By Mohammed Shafeeq, IANS,
Hyderabad : From a bank executive to a medical student to the imam of a mosque to an embroidery worker, everyone arrested on false charges of involvement in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast has a frightening story to tell.Four years after they were subjected to torture by police in illegal custody, they are yet to overcome the trauma and are not sure if they can ever lead a normal life again.
Though the Andhra Pradesh government has made history by paying compensation to the victims of police harassment and torture, they say that money can never heal their wounds and that those guilty for their plight must be punished.
Unable to find suitable jobs due to the social stigma after being branded by police as 'terrorists' and agents of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, the youths face an uncertain future and many complain that the harassment is still continuing though Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy tendered an apology in the assembly and paid compensation.
Acting on the recommendations of the National Minorities Commission, the government Friday paid Rs.300,000 each to 15 youths who were acquitted in the case and Rs.20,000 each to 46 others who were let off by police after questioning.
They believe the money and a certificate stating that they are not involved in any case can never compensate them for the sufferings they went through.
Kept in illegal detention for several days at the alleged secret torture cells of police, the innocent youths were deprived of food and water, stripped naked, severely beaten up and were given electric shocks on their private parts.
For them justice is incomplete without punishment to the police officers who committed excesses to force them to own up to the May 17 blast at the historic mosque that claimed nine lives.
"This money can neither erase those shocking memories nor clear the social stigma I face. There can't be justice until the guilty policemen are arrested and brought to book," Fiaz Khan told IANS.
A resident of Malakpet in the old city, the 25-year-old was picked up by police and kept in illegal custody for several days before being jailed for six months.
"The compensation and certificates are secondary. The police mindset should change and they should stop harassing us," said Ibrahim Ali Junaid, a Unani physician.
Even on the day when he was given the cheque by Minorities Welfare Minister Mohammed Ahmedullah, a police official visited his house.
The student of government-run Nizamia Tibbi College located in front of Mecca Masjid has gone through hell.
"The policemen pulled my beard and gave electric shocks to my private parts. I am a Hafiz-e-Quran (one who memorises the holy Quran)," recalled Junaid, who was a final year student of BUMS, a unani medical college, when police lifted him and implicated him in a conspiracy case.
"There should be investigations as to why police officers were forcing me to admit my involvement. Were they aware who the culprits are?" wondered Junaid, who was also subjected to narco and brain mapping tests.
Immediately after the blast, police blamed it on Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohamed and Harkatul Jihad Islami and rounded up about 100 suspects in the city. All those arrested and jailed were acquitted in 2008 and the subsequent investigations by the CBI in 2010 revealed that the blast was the handiwork of Hindu rightwing group Abhinav Bharat.
"The government should not only suspend the police officers who committed excesses but also prosecute them. If you torture people and then give compensation this will have no meaning because police officers will think they can beat anybody and then throw the money," said Junaid.
"I still don't know why they arrested me and tried to force me to own up the blast," said Mohammed Abdul Wajid, an embroidery worker.
"I was going to work when they picked me, blindfolded and kept in illegal custody for 15 to 20 days. They used to beat me on my soles and give electric shocks to my private parts. I can't even talk of some torture methods they used. I can never forget the pain and suffering. It still brings tears to my eyes," said Wajid.
"The money and apology can't heal our wounds. The policemen who used third degree methods should be subjected to the same for at least one day," said Mohammed Abdul Raheem, the priest of a mosque.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)