The Bhatkal home.Picture by Charu Sudan Kasturi
Bhatkal (Karnataka), April 16: Her son is branded the face of serial terror attacks that have scarred multiple cities across India since 2007, killing hundreds. But tomorrow, Rehana Siddibapa will stand in a queue to press a button and vote in support of the very idea of India her son is accused of trying to destroy.
Rehana is the mother of Mohammad Ahmad Siddibapa — known to intelligence agencies and the country as Yasin Bhatkal, the alleged Indian Mujahideen founder who was arrested last August after a six-year manhunt.
She insists her 30-year-old son, accused of masterminding serial blasts in several cities, is innocent.
“But I will vote, I always vote,” Rehana told The Telegraph, wiping away tears at her residence in this Karnataka fishing town — 80km north of the temple town of Udupi — that is today inextricably associated in public perception with the Indian Mujahideen and its leaders.
“I still believe in the courts and pray that justice will be delivered. And though I don’t really have faith in any political party, I hope they will improve.”
The Siddibapa family isn’t poor — Rehana’s husband Zarar shuttles between Bhatkal and Dubai, where he works with firms importing oil from India. Zarar is currently in Dubai. But the media focus on the family has made it hard for the younger generation of Siddibapas to find jobs, Zarar’s younger brother Yusuf said.
On Monday, when this correspondent met the Siddibapas at their home in Bhatkal — which falls in the Uttara Kannada constituency — their sole condition for speaking was a refusal to grant permission to take their photographs.
“Each time you people publish a photograph, it refreshes our faces in the minds of other people,” said Abdus Samad, Ahmad’s 25-year-old younger brother who was briefly an accused in Pune’s German Bakery blast of 2010. “We want people to forget us, so that we can move on.”
Samad, who is pursuing a bachelor’s in business administration (BBA) programme by distance learning, said no local college would grant him admission — a claim this newspaper could not independently verify.
Soon after the arrest of Ahmad — the family refuses to call him Yasin, a name they say they’ve never heard — last year, the Siddibapas had issued a statement saying the 30-year-old should be punished if found guilty.
The day Ahmad was arrested, Yusuf recalled, a television reporter went to the family members of those killed in the blasts and asked them what they felt ought to be done to Ahmad.
“The family members naturally said he should be hanged, but the television channel never bothered to even say that no court had pronounced Ahmad guilty yet,” Yusuf said. “I ask you people from the media — why can’t you people wait for the courts to deliver a verdict before pronouncing someone guilty?”
Politicians too have failed the family, Yusuf said. “They tell us in private that the case against Ahmad has loopholes, but don’t speak up in public.”
Yet, the law-enforcement system, with all its warts, has been fair to them, the family admitted.
Samad was arrested in May 2010 at Mangalore airport when he was returning from Dubai, and kept in police lockup for 40 days. Investigators probing the German Bakery blast — in which 17 persons were killed and 60 injured — had scanned CCTV footage from the site that showed a young man walk into the bakery with a backpack and leave without it. His features, the investigators concluded, matched those of Samad.
But bus ticket stubs, hotel registration details, multiple eyewitness accounts and other evidence established that Samad was attending a relative’s wedding with his family the day of the blast. The investigators released Samad.
Like Rehana, Yusuf and Samad too said they plan to vote on April 17, the date of the Lok Sabha polls in Karnataka.
“At the end of the day, all one can do is hope for a better tomorrow,” Yusuf said. “After all, elections are about our future.”