'My husband will never forget the torture nor forgive those responsible for it.'
Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit, who was charged with conspiracy in the 2008 Malegaon blast case nine years ago, found partial relief on Wednesday, December 27, 2017, when the National Investigation Agency court dropped the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against him and six others in the case. A partial relief, as it were, as the court did not dismiss their plea for discharge in the case.
Lieutenant Colonel Purohit, accused #9, will now face trial under sections 16 (committing a terror act) and 18 (criminal conspiracy) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), and sections 120(b) (punishment of criminal conspiracy), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 326 (intentionally causing harm to others) of the Indian Penal Code.
On September 29, 2008, a bomb went off near Bhiku chowk at Malegaon in Nashik district, killing six people and injuring 100 others. The blast was caused by an improvised explosive device fitted upon an LML Freedom motorcycle.
The lieutenant colonel, who was working for military intelligence and posted in Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, was accused, along with 13 others, of conspiring to cause the blast, floating an organisation called Abhinav Bharat in 2007 with the intention to propagate a Hindu rashtra with its own constitution, with the intent to threaten the unity, integrity and security of India.
He was also accused of collecting funds to procure arms and explosives and organising meetings where the Malegaon blast was planned.
Lieutenant Colonel Purohit has maintained that he was assigned by military intelligence to infiltrate various terror organisations and that his superiors had been kept in the loop about his actions, his meetings, and his associations with Abhinav Bharat.
On April 13, 2009, the Indian Army instituted a court of inquiry against Lieutenant Colonel Purohit which exonerated him. In August this year, the Supreme Court granted him bail.
Tellingly, through the nine years he spent in jail, the army did not suspend or dismiss Lieutenant Colonel Purohit. When he was released on bail, an army vehicle was sent to pick him up at the Taloja jail and bring him to Mumbai where he is now stationed.
All through the trial Lieutenant Colonel Purohit has said he was made a scapegoat in the case and the statements of witnesses against him were fabricated.
He also produced the court of inquiry report to prove that he had informed his superiors about all his meetings. However, the military court of inquiry report does not have any standing in a civilian court.
Standing beside Lieutenant Colonel Purohit through his nine year trial has been his wife Aparna Purohit, who is fully convinced of her husband's innocence.
"My stand is very simple. If you have evidence, place it before us. There is no evidence, Aparna tells Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt in an exclusive interview.
It is a big relief that MCOCA has been dropped. Baaki ke charges also, we will fight it out.
I would like to say that we had expected the charges to be dropped because in 2015 the Supreme Court had dropped MCOCA saying there was hardly any evidence against him and therefore he could be granted bail in the case.
So in a sense, I sort of expected this. I am very sure the other charges against him will be discharged and the other cases against him will be dismissed.
I was in Pune when the verdict was given by the special NIA court so I wasn't really aware of what was happening. He had to explain everything to me.
He told me, "We will fight it out."
The court is framing charges on January 15, but I won't be there.
Actually, ever since he has been given bail, I have become less involved with the case. I don't go to court any more. That has been the biggest blessing because now he can handle the case himself.
When he spoke to me after the verdict on Wednesday, he sounded happy but cautious, because as much as we believe that he will be discharged from the case, you never know what will happen.
The court's decision hasn't really sunk in. Maybe it will take a day or so. Also, he hasn't seen the order as yet so we don't know the details.
After he was released on bail (August 17, 2017), his mother, sister and I came to Mumbai to see him.
You know it was just such a high seeing him for the first time in the open, stepping out of the car and simply walking towards us.
He wept a lot when he saw us, as did we.
That evening we simply sat down and had a long talk.
Nothing specific, just general conversation.
We had meals together. We went for a walk after dinner.
It is these small things in life that matter, and it is these little simple, ordinary, things we missed the most.
It has been a long journey, a long battle getting him back.
Leaving my young children home, travelling to Mumbai every other day, to handle the case.
When I think back to that day in Pachmarhi in 2008, when he told me he was going on temporary duty to Delhi... it was just such an ordinary day, but it changed our lives forever.
I packed his bag, his uniforms, and he left.
He was asked not to take his mobile phones. What struck me odd, later on, was that there was no communication from him for the whole day. Or for a couple of days thereafter. This is not normal for the army.
After a couple of days I happened to hear snatches of a news bulletin that an army officer had been arrested for terrorism, but I missed the full bulletin and frankly, it never even occurred to me he was the person in the news.
Then I get a call saying he will be arrested and produced at the Nashik court within four hours. I was still in Pachmarhi, so it was practically impossible for me to get there or arrange for a lawyer.
I actually heard about the Malegaon blast for the first time when Colonel R K Srivastav from Military Intelligence headquarters came to Pachmarhi.
He started questioning my husband about the blast. My husband told him everything he knew.
After questioning him for two or three days, the colonel told him to go to Delhi and explain everything to his seniors. Baat khatam (Matter ended there).
He said my husband had been in touch with certain people which needed to be explained at MI HQ in Delhi. So that was why he was going to Delhi. There was never any indication that he was going to be arrested.
(em>Colonel) Srivastav had kept his seniors in the dark. The colonel did not tell the army that he had handed my husband over to the Anti-Terrorism Squad.
Whatever investigations were to be carried out was supposed to be at the unit itself. That never happened.
He was taken directly to the ATS and not allowed to report to the unit. This is unheard of in the army.
There is not a single minute when an officer is not accounted for. In fact, if that happens, a court martial is held. It is that serious.
I couldn't even speak to my husband unless he was in court. I didn't understand a thing of what was happening in court, the procedures, the legal terms, nothing. It was a nightmare.
I realised that if I have to help my husband, I have to help myself first. I began by reading the charge-sheet thoroughly.
If I didn't understand, I would ask Shrikant Shivade sir (Lieutenant Colonel Purohit's lawyer). I also attended each and every one of his arguments in court.
The bail applications alone would be heard at least three to four times a week for months. At every hearing, the accused used to be produced in court.
Each and every statement had to be analysed, responses had to be typed out, filed. I did all this myself. It was insane.
My husband was formally arrested on November 5, 2008, and taken into custody on November 29. I met him for the first time on November 18.
I was not even aware of the rights of the accused. I was not aware that you can go and meet him every day in custody if required.
We put up an application for his medical to be done and he got a complete medical check-up at INS Ashwini (the military hospital in Colaba, south Mumbai) -- and it's there in black and white: He was severely tortured in ATS custody.
My husband will never forget the torture, nor forgive those responsible for it. Neither will I.
He was tortured to such an extent that he couldn't even recognise me properly, let alone walk.
I thought why is he behaving like this? It was as if he was in a trance.
We filed a complaint in the Pune and Mumbai special courts and on that basis he was moved to judicial custody.
His ulnar nerves were severed, there were injuries on his knees.
I have heard people say that my husband would not have got bail nor would the case have been transferred from the ATS to the NIA had Hemant Karkare been alive (Karkare, the former Maharashtra ATS chief, was investigating the Malegaon blast and had red-flagged the threat from Hindu terrorist groups. He was killed in the 26/11 terror strikes).
I am not able to understand why Hemant Karkare's death has made any difference to the case. I believe that if Mr Karkare is not there, someone else is there. So it is not the person holding the post, it's the post which is important.
Yes, the ATS filed the charge-sheet, but not under Mr Hemant Karkare, but I think under Mr K P Raghuvanshi (former Maharashtra ATS chief).
My stand is very simple. If you have evidence, place it before us.
There is no evidence. I feel very strongly that there was no need to torture him.
He keeps telling me one thing, that he has also interrogated hardcore terrorists, but the army has never treated them so badly.
He says there are ways and means to cull information from an accused, you have to know the way, but this is not the way.
If someone beats me and tells me ke yeh likh lo (write what I say), I will do it to stop more torture. So do you really get the truth out of this?
Quite naturally, his family has also suffered. I have two sons who have grown up without their father. We have lived apart from my husband several times (when Lieutenant Colonel Purohit was assigned field postings) in all these years.
It was only when my younger son was born that we started staying together. I am used to not staying with him, but not in these circumstances.
So when he was arrested, I told my younger son that my husband was posted on the border and it is not a family posting. During those five to six years, my younger son never saw his father. They wrote to each other, or rather I would write on my son's behalf since he was too young to even write.
Then one day, he saw a report in a newspaper saying bail had been denied yet again to my husband. He may not have understood the report, but there was a picture to go with the report.
He asked me and I told him. Everything. I told him to go to school, to continue doing what he has been done in the last five years. But yes, it was a shock for him.
My older son knew. He was in the 8th, 9th standard when this happened and in fact he used to help me with drafting letters, the paperwork in court.
I began taking them to court to meet their father, even made them skip classes. We would get between two and three hours in court with him, but after a while my son didn't want to come as frequently because it broke his heart to see his father being taken away from him at the end of the court session.
My husband was initially in the Arthur Road jail, then they moved him to Nashik (2009 to 2011), and then when the case came back to Mumbai he was moved to Taloja jail, which was where he was till he got bail.
Is that how my children want to remember their father? In and out of jail for crimes he did not commit?
We would never have been able to come this far without the support of our families.
My mother-in-law, my sister-in-law and my parents have been what they call pillars of strength.
Without actually verbalising it, we split the work between us. So his sister handled the finances, his mother looked after the house, the kids and I worked on the case. My parents also chipped in a lot, financially.
There are so many expenses to consider. He received 75% of his salary all these years.
Mr Harish Salve (the senior Supreme Court lawyer and Purohit's counsel) has done it pro bono. I wouldn't have been able to afford him. But we had decided that if he asks for his fees, we would try and find the means to pay him.
Right from day 1, Shrikant Shivade has been handling the case and he has not taken a single rupee from us in all these nine years. I am telling you none of the lawyers, the team of lawyers, has charged a single paisa.
I remember there was this one argument which had to be made and Mr Sudeep Pasbola (the counsel for co-accused, Major Ramesh Upadhyay (retd)) was doing it.
I sent him the papers and the cheque and he argued the case and returned the cheque and said for this kind of a person (Lieutenant Colonel Purohit), he would not charge any money.
That is the kind of person my husband is.
I believe the new year will bring good tidings. It will, I know it will.
We have a long, long, way to go, but we will make it together.