'Swami Aseemanand wants to bring Hindus and Muslims closer'
The confession of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak Swami Aseemanand, about his involvement in the blast in Hyderabad's historic Mecca Masjid, Ajmer's Khwaja Moinuddin dargah and many other places, has surprised his followers and detractors alike.
The person who reportedly stirred the Swami's conscience and prompted him to confess to his involvement in terror acts is one Syed Abdul Kaleem.
Kaleem, a resident of Hyderabad, was detained and tortured by the police on suspicion of being involved in the Mecca Masjid blast. He lost three years of his life battling terror allegations while his family was humiliated by society.
Swami Aseemanand decided to confess to his crimes after he met Kaleem in jail and heard about his terrible ordeal.
In an interview with rediff.com's Mohammed Siddique, Kaleem, who was released on bail by a Hyderabad court on Tuesday, recounted his encounter with Swami Aseemanand:
Image: Syed Abdul Kaleem with a family member after his release
'He said he was very sorry'
When did you meet Swami Aseemanand?
Before our meeting, I had come to know from newspaper reports that the Central Bureau of Investigation had arrested somebody called Swami Aseemanand in connection with the Mecca Masjid blast. But he would be in jail only for a short while as the CBI will take him away for questioning.
During one such stay, he apparently asked the jail officials about other inmates in the jail and he came to know about me. Somebody told him my story; how I was arrested in connection with the Mecca Masjid blast in 2007 and tortured, how I had to spend 18 months in jail. He was shocked as he was also an accused in the same case. Apparently, he was moved by the story of my plight and what happened to many others like me.
I was lodged in Chanchalguda Jail after I was arrested for the second time on October 30 on the false charge of providing a cell phone to my elder brother Shaikh Khwaja in Charalapally Jail.
In December, I met Swami Aseemanandji in jail. One day, he took the initiative and talked to me. He asked me why I kept silent and why I didn't talk to him. He said he was very sorry that because of his activities, I and my family had to suffer so badly. I told him that he should apologise not to me but to the families of all those innocent people who died in the blast and all those youth who were arrested by the police and tortured in connection with the blast case.
What did he say?
He said he will apologise to each and very victim, not only in Hyderabad but also those located in other places. He said, "I will ask for forgiveness and I will try to help the victims. If I die in jail, I will leave a will stating that all my organs should be sold and the money should go to the families of victims of the blast. If I come out of jail alive, I will serve these families".
Image: Swami Aseemanand
'I always called him uncle out of respect'
How many times did you meet him?
Three or four times; we spent ten to twelve hours talking to each other. Some times we shared food and biscuits. He asked me about the victims of the blast, about the people who were arrested on false charges. He would hear the details of the way police tortured me by giving electric shocks on my private parts. I told him many families were still suffering after their bread earners were killed in the blast. Sometimes he cried and sometimes he remained silent. But it was clear to me that he was repenting and regretting (his actions).
Did he tell you about the others involved in this case?
He never told me anything about that. He would just tell me that he was sorry. He promised me that he will do something to ensure that such incidents do not happen in the future, that innocent people are not arrested and those arrested are released.
Didn't you feel angry at him?
No. Even if you are angry with somebody, and he comes to you with sorrow, you calm down. Even otherwise, I would not have been angry with him as he was an elderly person. I was taught be my parents that I should always be respectful towards elders. I never called him Swamiji or Aseemanandji, I always called him uncle out of respect.
Image: A policeman stands outside a burnt carriage of Samjhauta Express after the blast
'I will be very sad if he is punished by the court'
When did you get to know about his confessional statement?
One day he came from CBI custody and told me that he had made the confession in court. He told me that apart from giving the statement to the judge, he also wrote a letter to the President of India along the same lines. He told me that from now, no innocent person will be harassed in this case.
But the RSS is saying the confession was extracted forcibly.
It is not correct. If that was the case, Swamji would have told me so. Nobody can force you to say anything in the court. He confessed on his own because he wanted the truth to come out.
Newspapers are full of stories of how you reformed or changed Swami Aseemanand.
I don't deserve this credit. I am happy that God used me to change Aseemanandji. I firmly believe that I was sent to jail a second time by Allah as He wanted me to meet Swamiji and open his eyes. I am really happy about that.
Do you think the Swami should be punished for what he did?
No. I will be very sad if he is punished by the court. He has already repented for what he did and such a man should be given an opportunity. He should be released. I am sure that he will do a great service to the nation by bringing Muslims and Hindus together. He has plans to work in that direction now. He says that when we have fought together for the freedom of the country, we can also live together in peace.
There were two other accused in the same case in jail -- Devender Gupta and Lokesh Sharma.
Yes, I saw them. They also know my story. But they never approached me or tried to talk to me. So I also avoided them. They never had any feelings of repentance or regret.
Image: Security personnel and onlookers stand at the site of a bomb blast in Ajmer
'Our family had become a pariah in society'
What are you planning to do next?
I had got a seat in a medical course in 2007 but because of the police, I lost that. Ater the court acquitted me in that case (of conspiracy), I got admission in a law college. But the police arrested me again last year and I could not appear in one of the semester examinations.
I am now waiting for the release of my brother Khwaja, who is also a victim of police atrocity. He was working in Saudi Arabia but the police here spread stories about him being in Pakistan or Bangladesh. Then they brought him here from Saudi Arabia, saying he was involved in a bomb blast. They also alleged that he was an associate of Shahid Bilal, another youth from Hyderabad. These are all false allegations and he will be proved innocent. Inshallah, the court will acquit him and release him.
Because of what the police did to me and my family, we had become a pariah in the society. The police forced our house owners to throw us out. We had to change five houses in the last three years. The police told them that we were terrorists and if they give us the house on rent, they will be in trouble too.
I hope that even my enemy never has to face such a situation.
Image: Policemen stand guard at the Mecca Masjid, Hyderabad