Mohammad Aamir Khan’s story should qualify as a case study for someone doing research on ‘How terror cases are probed in India’.

In the winter of 1998, the Delhi police named Aamir in more than two dozen bomb blast cases — 17 in Delhi, the twin blasts in Haryana’s Rohtak district and the 1996 Frontier Mail blast in Ghaziabad. Twenty in all.

In the years to come 13 years, 11 months and 20 days, to be precise 1 he was acquitted in 18 of these cases as the prosecution failed to produce evidence connecting him to any of these blasts. In what appears to be a perfect ploy to handpick a young lad and produce him as a terrorist before the judiciary and the press, the investigating agencies made sure that Aamir continued playing the terrorist for as long as possible. The absurdity of Aamir’s case can be gauged from the fact that at one point in time, a court declared him a proclaimed offender when he was actually in jail. This is just one of the many anomalies which marked Aamir’s case from start to end.

On the night of 20 February 1998, Aamir left his home in Mohalla Kishanganj in Old Delhi’s Bara Hindu Rao area, to say Ishaa prayers and buy some medicine. He was at Bahadurgarh Road, around a kilometre from his home, when two men whisked him in a white Gypsy. Aamir was blind-folded and his hands tied behind the back. “They drove me for around 30-and-odd minutes.”

In the preceding year, 1997, a record 22 blasts had rocked the national capital. There was a pattern to them: Almost all were low-intensity blasts; they were carried out to create panic rather than taking maximum lives; none of the explosions happened at a religious place.

That was the time when the Indian Mujahideen and home-grown terror modules were nowhere in the picture.

The blasts were a dent in the city’s security apparatus. The Delhi police was under immense pressure to catch the masterminds. Over the next one year, the police arrested many Pakistani nationals and Indian citizens who had some links to Pakistan. Aamir became another number in this database.

The database was skewed. On record, the police mentioned 27 February as his date of arrest – a week after he was actually picked up. What happened during those seven days is a different story. In court, the police claimed that during interrogation, Aamir had admitted to planting a bomb in Karol Bagh area. The police produced pistols and 10 live cartridges which were allegedly recovered from him. “That was the first time I saw a pistol in my life,” says Aamir.

A session’s court convicted Aamir under sections 302, 307 and 436 of IPC and section 3 of the Explosive Substances Act. The maximum punishment on these charges is life imprisonment. In the days to come, more than a dozen blast cases were slapped on him. After four months of Aamir being in Delhi’s Tihar jail, he was named a co- accused in the Frontier Mail bomb blast case. The 1996 blast in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, had killed two people. However, even after nearly 10 years of the police naming Aamir in this case, there was no sign of a trial. In 2006, his lawyer filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court urging speedy trial.

The court accepted the petition and directed the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM) to oversee the case. “It shall be indicated in the report (submitted by the CJM) as to why the petitioner was not summoned from jail even once during this period of 9-10 years,” ruled the court in February 2007. Two months later, he was shifted to Ghaziabad’s Dasna jail for the trial. That was where Aamir met Mohammad Shakeel, prime accused in the Frontier Mail bomb blast case (Shakeel was named Aamir’s co-accused in at least eight cases, including the Frontier Mail blast case).

“He came across as a depressed person. He had given up on the system,’ said Aamir. On 19 June 2009, there was a commotion near barrack number five in which Shakeel was lodged. He was found hanging from the ceiling in his cell, inmates told Aamir.

Shakeel’s family moved the National Human Rights Commission demanding a probe, alleging that he was murdered. The NHRC directed the district magistrate and the jail superintendent to submit the viscera report. The report found that Shakeel was poisoned. In October 2010, a Ghaziabad court booked former Dasna jail superintendent VK Singh, and four others, for Shakeel’s murder.

Shakeel’s was the sixth death in Dasna prison between 2008 and 2010. In 2009, Dasna jail was in the news for the mysterious death of Ashutosh Asthana, an undertrial in the Uttar Pradesh Provident Fund (PF) case.

From the time of his arrest, Aamir’s father, Mohammed Hashim found it a daunting task to arrange a lawyer for his son. He never had enough money and no lawyer would readily agree to defend a terror accused without charging a hefty amount.

It became worse when Aamir was in Dasna prison.  A Hindi newspaper published a story saying that he was a Pakistani national. “No lawyer was ready to pursue my case after this,” said Aamir. That was when ND Pancholi, lawyer and founder member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), took his case. After a four-year-long trial in which the public prosecutor could not produce any evidence whatsoever to connect Aamir with the train blast, he was released in this case, too.

While in Tihar, Aamir was also named as the main accused in Rohtak twin blasts of January 1997. There was no casualty in these blasts. Trials in Delhi and Rohtak cases could have continued simultaneously. But for the jail authorities, Aamir was as good as dead. They never bothered to produce Aamir before the Rohtak court. In 2005, while Aamir was in Tihar jail, a Rohtak court declared him a proclaimed offender. “They issued warrants against him, published his pictures in the newspapers and even after this, when he did not turn up for the hearing, they declared him a PO, or proclaimed offender. All this when he was actually lodged in a jail in Delhi called Tihar. I have never encountered something as bizarre as this,’ said Rajesh Sharma, the lawyer who handled his Rohtak cases. His trial in the Rohtak cases began in April 2010. He was arrested in this case in July1998. The judge said that he would release Aamir the moment he confessed because he had already spent enough time in jail – more than the time he would have spent if actually convicted. Says Aamir: “I said why should I confess to something which I have not done?”

On 9 January 2012, the court acquitted Aamir. “….it is clear that the prosecution has miserably failed to prove its case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” ruled the court. In April 2003, a Delhi sessions court had sentenced him to life imprisonment for the Karol Bagh blast that killed one person. As many as 62 witnesses were examined in this case.

In August 2006, the Delhi High Court quashed this order as the police could not provide any material to connect Aamir with the blast at Roshan Di Kulfi in Karol Bagh. “In the absence of any material to connect the accused with the blast at Roshan Di Kulfi, his mere presence would not be sufficient to bring home the guilt,” ruled the court.

On the evening of 1 October 1997, a procession was going through Sadar Bazar — one of the most crowded markets in Delhi — to mark Maharaja Ugrasen Jayanti. Around 5.15 pm, two low-intensity explosions took place near the crowd.

Aamir was named co-accused with Shakeel in this case. However, the police failed to provide any proof against Aamir in court. They were banking on the testimony of one of the 43 eye-witnesses who had said that Aamir resembled a person who handed a black polythene bag to an artist on the tableau. The court found the theory too weak to convict Aamir. “There is absolutely no record to link the accused with the commission of the crime and the prosecution has failed to prove that it was the accused Aamir Khan who had planted the bomb in the tableau that exploded,” ruled the additional sessions judge, absolving Aamir of all the charges. It was the same story, judgment after judgment. Trial would begin after at least five or six years of his arrest; the prosecution would produce witnesses, but none of them could identify Aamir; the court would then release him.

One day in July 2001, Aamir’s lawyer told him that his father was critically ill. Aamir visited his father at Bara Hindu Rao Hospital. He was to undergo surgery as one of his kidneys had stopped functioning.

That was the only time Aamir said he could see the outside world in those years. His father died three days later. “Had I been out, I would not have let him die,” said a straight-faced Aamir. After that, Aamir’s cousin brother, Inaam, pursued the case. “If I were in a position to afford a renowned lawyer, I believe he would have walked within days,” said he. Surprisingly, none of the family members were present in the Rohtak courtroom on 9 January when the judge acquitted Aamir and he was to walk free. “That night, I saw the stars after 14 years,” said he.

Aamir hardly steps out of his home today. Not even for prayers. His mind is in turmoil, wondering how he can pick up the threads of his life. Cracks have developed on three of the four walls of his one-room house in the by-lanes of the walled city. It must get repaired before it collapses.

“Let me live for some days,” says Aamir, sporting a nonchalant smile. He spends most of his time with his paralytic mother. She suffered brain haemorrhage in 2008. She just grins in between while hearing our conversation. With a lot of effort, she manages to speak a word or two. Aamir’s elder sister is spending quality time with the brother she could not see growing up. Aamir asks her to go out every time he talks about the torture meted out to him in prison. Her kids cannot get enough of maamu. So far, the sessions court has convicted Aamir in three cases. The Delhi High Court quashed the judgment in one of these cases. His appeal in the rest of the two cases is pending with court. “I want them to declare that I am not guilty in these cases too,” said he.

So, did Aamir have a Pakistan connection?

In December 1997, Aamir went to Pakistan to visit his eldest sister, Sumaiya Chaman, who is married and lives in Karachi. During partition, says Aamir, some of his uncles opted for Pakistan. After around two months, on 13 February 1998, Aamir returned to India via Samjhauta Express. That is the only occasion he has been to Pakistan and Chaman and her family are his only connections to that nation.

On the eighth day of his return from Pakistan, he was picked up by police at Bahadurgarh road. “Police nabbed Aamir as he had all the right qualities: he was young, had a Pakistani connection and came from a poor family,” said Pancholi.

Aamir’s case serves as a strong indictment of the country’s criminal justice system which preys on the weak and helpless to declare phony victories.          –First Post