NEW DELHI: Nurul Hoda, 24, was at home when the police arrived at his house on September 8, 2006. They asked him to accompany them for some queries in the Malegaon blast that had taken place a few days ago, and that Hoda knew as much about as others in the area. “We just need you for ten minutes,” they said.

He came back five and a half years later, on bail, a convict framed in a terror case. And was acquitted ten years later, just a couple of days ago.

Nurul was working on daily wages at a powerloom, as was his father. They brought in a few hundred rupees every week to sustain a large family. Nurul himself had just been married about three months ago.

What followed then was an ordeal for him, his family, and for all the other eight accused and their families. At that time, they were taken away to isolation, and one did not know about the other. But their stories are similar. Nurul was tortured relentlessly for 48 days. He was stripped, limbs were tied tight, and he was beaten all over his body with a plank that hurt deeply but did not leave bruises. He was not allowed to sleep for nights. He was blindfolded and made to stand for hours. But what he remembers is not just the physical torture but the verbal abuse. The language used by the police interrogators was filthy, directed not just against him but the female members of his home.

This went on for 48 days, he told The Citizen from Malegaon, his voice matter-of-fact as if he was talking about a normal event in his life. Jail came as a relief, in that he was not tortured but as he said, “jail life is very difficult, it is demeaning, dehumanising.” In the five and a half years he was there he could meet his family only thrice, as they were too poor to travel more often than that from Malegaon to Mumbai. He spent his days in prayers, and even when the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into years he says,”I never lost hope. I was sure that truth will win, and it did.”

The nine boys were released on bail in November 2013 and now finally, all charges against them have been dropped. They are free, but still finding it difficult to pick up the pieces of the lives they knew. Most of them lost their jobs, and even after acquittal could not get employment easily. Nurul does not say so but others told The Citizen that he has only just found employment. He only keeps thanking God, and speaks highly of his young wife who “stayed with me through these long years; she is my source of strength and I am so fortunate to have her.”

Nurul’s family was by his side but Zahid, another accused was not so fortunate as his father disowned him. The two have still not made up and he is living with his wife in rented accommodation now, and working on daily wages.

The reason the nine men are free today is because of the legal help they received from the Jamiat Ulema i Hind that got the Malegaon residents to contribute to their legal fees, to fight a “united battle” for their acquittal, and persuaded reluctant witnesses to come forward to help them.

Jamiat’s Maulana Abdul Qayum Qazmi from Malegaon spoke to The Citizen about the relentless struggle, saying that it was only because of the support from all the people that they had been able to sustain the long legal proceedings, and ensure their release. He spoke of the torture that the young men faced, the difficulty their families went through mentally and economically, and the resettlement problems despite all help from the residents of Malegaon. One of the accused, a doctor has still not been able to pick up his practice.

The Jamiat collected funds for a team of lawyers to defend the accused, one of whom Nihal Ahmad Ansari shared what are now public details about the long court proceedings with The Citizen. The lawyers along with the residents of Malegaon meticulously collected evidence and witnesses to appear before the NIA, that finally dropped all charges, and said that the nine were innocent to the courts on the basis of which they got bail three years ago.

This has been the story of Muslim youth framed and charged under different cases not just in Maharashtra but in Hyderabad as well. As Qazmi said, this was a conspiracy hatched by others to frame the Muslim young men, and finish their lives.

In Hyderabad, the Muslim youth arrested for the blasts went through exactly the same kind of third degree torture, beatings all over the body, virtual flaying of the soles of the feet, blindfolds and in several cases electric shocks on their private parts. They were all jailed for over a decade, and when released found their families living in penury. Most lost their jobs, and as they lived in areas where the unity was not the same as effected in Malegaon, they were all treated as outcastes. When this reporter met them over a decade ago, they were still looking for employment, with their lives lying around them, broken. Here too the legal fight was carried out by a Hyderabad civil rights organisation, with news about their acquittal and plight first being broken by a civil society initiative. The English media did not report a word about the acquittal and the torture the young boys had been subjected to.

In the Malegaon case also there is an unholy media silence with the cameras not chasing the young men for their stories of horror. As one of the men with them said, “no one cares.” Nurul admitted that the unfairness of the arrests did cause anguish and anger within, “we were all innocent and we have paid a big price. For what? For whom?” Indeed these questions need an answer.

The state machinery has been complicit in virtually destroying the lives of nine young men. The ATS framed them, the NIA upheld the truth. Can these memories be erased? Can the carefree days be restored? Who will compensate them for a life gone by?