‘It took system 19 years to prove innocence of 14-year-old boy’
Srinagar: It took the judiciary two decades to pronounce Riyaz Ahmad Hajji innocent in a case charging him with the murder of a foreign engineer when he was a juvenile.
Living a life of penury, Riyaz now subsists with the support of his brothers in Srinagar’s Qamarwari area.
A father of two, his family sold off his house to pay for his court fee and other things to cover other expenses.
Today, two years after he was declared innocent by a Jammu court, after following a trial that lodged him in jail in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Riyaz’s is a grim story craving for state government’s due attention to the rehabilitation of such persons who have been falsely implicated in cases and released after spending years in jail.
Born in 1982, Riyaz was arrested by Border Security Forces (BSF) personnel in main Qamarwari in 1996. “I was jailed in the BSF’s Karannagar camp, where I was interrogated,” Riyaz said. He struggles to recall the date when he was arrested and the number of days he was jailed by BSF.
“It was 1996,” he said holding his head in his hands. “After some days – 15, 20 (days) – I was shifted to police station Parimpora,” he told Kashmir Reader at Qamarabad, Qamarwari, in the house which belongs to his younger brother.
Riyaz is second among his three married brothers who live in two separate houses. “The police produced me in court, and I was slapped with Public Safety Act (PSA) for helping militants,” he said. He was lodged in sub-jail Rangreth.
He was just fourteen 14 years old when he was slapped with the PSA, said his family. “We were hopeful that he would be released after three months,” said Saleema, an ailing mother of Riyaz’s ailing mother. “But tragedy befell us when the police charged him with the murder of the foreigner.”
In their challan, the police said that a foreign national, whom Riyaz said police identified as an engineer working on the Uri power project, was killed by one suspected militant from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), Syed Sajid Ali Bukhari. Along with Riyaz, one other Parvez Ahmad Kachroo from Chattabal were registered as co-accused in the case.
However, Riyaz asserts he had never seen Bukhari before in his life. “I first saw Syed Sajid Bukhari in court,” he said. “Both of us told court that we did not know each other.”
However, on May 13, 2015, Ist additional Jammu, MS Parihar pronounced the trio innocent and the case was closed. Kachroo, police records maintain, died in 1996.
“I didn’t even know about the accusation later brought against him,” said Riyaz, who has off late developed back ailments. “I was running a passenger auto at the time,” he said.
But as family waited for release of their son, Saleema said, “police told us that he was accused of murder.”
“I was rearrested from Rangreth sub-jail and produced before court, where in a case FIR number 136 of 1995, I was charged with 302, 307 RPC and 7/25 Arms Act by cops from Parimpora police station,” Riyaz said.
The court sent him to Central Jail Srinagar for two years where from he was subsequently bailed out in 1998.
Meanwhile, in the years following, Riyaz married Tabasum in 2004. They have a son and a daughter who study in a private school. “The school fee is has been pending since November 2016,” said Tabasum.
“The trail started in district District court Srinagar and continued there up to 2009 when my case was transferred to Varanasi in UP,” Riyaz said.
All these years, the Hajji family said that the case was fought by noted lawyer, Safqat Hussain. “He did not charge any money,” said Saleema.
He said that police had named 14 witnesses. “But no one could with stand the case,” he claimed.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) had ordered shifting of all the foreigners jailed in J&K to outside the state.
“Because I was made a co-accused with PaK resident Bukhari, the case was transferred to Varanasi,” Riyaz explained.
The SC had given the directions after hearing a writ petition submitted by Prof Bhim Singh, a lawyer.
This too came out of the blue for the Hajji family, who one day received a call from police station Parimpora when they were informed that Riyaz was to present himself before a court in UP.
“I went and a few cops from Qamarwari police post accompanied me, but I was jailed for two years there,” Riyaz said. After a month, when Riyaz’s family reached the place to meet their son, they were not allowed a meet. “It cost us around Rs 50,000 that time,” Saleema said.
They were able to see Riyaz only two months later, in the court room.
“It took us two years to get the case transferred back to J&K and Prof Bhim Singh helped us in that,” Riyaz said.
On my first hearing, he added, “I was released on bail in 2010 but the case hearings continued up to May 2015.”
Then, on May 13, 2015, Ist Additional Judge, Jammu, MS Parihar pronounced the trio innocent and declared the case closed. Kachroo, police records maintain, died in 1996.
“The judge declared me innocent: you are freed with all honour,” said Riyaz.
“It took the (justice) system nineteen 19 years to prove the innocence of a 14-year-old boy,” he rued.
Since 2009, when Riyaz was detained in Varanasi, Tabasum met the then chief minister Omar Abdullah to seek his release. “He sought details from the police and directed the CAPD to issue me a BPL ration card; besides Omar assured me that once my husband was freed, he would be rehabilitated,” she said.
However, it took the government three years to issue the BPL ration card. “Your husband is still in jail, and we can’t do anything,” she was told by then Omar administration though she claimed that the police “gave had given a clean chit to her husband in response to communications from the then CM’s private office”.
Come 2016, Tabasum – who has brought up her children all alone – received a call from Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP).
Parra was political analyst in the CM’s office then. Riyaz, his wife, children and two brothers reached Gupkar where Parra offered Riyaz a job of a daily wager “in any department”.
“I am a driver but now I can’t even drive heavy vehicles as I suffered a disc problem in Varanasi jail where I was detained in a cell,” Riyaz said. “It was a meagre offer. How could I sustain my family when I am living in my brother’s house?”
The case was even forwarded to J&K EDI at Pampore, which rejected it, the Hajji family said. “We were asked about the mortgage on which loan would have been given,” said Riyaz. “The private office of the CM sent me there so that I could avail a loan to buy a taxi.”
Recalling her those hard-fought days, Tabasum said, “we We had to sell our house to support the family as Riyaz was behind bars and there was no one to earn.”
Besides, Saleema – Riyaz’ mother – said, “my husband suffered paralysis when Riyaz was charged with murder by police.”
Ab Salam Hajji was a successful businessman who ran his shop in Qamarwari. “We even sold off that shop in 2009,” his wife said. “He is lying bed-ridden since Riyaz’s jail time in Rangreth.”
However, Tabasum said that Omar Abdullah had directed the Social Welfare department Department to issue her father-in-law a card on which he gets has received a monthly remuneration since 2013.
“Now, two decades have passed… Riyaz is struggling with his health… we have two children and we don’t own a house,” Tabasum said. “(The PDP’s) Parra assured us last year of a meeting with CM Mehbooba Mufti, but we are yet to hear from him since then.”
“I believe she (Mehbooba Mufti) keeps the promises which her predecessor made with us so that our two children have a hope to live a life of honour and respect,” Tabasum exclaimed.