“I have lived all these years with the taint of being an anti-national. Now we will at least die free,” says Maulana Ataur Rehman Wajdi, now 85-year-old, after being acquitted in a 20-year old case.
Wajdi, the current head of Wahdat-e-Islami Hind, is one among the 127 Muslim professionals, activists, and scholars who were acquitted by a court in Gujarat on Saturday in a 20-year-old case under the draconian UAPA for participating in a meeting in Surat allegedly organised to promote the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).
The Surat Police had arrested 127 Muslims including Wajdi in 2001.
Wajdi, the Islamic scholar from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur told the reporters that he was shunned by everybody after the arrests.
“Nobody talked to us or listened to us,” he said.
“We want to put up this question that if the system will stretch cases for 20 years against innocents and even if they get justice, then who will bear and compensate the losses?” asks Ziauddin Siddiqui, another accused who was acquitted.
Siddiqui was a pharmacist from Aurangabad in neighboring Maharashtra and a former office bearer of SIMI. (when the organisation was not banned.)
“In December 2001, we attended a seminar in Rajshahi hall, which was conducted by the All India Minority Education Board. We all had attended the seminar, but between the night of 27th and 28th December, the police arrested all of us and said that we were members of SIMI and were planning unlawful activities. They arrested us and for at least a year, people rotted in jail. And now after 20 years, the case has come to an end, for which we are very grateful to God,” Siddiqui told the presser.
Siddiqui spent 11 months in the Surat jail.
“The second thing is that we want to put up a question on this system. The system that made a false complaint against us. We have no idea.” Siddiqui said.
Hw went on to say: “The system has also ruined our 20 years. How did the system ruined our 20 years is that our wives and children, our businesses, and our jobs have suffered the consequences. People had to go jobless and so many businesses were destroyed. We had to stay in jail for one year and then had to come every month and spend thousands of money.”
“So, when it comes to all these problems, who will compensate for all this?” asks Siddiqui who also said that his entire family, including his 85-year-old mother, spent a sleepless night on Friday, a day before the court order.
“We just request that such injustice should not happen with any innocent men ever again, and such problems should not be created for people who can afford only hand-to-mouth expenses and then their cases a stretched up to 20 years for no reason,” he said.
The long trial
While acquitting the accused, the court noted in the judgment that no clause of unlawful activity imposed by the government applies in this case.
Amit Dave, chief judicial magistrate, Surat observed that the prosecution also failed to prove that the alleged unlawful literature was recovered from the spot.
In its order, the court said that the prosecution failed to produce “cogent, reliable and satisfactory” evidence to establish that the accused persons belonged to the SIMI and had gathered to promote the activities of the banned organisation.
The accused persons cannot be held guilty under the UAPA, court added.
Out of all accused, 111 were present at the court. Five of them have already died while many are living painful lives for over two decades since their arrest.
In 2001, All-India Minority Educational Board, an NGO that works in the education sector had called participants from across India to attend the 8th seminar on the “Constitutional Provisions for Minorities’ Educational Rights.”
The topics of discussion were “The Role of Minority Education in Promotion of National Integration,” “Contribution of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in the Educational Field,” and “Social Service and its Education in India.”
The attendees included authors, teachers, and scholars, as well as religious leaders and belong to more than 10 states.
The venue was a well-known cinema hall-turned-wedding venue in Surat called Rajshri Hall.
On 27 December 2001, as the seminar attendees prepared to sleep, a group of policemen came in and arrested all. They also seized the event banner, the program schedules and the papers attendees were to present.
Soon after the arrest, an FIR was registered against all the participants of the event. According to the FIR, SIMI ( the organisation had been banned three months prior to the event) had called the meeting and the participants were hatching a conspiracy.
Lawyers representing the Muslim activists said that this educational conference of Surat had no connection at all with SIMI. Most of the people arrested in this connection were aged between 35 and 50 years whereas membership of SIMI is restricted to people only upto 30 years of age after which they are retired.
They were sent to jail in judicial custody and bails were denied. First, five people managed bail in October 2002. 86 people got bail on November 20 that year. Others also got bail within two years. . Five of them had died during the pendency of the trial.