A series of blasts on February 14, 1998 in Coimbatore killed 58 and injured over 200 people. Ever since that serial blasts Muslims of this town became soft targets for investigators. Muslim youth of Coimbatore have been picked up for blasts from here to Bangalore.
Mercifully the judiciary has come to their rescue but not before years lost behind bars trying to prove their innocence. Rohan Premkumar in a five-part series examines the unenviable plight of the Muslims and how their lives have been ruined after being arraigned in terror-related cases. Part 5
On February 14, 1998, a blast ripped through DB Road in RS Puram, near a popular bakery, claiming many lives. In connection with the blast, Bakrudeen Ali Ahmed, now 37, along with 13 others, was arrested.
Bakrudeen, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 13 years in prison on charges of planting explosives in the area.
Speaking to TwoCircles.net at his scrap shop near Athupalam, Bakrudeen Ali Ahmed, now 36, married and with two children, spoke of how his tangential association with a fundamentalism Islamist organization landed him in the clutches of the city police.
“I have lost more than a decade of my life, though I had no direct or indirect involvement in any of these blasts,” he says, as he works at his scrap shop. Aside from the alleged torture Bakrudeen suffered at the hands of the city police, he claims that a First Information Report (FIR), was not filed against him till more than a month had elapsed.
Outlining the procedural lapses of the city police, Bakrudeen says that he was made to sign on a blank piece of paper, which was then turned into a confession of his guilt to being involved in the conspiracy.
Bakrudeen as well as seven others were charged with being trained for becoming suicide bombers by the police. “I do not have much formal education, and was coerced (through torture and intimidation) into signing on a sheet of white paper by police,” says Bakrudeen.
Even after being remanded, he along with the others accused of their involvement in the blasts were not left unharmed. The men were allegedly thrown into a special cell for a year, which he says was similar to “solitary confinement.” However, after the prisoners requested prison officials to shift them to normal jail cells, they relented and were allowed to mix with other prisoners. “While in prison I managed to get a bit of an education, as the DIG of Prisons, P Govindarajan used to advise us and ask us to rejoin society and become constructive members after our release,” says Bakrudeen.
Around 2006, Bakrudeen finally received a lengthy 13-year-sentence by a Coimbatore court. “I could have moved the high court to prove my innocence, but like most of us in prison, I was simply too tired and did not believe that my sentence would be terminated. So I stuck it out for another two years, when in 2009, I received a pardon from the Tamil Nadu government.”
Bakrudeen has gradually been able to rebuild his life after his release. He is married and has two children, and says that though he still feels upset over having spent most of his youth in a prison cell, he looks forward to the future.
As a parting statement, Bakrudeen says that he does not condone any act of terror, but simply hopes that the police pick up those people who are actually involved in the events. “I understand that they need to show that they are working towards solving crimes and capturing terrorists. All I ask is that innocent people are not rounded up just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time.”