Muslim Acquitted In Mumbai Train Blast Case Says India’s Legal System Is Now Hindutva Legal System
Trial Judge Sentenced Five To Death, Seven To Life Imprisonment Based On Fake Testimonies And Zero Evidence: Abdul Wahid Shaikh
By Husnaa Vhora
Exactly 16 years ago, on July 11, 2006, powerful bombs went off in several local trains in Mumbai, India’s financial capital and busiest metropolis, killing 209 people and injuring hundreds more. Subsequently, 13 people – all Muslims – were accused of carrying out the heinous crime and sent for trial. In 2015, the trial court sentenced seven of them to life imprisonment and five to death.
One man, Abdul Wahid Shaikh, was acquitted after the police failed to provide any evidence to prove the serious terrorism charges leveled against him.
Working as a schoolteacher before he was arrested, Shaikh began studying law in prison and is now a full-fledged lawyer. In 2021, he also authored a memoir Begunah Qaidi (Innocent Prisoner) detailing the egregious and false case of the prosecution. Earlier this year, a Hindi movie named Haemolymph based on his case was released to critical acclaim. Shaikh hopes the movie will expose India’s corrupt criminal justice system for its targeting of innocent Muslims.
Earlier today, on the blasts’ anniversary, the Bombay High Court put off the hearing in the case saying it was “overburdened.”
In an interview with Husnaa Vhora, Special Correspondent with IAMC News, Shaikh said every one of the 12 accused in this case have been wrongfully convicted. Excerpts –
Vhora: What is the meaning of Haemolymph, the name of your biopic?
Shaikh: Haemolymph means invisible blood, like the invisible blood of an ant when it is killed. This symbolizes the lack of accountability of the Indian government and justice system that keeps hitting us Muslims and yet nobody sees it.
Vhora: What do you hope the audience gains from this movie?
Shaikh: I want people to know there are a lot of Wahids in Indian society. This can happen to anybody. My case was not the first and will not be the last. We want the government, the police, and the public to see how this ruins our life. We cannot allow the lives of innocent people and their families to be ruined.
Vhora: What was the evidence against you?
Shaikh: The allegation was that I had sheltered Pakistani terrorists. The only witness against me claimed he had my house keys and had let some people stay there. In court, however, he confessed the police tortured him and forced him to lie. Even though his testimony was in my favor, I was kept in prison for nine years until my acquittal.
Vhora: All your co-accused have been convicted. Five have been sentenced to death. Do you think the prosecution brought enough clinching evidence against them?
Shaikh: The five sentenced to death were accused of planting bombs in the trains. The seven who receieved life sentences were accused of bomb-making. The prosecution offered no evidence, no phone records, no CCTV footage, no phone calls. No documentary and electronic evidence – things that cannot lie – were not presented. Everything is based on eyewitness claims.
Vhora: Do you believe they have been fairly tried?
Shaikh: No, the trial was not fair. The judges very attentively listened to the fake stories of the fake witnesses. But when we would be in the witness box, they simply would not listen to us. We were rarely allowed to call witnesses. When we did get the chance, the defense witnesses were treated like uninvited guests and rushed off the stand. Their words were not heard or recorded. This happens with so many judges in India.
Vhora: Do you think the co-accused who are convicted are guilty?
Shaikh: Since my arrest in 2006 and my release in 2015 I have maintained with full truth and confidence, even in front of the media, that those convicted are not guilty but are innocent and should be released. After living with them for nine years I know they are good people, are worthy of living, and do not pose a threat to anyone. The Anti-Terrorism Squad’s (ATS) case against them is entirely bogus.
Vhora: On what grounds do you defend your co-accused?
Shaikh: The most solid evidence in their defense is the discrepancy from within Mumbai Police. One branch of the police said we carried out the blast, but another branch said we did not. When even the police could agree among themselves, it makes no sense that they have been convicted.
Vhora: Many commentators have spoken about farcical trials of Muslims. Often, the evidence and witness testimonies appear to be wholly fraudulent. Why do the courts not see through such corrupt practices?
Shaikh: So many people are aware of and vocal about Indian Muslims being falsely accused of terrorism. The Indian legal system has become a Hindutva legal system. The system does not care if their verdict is right or wrong, but instead looks at whether the accused is a Muslim or Hindu. Judges believe anything against Muslims.
Vhora: Do you see any hope for Muslims from India’s judicial system?
Shaikh: The Indian legal system fully supports the police and the government in targeting Muslims. Muslims are not given bail, their trials are unnecessarily prolonged. Judges often make up their minds about the guilt of the accused even before any evidence is presented. Our legal system supports the police system and Hindutva. We don’t trust the courts and don’t have any faith in the legal system.
Vhora: You were reinstated as a teacher at the same school you taught at before your arrest. How has that transition been for you?
Shaikh: When I returned to the classroom after a nine-year hiatus I felt I was in a whole new world. I faced startled looks from students when they found their teacher had been in jail. It was awkward with all the news stories about me.
Vhora: What impact did imprisonment have on you?
Shaikh: My time in prison had lasting physical, mental, and psychological effects on me. Being stripped and beaten like an animal really took a toll on my self-respect as a human being. I am in a constant state of fear that this can happen to me again, especially when someone speaks loudly. Torture has impaired my eyesight. I have headaches all the time. I still feel pain in my hands and feet, especially in winter. Instead of being punished, the police officers who tortured me were promoted. After what I went through, any person can feel sad and lose hope in the government and justice system.
Vhora: What about your family?
Shaikh: When I was arrested, my one child was two-and-a-half years old and the other only six months old. My imprisonment deprived them of their father’s love.They couldn’t get their mother’s love, too, as my wife was forced to work to support our family. My wife could not even breastfeed our six-month-old daughter. By the time I was released, the two kids were past the age where I could sit them on my lap. My two children born after I was freed have got all the privileges from me. This has caused my older children to feel neglected. We were deprived of each other’s love.
Vhora: What are your hopes and plans for the future?
Shaikh: I am currently doing my PHD in prison literature and doing academic work on the stuff that prisoners write. I currently work with the Innocence Network of India that fights for the innocent and helps them and their families. We try to fight their cases pro bono or with reduced fees. We don’t have a large budget and we don’t fundraise. We just do what we can. My biggest hope and goal is to participate in legal lectures and go to international universities to tell my life story. I want to tell people about my book and film so they know the truth of what goes on in India.