Home Indian Muslim A non-existent signature, bogus ‘wanted’ story: How Parvej Khan spent 4.5 years...

A non-existent signature, bogus ‘wanted’ story: How Parvej Khan spent 4.5 years in jail on fake terror charges

By Amit Kumar, TwoCircles.net

Jalgaon: Lockdown, quarantine and a total restriction on movement amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has now become part of our lives.

For Parvej Khan, a 45-year-old resident of Jalgaon, however, the current restrictions mean nothing. He is not breaking the lockdown rules of his region. He is happy to accept them because, until July 13, he was being made to pay for a crime that he did not commit. He was serving the fourth year of his 10-year jail stint for crimes under Section 120b of the Indian Penal Code. The story of Khan is a great reminder of how Islamophobia runs rife in our system, where often the only ‘mistake’ that you can commit is that of being a Muslim.

To understand the story of Khan, we must go back to 2001, in Jalgaon, Maharashtra, when a few local Muslim youths allegedly joined militancy in Kashmir. Twelve people were named in the FIR lodged by the then Sub-Divisional Police Officer, MIDC Police Station, Jalgaon. The FIR said that five people had received arms training from militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir and when they were arrested, they said they were members of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). On investigation of the said crime, a charge-sheet was filed against 16 accused persons. Interestingly, Khan’s name did not appear in the FIR, but it did in the charge sheet. Two of the sixteen: Parvej Khan and Asif Khan, were said to be ‘wanted accused’.

But here is the interesting part: Parvej Khan was never missing. He had moved to Mumbai in late 2000 and was living with his wife under his name and working for an Urdu media house. He remained unaware of the matter even as others arrested were put on trial. That case came to an end in 2006, with some of the arrested convicted of their crimes while others acquitted.

Parvej, meanwhile, continued to live a normal life. “I was travelling all over Maharashtra under my name, working in the ad department of a Delhi-based Urdu publication. I had no clue that all this while, I had been ‘wanted’. The police can dig graves to find people if they want to, yet for five years they were acting like I was hiding somewhere even though I lived under my name and worked a regular job like everyone else. If the Jalgaon police had so much as contacted my family, they would have found out about me. But they didn’t. Instead, they continued to act like I was some mastermind who was absconding when I was a regular guy working hard to keep his job,” says Khan in a conversation with TwoCircles.net.

How Khan came to know about his ‘role’ was also interesting, albeit shared by several Muslims who have been falsely implicated in such terror cases. “In the aftermath of the July 7, 2006 bomb blasts, the police came to my house around 2 am on August 20 and ransacked my place looking for ‘information’. I was arrested in front of my children and wife and kept in Kala chowki for a few days before being sent to Jalgaon. Only there did I come to know about the case, the trial and that I was ‘wanted’,” he says.

At this point, Khan adds, “I was never accused of being involved in the July 7 case and I want to make that clear.”

When Khan was produced in a trial court following his arrest, the police in its supplementary charge sheet said that Khan had been wanted and absconding. The trial court took note of the same and sent Khan to custody. For the next eleven and a half months, Khan remained in custody as his bail appeal reached the High Court. The High Court, however, did not buy into the narrative that Khan had been ‘absconding’. “I produced proof of work from my office showing that I had been employed during this entire time in Mumbai and I also presented my residence proof to show that I was living under my original name with my wife and children. The HC also questioned the police about what steps it had taken to locate Khan during this entire period. The HC did not accept the police version and I was finally out on bail,” Khan says.

Upon his release, Khan, who has studied in English-medium schools throughout his life and does not read or write in Urdu (a fact that is important later in this story), jumped head-on into his case. “All this was completely new information for me. I had no clue of who the people were who had allegedly gone to Kashmir. I was said to be a part of SIMI even though I was never a member. I was supposed to help these people from Jalgaon even though I was spending most of my time in Jalgaon,” he says.

For the next ten years, the case went on in the trial court, and it had a detrimental impact on Khan’s career. “I got bail, but it was conditional. I was to present myself in the police station twice a week and I could not leave Jalgaon district without special permission. My career in Mumbai came to an abrupt end and my wife had to find new ways to make a living. She had to start giving sewing classes and stitch clothes and I started doing whatever odd job I could find to make ends meet,” Khan says.

Initially, there were 11 charges against Parvej Khan and Mohammed Asif Khan. However, all charges were dropped except for the charge of conspiracy under Section 120b. “The police, one month before the verdict, added a charge under Section 120b as a standalone charge. Usually, Section 120b gets clubbed with other sections,” Khan said.

The trial court relied on three pieces of evidence, as per Khan. One was a letter written on behalf of SIMI to the authorities of Aksa Masjid, Jalgaon, for permission to hold public meetings during the month of Ramzan. “The court did not accept my story that I could neither read nor write in Urdu. The letter was allegedly signed by the secretary of SIMI unit, Jalgaon, but no one could identify whose signature it was. The Trial court also took cognisance of the fact that I was absconding even though I tried to prove that I wasn’t,” he added. The trial court ended up finding both Parvej and Asif Khan guilty and awarded them a 10-year sentence along with a fine of Rs 10,000.

Khan says he was shocked when he heard this. “I could not believe that I had been booked on such flimsy grounds. But even then, I knew that I would get justice from the High Court,” he added.

And so, began his second stint in jail. This time, it proved to be much longer and he was unable to get bail any time during this period, including when his eldest son got married.

The Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court, however, took a different view of the trial court order. Judge RG Avachat noted, “I have carefully scrutinised the evidence of all the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution to bring home the charge against the appellants. I have also gone through the impugned judgment to find that the Trial Court reproduced the evidence of all the witnesses relied upon by the prosecution and without assigning any reason, convicted the appellants.”

Regarding the SIMI letters, Judge Avachat noted, “Those applications were nothing but requests made to him for allowing him to hold meetings of SIMI workers on the premises of Aksa Masjid. Two of the applications are relevant herein. Those are Exhibits 302 and 304. Those applications were referred by this witness to state that those bear signatures of the appellants herein. Admittedly, on the arrest of the appellants, their specimen handwritings have not been obtained, as was done in respect of other accused. The appellants did not sign these applications in the presence of P.W.21. The witness simply claims to have acquaintance with their handwritings. Even if we accept those applications to have been proved in the case, they do not take the case of the prosecution further. Application Exh.302 is dated 29/7/1997 while Exh.304 is dated 17/12/1999 furnished by appellants on letter-head of SIMI, Jalgaon Unit. Admittedly, activities of SIMI, nay SIMI itself was banned w.e.f. 27/9/2001. It means when the appellants moved those two applications Exh.302 and Exh.304, it was permissible for them to hold the meetings of SIMI. There is nothing in the evidence to suggest that in the meetings held pursuant to those two applications, there was any discussion, decision-cum-conspiracy to commit any illegal act as has been covered by the charge/s framed in the case.”

The trial court order was eventually set aside and as a result, after three and a half years, Khan walked out free this time, no conditions attached.

“I am of course happy, but the truth is that I am also worried about what to do next. I had been taking baby steps in the world of real estate brokerage when I was picked up and I have since lost complete touch with that world. Now, with the ongoing pandemic, it will be difficult to sell small flats to middle and lower-class families. The last three months have essentially wiped out my plans and I am still thinking about what to do next. People have been coming over to wish me and congratulate me since I came out, and I hope that people will continue to support me in my future endeavours,” he said.

When asked if the local media, which had painted pictures of him being a terror mastermind after his conviction in the trial court, have also visited him to hear his story, he says, “No. Not one local media has come to hear me or my side of the story. You are the only one,” he says.