be a doctor, and struggled to join another private school, and pass his high school examination. But Ibrahim is convinced that the police specially targeted him most of all because he joined a human rights group six months after his first release from jail. He was attracted to the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, because of its brave and outspoken stand against police excesses.
In September 2007, Ibrahim had barely alighted from the train after returning from a study tour with his teacher and colleagues, when three men grabbed him by the waist and dragged him to a waiting vehicle. They threatened him to remain silent, or else he would be killed. They drove to Purana Pul, then blindfolded him, and tied his hands behind him. The vehicle drove for around two hours, before they finally alighted at a building. It was a location far from the noise of city traffic.
Inside the building, they took away his mobile phone and money. Near midnight, they stripped him down to his underwear. Two men pulled his legs wide apart, another climbed his shoulder and pounded him. They administered electric shocks by turn on his genitals, ears, lips, nipples, temple and joints until he passed out. They would revive him and start again, beating him on his soles with a rubber belt. Between communal taunts, they asked him again and again who was responsible for the blasts. He pleaded that he did not know, and had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on the city. Early morning, when he fell unconscious one more time, a man walked all over him with his boots, then dragged him still naked into an air-conditioned room where, shivering and in unbearable pain, he tried fitfully to sleep.
The same routine continued as day passed to night and then day again, until he lost count of time in a haze of torment and dread. He began to pass blood in his urine. Outside, unknown to him, the human rights organisation of which he was a member convened other rights groups and members of his family, as well of those of more than 20 other young people who had been similarly abducted and detained. They filed habeas corpus petitions in the High Court, petitioned national and State human rights and minorities commissions, and convened high profile protest meets and press conferences. Ibrahim’s parents were prominent in all these protests and appeals. In an anguished petition to the State Human Rights Commission, his mother Arifunisa wrote, “How can he conspiracy against his motherland? He is a true patriotic citizen as the complainant inspector is (sic.).”
The police finally succumbed to pressure and produced the illegally detained young men before the Secunderabad metropolitan magistrate at his official home, claiming that they had just been arrested a few hours earlier, because of their subversive attempts to incite Muslim youth against the State. The magistrate emerged briefly from his house, just counted the men and directed, “Send them to jail.” He did not question or give the interned men a chance to speak.
In jail, Ibrahim spent much of the day reading the Quran. They were released into the jail courtyard at six every morning, and had three simple meals at seven and 11 in the morning, and four in the evening. At sundown around six, they were returned to their barracks. Ibrahim looked forward to the meetings with his parents twice a week, even though his mother wept a lot. They assured him that he was being defended by an excellent human rights lawyer, and were raising money for his bail. The prison officials, and even some of the jail inmates taunted them as “traitors”, “terrorists” and “ISI agents”. The human rights organisations collaborated with the State minorities’ commission to investigate the allegations against the police made by Ibrahim and others, and encountered sufficient collaborative evidence to find them credible. The jail officials also recorded the many bodily injuries suggestive of torture.
One by one, the jailed youth got bail. For Ibrahim, it took five months, because the police strenuously opposed his bail. He was taken while in custody to the FSL Laboratory in Bangalore for a “narco-test”, in which he recalls being injected with a drug popularly known as truth serum, after which he was questioned. He has no memory of what transpired. In the end, a bail of Rs. 50,000 was granted. His mother sold her jewellery to be able to deposit so much money.
It is remarkable that the charge-sheet that was finally crafted by the Hyderabad police could make no allegation linking Ibrahim or any other young men abducted at that time to the terrorist attacks on the city. Instead, the charges were far more general, claiming his sympathy to Jihadi ideology, which resorts to terror “so that they can rule India as they are ruling Pakistan (sic.)”. He was said to have been arrested from a meeting at the railway station, and found to be in possession of seditious literature and VCDs “showing the clippings of Gujarat communal riots and beheading of western forces by the Jihadi elements”, thereby “provoking Muslim youth to take revenge against non Muslim communities…”
After his release, he has tried hard to re-enter his medical college, and give his final professional examination. But although his classmates, both Hindu and Muslim welcomed him back, the cloud of charges of treason and support to terrorism make his college authorities wary. They cannot afford trouble with the law. He wonders now, when, if ever, he will be able to complete his medical education.
Ibrahim, like all the young men who were abducted and tortured by the Hyderabad police, faces a terrible dilemma. If they speak out publicly against the atrocities they have suffered, they fear retribution from the police. They can be framed further for crimes of sedition and terror, tortured or even killed (or “encountered”, as extra judicial killings are popularly called). But if they persist with their silence, in dread of ramifications, they still remain in real and imminent danger of suffering the same outcomes that they fear from a force that has become accustomed to impunity in its battles against alleged Maoists and terrorists.
Ibrahim is clear about his personal choice: that he will fight against injustice from the front, and face whatever are the consequences. Only time will reveal what these repercussions are, for him as much as for his country. (The Hindu)