“Sometimes I feel like killing myself,” Beyummah reveals in her soft voice. Eyes watery and hands shivering, Beyummah takes a moment to compose herself. “I just want him back, I need no more.”
The prolonged struggle to release her son, Zakariya, resident of Parappanangadi in Kerala’s Malappuram district, an undertrial prisoner for 11 years has taken a mental toll on the ailing mother. Zakariya was picked up by the Karnataka Police at the age of 19 charging him with India’s controversial draconian law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in connection with 2008 Bangalore bomb blast.
In March, the single mother in her sixties moved to the Supreme Court of India challenging against UAPA and the new amendment. The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) plea is requested to declare the act ‘unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights’.
“What happened to us should never happen to anyone else,” Beyummah says about the petition. The Court procedure has been hampered by the pandemic since March as the Court only list urgent matters.
“UAPA is a law that enables injustice and extrajudicial procedures. It has ruined many families, especially Muslims,” says Nahas AH, president of Solidarity Youth Movement, a Muslim youth organization in Kerala.
The stringent law is now widely debated with frequent use of it to book anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters and human rights’ defenders. UAPA is flagged by many international organisations citing the law violates human rights and International Law Standards.
The litigation claims that section 35 of the UAPA is violative of the basic tenets of Part III of the Indian Constitution. The act confers upon the central government unfettered powers to declare an individual as a terrorist only if it believes that it is involved in terrorism.
“How is he ever going to rebuild his life,” asks Beyummah. Zakariya has already lived one-third of his life in prison.
The choice to keep the labelling process faceless and shapeless in the statute erodes the accountability of those wielding power, and underscores the imbalance of power between state and subject, reads the petition.
The new amendment is contrary to the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and also violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1967. The amendment was brought into force in August 2019.
“We are challenging the new amendment and the act itself,” says Nahas. “The conviction rate is minimal in UAPA cases, yet the trial itself becomes severe punishment”.
Solidarity Youth Movement is the second petitioner in the plea, pursuing Beyummah take the lead in the ‘fight’. “She readily agreed,” Nahas adds.
Zakariya, abducted and framed
Beyummah lost her husband, Koniyathu Veetil Kunjahammed when Zakariya, the youngest of her four children, was 10 years old. Ever since she was supported by her brothers.
“Her brothers pitched in to build her a house,” recalls Buhra, eldest of Beyummah’s children. The family was indebted to them and the brothers worked to payback.
“He used to tell me that we both can live off with his earnings”, says Beyummah. Zakariya, after dropping B.com, attended a short term course in electronics to support the family. He got employed at a mobile shop in Kondotty and later shifted to a shop in Tirur for an easier commute.
According to Beyummah, days prior to the abduction, Kerala Police came to their house making enquires about Zakariya. Police told Beyummah it was regarding his application for the passport.
“I was certain he didn’t apply for a passport,” Beyummah narrates. Police met Zakariya the day later and told him there was nothing to be afraid of. Zakariya went to work without fail, only to be taken away.
On 5 February 2009, Zakariya was picked by Karnataka Police from Tirur and taken to Bengaluru without informing the local police.
“He called on the fourth day. He had no idea what had befallen upon him. He said he was taken by the police,” recalls Beyummah. The family was intimidated by the police to not speak about his arrest publicly. They cautioned it, saying that it would narrow the chances of his release.
Beyummah who used to live with Zakariya shifted to her elder son’s place after the arrest to avoid public confrontation. “Neighbours, even some family members started to distance themselves from us,” says Buhra.
“I live for Zakariya now”
“We knew he was innocent, but it took four years for the people to listen to us”, complains Anwar CP, a friend of Zakariya. Through Abdul Nasar Madani, renowned Islamic scholar and Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is a prime suspect in the case, Zakariya’s story reached civil groups. The intervention helped Beyummah in finding empathy and solidarity.
“They must be terrified with the police surveillance and there is nothing wrong,” Beyummah forgives the initial inactions. ‘Free Zakariya Action Forum’ was constituted by his friends and several organizations which enabled the public discourse on his story.
After seven years Zakariya was granted parole for two days to join his brother Shareef’s marriage in 2016. In the chronicle of tragedies, Zakariya returned again next year to attend the funeral of the same brother.
“He always tells that it will all end in six months,” lamented Beyummah. Since the death of Zakariya’s brother, Beyummah started showing symptoms of depression.
Last year, Beyummah was hospitalized after a major stroke. “Doctors never thought she would make it. It is a miracle she totally recovered,” says Sameer Koniyath, the convenor of Free Zakaria Action Forum. Considering the ailing mother, Zakariya was granted one-day permission to visit Beyummah.
“I am living to see him return to me. Why do they deny it to an old woman?”, asks Beyummah. Her mental condition deteriorated since his last visit.
‘Without a dint of doubt’
Zakariya is the eighth accused in the blasts in Bengaluru in 2008, in which one person was killed. He is allegedly involved in making timers for the bomb.
Shuhaib, Zakariya’s cousin, was stubborn about Zakariya’s innocence and pressed for his release since his arrest. “It was Shuaib’s initiation that enabled public interest in the case,” says Adv. Hashir K, who made a docu-fiction movie on Zakariya. Shuhaib dug out the fault lines in the chargesheet projecting Zakariya’s Innocence.
Haridasan and Nizamudeen, two witnesses produced against Zakariya publicly denounced their statement. They claimed that they were forced to sign the statement which was in Kannada and falsely translated by the police.
Shuhaib admits responsiblity for arranging the work at Kondotty, from where Zakariya is accused of involvement in the crime.
“Police knows he would be acquitted. But they keep him to make sure the merit of investigation is never questioned,” observes Sameer. Although some of the arrested personals were released with a plea deal. Zakariya turned down the offer from the police.
“Zakariya in our conversation shared the offers made by police,” says Hashir. “Willpower of this man and his commitment to seek justice in an honorable way defeats me,” Hashir adds.
The case is in the last stage. The procedure is further delayed by the pandemic. “They were about to examine the accused under Section 313 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure”, says Adv Ameen Hasan, legal aid of Solidarity Youth Movement.
Zakariya is one among the thousands in Parapanna Agrahara Jail, spread over 40 hectares of land and filled with twice the capacity, who is awaiting the judiciary to show mercy in fastening their cases.
Beyummah, against all odds, have made sure she had knocked all doors to help her son. “Allah is watching how my heart burns, there will be a day he replies for my prayer,” says Beyummah.