CALICUT: In 2005 Irshad Ali was arrested under false terror charges, followed by 11 year long legal battle. Despite being given a clean chit by the CBI, he was tried by the sessions Court, which finally acquitted him in the case after charges against him were proven false, in December 2016.

An auto driver, Ali would visit his older brother lodged in Tihar jail, which is when he was one day kidnapped by members of the Intelligence Cell, and blackmailed into working for them as an informer.

On March 11, the Innocence Network organized its second People's Tribunal on wrongful conviction in Calicut, Kerala where six innocents deposed before a jury consisting of Justice K. Sukumar, Kerala High Court (Retd); Vasudha Ngaraj, Advocate; Dr. M. V. Narayanan, Calicut University; Ravivarma Kumar, former ASG, Karnataka; K.S. Subramanian, IPS, former Assistant Director, Information Bureau; Sajid Hassan, Ex IAS, Misaal and M.S.G. Narayanan, historians and ex- chairman ICHR.

Irshad Ali gave his first public statement at the People’s Tribunal in Calicut, where he also narrated his tale of injustice. Even though acquitted, Irshad’s life continues to be a battle. While plenty has been written about Irshad’s case and its timeline, little has been written about how this entire ordeal has shaped his and his family’s life.

The Citizen met with Irshad and spoke to him about his struggle for justice, family and what he thinks the future holds for him. Here are a few excerpts from the interview.

On his struggle for justice

“There are double standards, one for everyone and another for Muslims. It’s all biased. As per the law a person who is given a clean chit by the CBI, cannot be further prosecuted, but my trail went on. This is because not a few but several members of the police department are involved.”

Q. Do you feel angry?

A.I don’t feel angry; but it makes me laugh at our lawmakers. They don’t trust or follow their own laws. To save their people, they start a trail, to show the international community that justice is being served. What kind of justice is this? After spending 12 years in jail before and during the trial, a man is then sentenced to 7 years for his crime.

The court uses ‘benefit of doubt’ as an excuse to save the police. But terror cases aren’t made by inspectors; they get sanctioned by the Ministry of Home Affairs. In such cases, human rights are always violated saying ‘terrorists have no human rights.’

On the role of the media

“Muslim terrorist, Muslim terrorist’ a Muslim is the easiest victim! If a Ram Singh is encountered, everyone will question how he could be a terrorist, but if Irshad is encountered, it’s assumed he must be a terrorist, because he is a Muslim.”

Q. Was your case fairly reported by the media?

A. The media portrayed me as a terrorist, showing it as breaking news, but when the CBI gave me a clean chit, they didn’t show it. There’s a media lobby that shows Muslims in a particular light. Some of them are given briefs and some work directly for the government. But there are a few good people, who did cover my story. But that’s a small number. In the police department too, 90 percent of them are good, it’s the remaining 10 percent looking for a shortcut to success that are giving the agency a bad name. If they kill me, they won’t go scot free; there will be some repercussions for them.

On family

Q. How has this affected your family?

My family has been affected the most. In jail you don’t worry about food etc. At the time of my arrest, I was taking care of my six sisters, parents, wife and three children. They all relied on me. My mother died while I was in jail. My wife worked as a labourer and house help to make money. I don’t think I was in jail, my family was in jail. I got food on time, but my family starved. My kids didn’t go to school for 4 and a half years. The real injustice has been done to them, not me.

My kids were young; the older one recognised me when I went to jail. The younger two didn’t. They used to call their neighbours ‘papa.’ My daughter, she had diphtheria as a child, she was 6 months old when I first met her. She would call whoever took her in their lap ‘papa’, she passed away in 2013.

My younger son is in 8th standard. The older one left school after class 9, all this left him very disturbed. The younger one studies, but he is a slow learner. Despite being in 8th he can’t count till 100. But it’s not his fault, due to malnourishment as a child, his cognitive development got affected. You tell him something, he won’t be able to recollect it a few minutes later, so I don’t put too much pressure on him.

On compensation from the State and what lies ahead

Q. What compensation do you expect from the State?

Money won’t solve anything. But those policemen should be prosecuted; they should know what it feels like even if it’s for a night. You won’t believe me, junior officers from the police who came to give statements, some of them met me outside court and apologised. They told me that they knew I had been framed, but they could not go against their superiors since they too had a family to take care off.

Q. Are you scared?

A. They are a big agency; in touch with the home ministry, government, have access to weapons, what can one do against them? They can falsely plant a weapon on me, where will I go about proving it false? What had to happen has happened, nothing more can happen. I am not scared of going to jail anymore; one is scared when you haven’t been there before.

I am trying; I have nothing left to lose. As far as my kids are concerned, they are grown up and can take care of themselves and all my sisters are married.

I don’t worry about being framed again or being killed. When the agency can’t do things legally, they do it illegally. They have other criminals to do it for them. I am a taxi driver; I go everywhere, they can on the pretext of calling a taxi call me somewhere and kill me. Then file a complaint and search, while the culprit sits in office. Beyond this, what will they do? They can kill me, but won’t frame me again, since the case has received attention and the previous case has been proven false. I am innocent.

When asked if he has any last thoughts, he tells me ‘these agencies are asked to put out the fire that terrorism is, but some of the officials, try putting the fire out by using petrol. If the fire keeps burning, only then will they be needed, get attention and importance. But once it goes out, their shops will shut. So to assert their importance they are putting out the fire, but are using petrol to do it.”

Before we end the interview, I ask him to recite the couplet (something he is very fond of, which I learnt during his public testimony) despite the tears in his eyes, very gracefully, he obliged.

‘Ab kahan dhoondhne jaoge humara quaatil
Humare quaatil ka inzaam hum pe he rakh diya’

(Now where will you g0 looking for my murderer
my murder has been blamed upon me)