'I was whipped with a belt until I screamed'
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- Published 18.01.08
Aftab Alam Ansari, the Calcuttan who spent over 20 days in captivity because of a police blunder that made him a suspected explosives courier, was released on Thursday from a Lucknow jail. The 26-year-old CESC employee spoke to Tapas Chakraborty of The Telegraph.
The account of his ordeal in detention is reproduced below as he narrated it, not in chronological order.
In a small room inside the Special Task Force (STF) detention centre of Mahanagar (in Lucknow), I was told to look straight at two police officers and admit that I was Mukhtar alias Raju, a wanted terrorist.
I said I was a simple mazdoor in CESC in Calcutta. I repeatedly refused to accept the allegation that I was an aatankwadi (terrorist).
Suddenly, one officer began reeling off instances of blasts in which I apparently had a hand. He blamed me for the deaths of many innocent people in Uttar Pradesh. I said I didn’t know what he was saying.
Then he slapped me so hard twice that my head reeled from the impact for some time. But I was unmoved in the chair.
The officer shouted at the top of his voice: “Sab aatankwadi hi kahate hai ki woh beguna hai.”(All terrorists say they are innocent). I again said I was not a terrorist.
The officer flew into a rage. Suddenly, he whipped out his belt and began beating me until I screamed in pain.
This must have happened on December 31, the day after I was brought from Calcutta. But I had no way of knowing the time as the torture chamber had no access to daylight and my watch had been taken off in Calcutta itself. When I reached Lucknow, the Rs 500 I had and my mobile phone were also taken away.
Trip from Calcutta
On the morning of December 29 — two days after I was picked up in Calcutta — Uttar Pradesh police tied my hands with a rope and kept me in the rear seat of a Tavera bound for Lucknow from Calcutta. My face was hooded with a piece of red cloth.
I was given a cup of tea before the car sped off. A meal later in Varanasi, I reached Lucknow on December 30 afternoon. I was driven straight to the detention centre.
During the next two days of my stay at the detention centre, I was put through gruelling interrogation sessions. I kept requesting them to get back to my office, my employer and my neighbours to investigate about me but they refused to budge.
Marriage, a code?
The officers asked me why I had gone to Gorakhpur in March last year and then in May-June last year. I said I had gone to get married in Gorakhpur. One officer asked me if “getting married” was a code word for getting serial blasts carried out in a city. I looked puzzled.
On December 31, the STF brought two other suspects — Mohammad Khalid and Mohammad Tariq Qazmi. They were asked to look at me and tell the police if they recognised me. They said they had never seen me before. He is not the Mukhtar we spoke of, they kept repeating.
I never touched any firearm in my 26 years of life. I dread the sight of blood. I am so scared of violence that I often avoid Muharram processions in my locality where self-flagellation causes wounds.
On January 2, I was taken to a court. In the courtroom, I was accused of ripping Varanasi apart with serial blasts, ferrying RDX into Uttar Pradesh and setting off explosions in courts. I was also blamed for the triple blasts of Gorakhpur on May 22.
Nightmare in cell
I was then sent to judicial custody. I was dumped in Cell No. 5 in the high-security barracks and I fell ill in the evening. I had a cellmate called Arif. He never told me why he was being kept in prison. I began to vomit late that evening. I was asked to lie on the elevated concrete bed where jail officials spread a blanket.
As I lay down, I could see the faces of my wife Shafana, who I married on March 13 last year, my sister, my mother and my brother. I am the only earning member of my house. What will happen to my family if I am forced to live in jail all my life? I could hear a chorus of voices calling me aatankwadi.
I was having these terrible spells of nightmares for some hours. Then a doctor came to the cell and gave me some medicine. Soon, I fell asleep.
In the 8-foot-by-8-foot dank, depressing room, I often had this thought: Am I destined to die here? I grew quite an unkempt beard and stank of body odour. I could not bathe in cold water.
The first shock
How did I become a jailbird? My days in hell began on December 27 when, along with a friend who I fondly call Balle, I had gone to Shyambazar in Calcutta to buy some essential items for my Cossipore home.
On my way back from the market by a bus, my friend got down at Chitpur. After a while, I got a call from a stranger who asked where I was and when I would return home. I told him I was on a bus and on my way to Chiriamore. It was 1.30pm.
Half an hour later, when I got down at Chiriamore and was about to cross the road, six plainclothesmen stopped me and shoved me into a car.
I was told that I was “Mukhtar alias Raju alias Bangladeshi”. My vehement denials increased their suspicion. I was produced the next day before the Alipore sub-divisional judicial magistrate’s court and handed over to Uttar Pradesh police.
In the jail, I was given bread made of coarse wheat flour, rice full of stone chips and a tasteless vegetable. On January 3, I had acute diarrhoea for which I was given medicine. My urine had turned yellow and I had no appetite. No one was allowed to meet me. I was not given the half-hour recess outside the cell that undertrials are entitled to.
Ray of hope
On January 8, the STF brought me back to the detention centre. This time, I found a new investigating officer, S.N. Shukla, who replaced C.N. Sinha. Shukla went through my case diary.
He did not ask me many questions except why I visited Gorakhpur so often. I said my wife was from Gorakhpur. Besides, I hail from Golabazar (near Gorakhpur).
He asked me how a call was made to a blast suspect from my mobile number. I said a stranger used my phone to call up his relative in Gorakhpur on March 6, 2007, when I was on my way to Gorakhpur from Calcutta on the eve of my marriage.
On the afternoon of January 8, the same officer met me and said: “I have nothing against you. You will go back to Calcutta soon.”
Day of freedom
Since January 8, I was counting my days to freedom. In the morning today (Thursday), I was given a cup of tea and two slices of bread. Told that I would be released, I did not have the patience to eat the bread. I had the tea.
At 10.30am, when I saw my mother waiting for me at the jail gate, I ran up to her, hugged her and began to cry.
The jail employees were smiling at me, and a group of journalists was waiting.
I am still wearing the same sky-blue denim trousers and a grey T-shirt that I had on when I left home in Calcutta on December 27. I lost about a kilo in jail.
But I am happy to return to this new world as Aftab Alam Ansari, not as Mukhtar, not as Raju, not as Bangladeshi…