‘I was discriminated against because I am Muslim’
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In 2008, a youth was arrested from my neighbourhood in Hubli for alleged links with the Student Islamic Movement of India. He was studying to be a doctor and had no history of indiscipline or run-ins with the law. His family was traumatised, and still is, for he continues to languish in jail. If that could happen to a young, educated Muslim like him, it could happen to me, too, I thought then. Five years later, that passing thought became an ugly reality.
On August 29, 2012, a posse of armed policemen barged into the one-bedroom flat I shared with four other boys in Bangalore. They pretended to be looking for my roommate Shoaib Ahmed Mirza, whom they accused of plotting to assassinate some right-wing Kannada columnists. Ironically, they had picked him up from the locality just a while earlier. In our flat, they slapped his brother, Aijaz Ahmed, abused the other three and suddenly handcuffed me too. I pleaded with them to tell me why they were taking me away. I asked one of the policemen, whom I had spoken to earlier when I was a crime reporter with Deccan Herald, what was going on. All I got was a sarcastic look. The brazen manner in which we were picked up was more like a kidnapping than an arrest. With my pleas unanswered, my mind slid into numbness. I went blank. I could not think. The story of that youth kept replaying in my head.
My first night in the cell was the longest night of my life. We kept pleading with the cops, including the junior-most constables, to not destroy our lives. During our 30 days in police custody, the cops abused us in every way they could. One policeman asked me, "So, you work for a Pakistani newspaper?" I don't even want to get into the nasty things they said about my faith. I was surprised that unlike the others, I was not physically abused. Outside the prison, though, I was planted as the "mastermind".