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'Mumbai police don't have any credible evidence'
Sheela Bhatt in Mumbai | July 11, 2007 19:30 IST
Here, in a small flat in Tirupati apartments, Ataur Rahman Sheikh lives with his wife Parveen Banu.
Naya Nagar still retains the charm of community life, as opposed to the satellite existence of the big metro. That feeling of belonging gives Muslims like Ataur Rahman and his wife security.
Correction: used to give a feeling of belonging and security. Because now, Ataur Rahman is intensely insecure, with the community around looking at them with distinct distrust. Many are livid with them.
Two of the couple's three sons, Faisal and Muzzamil, have been arrested under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act and are in Arthur Road jail as accused in the serial blasts of July 11, 2006, that left mangled metal, flesh and blood on the tracks of Mumbai.
Their third son Rahil, declared an absconder by the Mumbai police, is reportedly in Birmingham, Britain.
It is difficult to imagine -- or write about -- the life of parents whose children are accused of as heinous a carnage as 11/7, which left 187 people dead and 824 injured.
The couple alleges the media and police treat them as bad as terrorists, and think they were privy to the alleged actions of their sons.
Even the charitable and factually correct 'parents of alleged terrorists' sounds frightening.
The couple is only too aware of that.
Ataur Rehman doesn't have much hope of his situation changing or improving in their lifetime; he knows how Indian society -- with its strong beliefs in the institution of family -- blames parents much more for their children's sins.
Their isolation is complete. They don't trust anyone, not even their neighbours. They don't have visitors to their house. For the last one year, even their relatives have been avoiding them like the plague.
Ataur says they have disconnected their telephone to avoid getting calls from the police. They claim they use STD booths to call their sons' lawyer Shahid Azmi.
Azmi claims Faisal was an aiyaash (liked his luxuries, a free bird) and was living separately from his parents.
The Mumbai police claims Faisal had a flat in Bandra, an affluent suburb of Mumbai.
"Do you think after keeping bombs my son will live in this house?" asks the elderly Ataur. "Won't he run away? Arre, even a pickpocket doesn't go back to his usual hideouts. The Mumbai police don't have any credible evidence to link my son with the train blasts. They have tortured him to get the confession."
Faisal was arrested on July 27, 2006 from Mira Road.
At this point, before the elderly man can speak further, his wife enters the drawing room and admonishes her husband for speaking to a journalist.
Ataur, who is wearing a torn, sleeveless vest and trousers, stands up to talk to her. "Let me speak a little," he pleads.
Parveen Banu directs her anger at me.
"Go away, we don't want to speak," she hisses, trembling with rage. "All of you are in cahoots with the police. It's no use talking to you. You just want to sell a story because July 11 is here. We don't trust you, we don't trust anybody."
There is no way of judging whether she is in denial or if she is feeling cornered by the turn of events.
Ataur sits down on the sofa.
'Dil toot gaya hain. Dil bahut toot gaya hain (We are heartbroken),' he sighs. His unkempt beard, the visible tension on his face and his tired voice make him seem older than he is.
It seems to me that he wants to share his thoughts, but is unsure whether he can trust me.
A wall-to-wall purdah separates the drawing room from the rest of the flat. An entire wall of the drawing room is covered with wallpaper depicting a waterfall, a typical sign of a Muslim house where their Islamic sect's norm doesn't allow any human figure to be depicted in the house.
Hence, when I request if I can click their picture, they refuse. They say they don't have any picture of Faisal since their Ahale Hadees sect forbids taking any picture of human beings. They also refuse to answer questions on Faisal's childhood, or their religious beliefs.
Parveen tells Ataur again, "Don't speak a word." She repeatedly instructs her husband that he should answer my other questions in the minimum possible words.
Ataur ignores his wife's demand.
"Read these pages," he tells me, showing an Urdu newspaper. "It's in Urdu, but it tells the real tale. All the accused are saying that Mumbai police tortured them and forced them to give confessions. They took Faisal's signature on a blank paper. They tortured me, too. The police blackmailed us by threatening our women."
At this point, Parveen Banu gets almost hysterical. "Why are you telling her to write all this?" she screams. "She won't write the truth. They are all one, they have all ganged up. They believe the Hyderabad blasts were done by Muslims, the Malegaon blasts were done by Muslims, the Nagpur blasts were done by Muslims, the Mumbai blasts too were done by Muslims. They think only Muslims are behind the blasts."
And then she turns to me: "You are sitting here to catch us (aap baithe hai pakadne ko)."
Ataur points at his wife and tells me, "Hamara kya anzam hua hai aap dekh rahe hai (you can see our fate)."
He is aware of the seriousness of the allegations against Faisal, who is a prime accused in the blasts.
According to the police, Faisal's confession -- which he retracted later -- and his statements during narco-analysis tests have been relied upon to build the police case.
"Narco-analysis is also a kind of torture," Ataur says. "I went to listen to the public debate at the K C College on the scientific side of narco-analysis. The experts were claiming that it is absolutely wrong to resort to narco-analysis as evidence. This country is lawless."
I ask him what Faisal's source of income was. Ataur claims he was in the readymade garments business. Faisal's lawyer Azmi told me he was into dry fruit exports.
The police say many of the 11/7 accused went to Pakistan via Iran. The chargesheet mentions that Muzzamil, despite being Sunni, went to Iran for pilgrimage to a Shia shrine.
I ask Ataur why Muzzamil went to Iran. "Jiyarat (pilgrimage)," is the father's answer. "Thousands of Muslims go to Iran," adds the mother.
"I am not someone who can see the blood of innocent people," says Ataur, when he realises I have only a few questions. "I am accountable to god one day. That is the reality. We can't kill innocents because the Koran says if you kill one innocent you are killing mankind."
Parveen has had enough. She asks Ataur to end the interview.
Ataur vents his frustration, throwing up his hands: "You think the RDX is pasted here on the ceiling, on the walls and on the floors, right? What do you think of us? What do you want to know from us?"
The isolated couple, virtually imprisoned within the four walls of their middle class apartment in Mira road, has no faith left in the police, the media, the courts or indeed the nation's ability or inclination to listen to them. Nor do they seem to question what has prompted their isolation.
They think even their community leaders have sold their souls to politicians.
Many Indians might blindly -- or otherwise -- believe the investigations into the 11/7 case by the Mumbai police. They might not want to even wait for the court's verdict and feel that Ataur and Parveen 'deserve it.'
But, even they can't deny the fact that Ataur, Parveen and their three sons are Indian.
Mira Road rubs shoulders with our biggest and richest city and Faisal, the prime accused in an act of pure evil, was born and brought up amidst the culture of the Yeola district of Maharashtra and that of Mumbai.
The Sheikh family's religious sect has been flourishing within India for many decades now.
If their three sons are involved in terrorism, it is an Indian problem. If they are not, as Ataur claims, it is a matter of even bigger concern for the nation.
That is the dilemma of modern India.