JUSTICE, INDIAN STYLE
‘The notorious tag will stick with me forever’
Maulana Baksh, acquitted imam of Haj House, is upset over being branded a terrorist because of the claims of an LeT operative he knew only casually
By Anand Holla
Posted On Monday, January 18, 2010 at 02:31:00 AM
|On Sunday, a day after Sewri Sessions Court acquitted him of terror charges, Maulana Ghulam Ilahi Yahya Baksh, 49, walked out of Arthur Road Jail, four years after his arrest in January 2006. |
On January 13, 2006, the ATS arrested Baksh based on interrogation of three alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists from Kashmir – Mohammad Ramzan Haji, 64, Khurshid Lone, 35, and Arshad Badru, 31 – and mostly on the basis of intercepted telephone calls between him and Haji.
ATS charged Baksh with harbouring terrorists in Haj House and financing terrorist activities. The court on Saturday acquitted Baksh, but convicted the three Kashmiris, sentencing them to seven years imprisonment. They were arrested after being found in possession of electronic timer devices, detonators, a pistol, and switches on January 6, 2006.
Sitting calmly in his 200-square-foot Crawford Market house with his wife and three teenaged children, Baksh still draws relief from the outcome and says matter-of-factly, “It is not my job to house musafirs (travellers), as it is done by Haj House’s administration. My job is to only hold prayers.”
Of the three men, Baksh says he only knew Haji. “But all I knew was that he traded in apples and that he would attend my prayer sessions. My interaction with him was casual and limited.”
But with the ATS arresting Baksh soon after Haji’s interrogation, Baksh vented his anger on him in jail. Baksh said, “I couldn’t control myself as I learnt I was branded a terrorist and jailed because of Haji’s claims to the ATS. On several occasions in jail and in court, I have vented my ire at these three Kashmiris, because I was needlessly dragged into this. However, Haji swore to me that he had not framed me. I don’t know what to believe anymore.”
A Std VII dropout from Bengal, Baksh was initially an assistant to the imam at Musafirkhana mosque from 1988, and in 1996 he became imam of Haj House. Though jail came as a rude shock, Baksh’s only solace was that almost all inmates looked upon him with respect.
“From gangsters like Abu Salem and Mustafa Dossa to petty criminals, I would be showered with sympathy as they believed an imam like me could not be involved in crime. However, the jail staff would often insult me with terrorist references and treat me badly.”
Baksh finds it ironic that just days before each of the four times his bail pleas were rejected, some terrorist attack would happen somewhere in India. “Once it was Malegaon, then the series of blasts across Delhi, Ahmedabad, etc and then of course, 26/11. The prosecutor would then oppose my bail, saying I would pose a threat to the tense situation outside.”
Baksh spent his last night in jail with a bitter-sweet feeling. “I was neither happy nor sad, because jail had taught me immense patience. And yet I had lost four years of my life and acquired a notorious tag forever. People will now always say ‘Perhaps he had some role in terrorism, or else he wouldn’t have been jailed for four years’.”