‘I feel I was better in jail than outside’

‘I feel I was better in jail than outside’
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Two men who spent 14 years in prison before being acquitted by court, returned to a life that had passed them by
SRINAGAR: At the age of 43, Syed Maqbool Shah, a Kashmiri who was wrongly imprisoned for 14 years, is still looking for a livelihood. Since 2010, the year he was acquitted by an Indian court, Shah has tried his hand at three professions and failed in them all. Now he is in debt and unsure of his daily bread.
“I feel I was better in jail than outside,” Shah told Kashmir Reader.
Shah had just passed Class 10 when he was arrested by the Indian state and subsequently imprisoned for 14 years in Delhi’s Tihar Jail. The 17-year-old Shah was charged with conspiracy of executing the bomb blasts in Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar area that killed more than 10 persons and injured many more. In 2010, he was acquitted of all the charges against him.
“After my release I was confused about what to do. I could have started my education afresh but I had no time and money. I wanted to adopt a profession for livelihood, but had no expertise. I faced a situation like that of a fish out of water,” he said.
“At first I tried running a grocery store. After one year, an investment of Rs 2 lakh had fetched no returns. Then a friend helped me secure a job as an ATM guard. It earned me a salary that could not meet my monthly expenses,” Shah narrated.
Shah’s family used to be prosperous before his arrest. The family ran a business of Kashmiri art that provided livelihood to more than 350 workers. Shah’s arrest truncated his family’s expanding business. In 1996, they lost more than 10 lakh rupees.
“I met nearly all the important persons I knew to get a job. No one helped. My precious years of youth were snatched from me by the state for no offence of mine. Who shall I now turn to? I don’t see any purpose in life,” he said.
After Shah’s release, there was uproar in the Indian Parliament over the false evidence planted against him. CPM leader Brinda Karat demanded a government job for him. The chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir at that time, Omar Abdullah, promised him rehabilitation within a week. All that turned out to be a lie; not a word of it fulfilled.
NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar agreed NC-Congress government promised acquitted persons a job. “But due to legality, we could not make headway on the proposal. Now the PDP-BJP government should take up their cases. I believe their rehabilitation should be backed by a strong legislation,” he said.
Shah was one of nine Kashmiris who were accused of the Lajpat Nagar bomb blasts. Besides him, Mirza Iftikhar Hussain, Latif Ahmed Waza, Syed Maqbool Shah and Abdul Gani were also acquitted of all the charges. However, only Shah and Iftikhar Hussain were released in April and May 2010, respectively. Waza and Gani were taken to Rajasthan for trial for the bomb blast in a bus near Samleti village in Dausa district that killed 14 people.
Mirza’s Iftikhar Hussain’s story is both similar and different from Shah’s. When he resumed his life after his acquittal, he began to fight for his brother’s release too. Mirza’s brother, whom he did not wish to be named for social reasons, is still imprisoned in Rajasthan.
Since his release, Mirza has changed four professions, none of which paid him dividends. He began as a contractor; the money he invested disappeared in the market. He switched to a job as an electrician; dearth of work forced him to give up. He applied for registration of an NGO; the permission was refused. Now he has taken up his family business of Kashmiri handicraft. That, too, is not going well.
“I have only moved from one post to another without ever settling. I did not demand a government job as compensation. I tried to start my own business. But I failed. Tell me, what am I supposed to do now?” he asked while speaking to Reader.
“However, despite the immense hardships, I have not lost hope,” Mirza said. “I just want to be allowed to do what I want to do. But a court order to the government to grant me a no-objection certificate for my business has been ignored. When the government is not even following the orders of the court, what should I expect from it?”

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