In the summer of 2001, Gulzar Ahmed Wani was a 27-year-old student at the Aligarh Muslim University, in the second year of his PhD programme in the university’s Arabic department. During the summer break, Wani visited his hometown in the Tapper Bala area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district. Upon his return to the university, he stayed at his friend’s residence in Azadpur, in Delhi, for a few days. On 30 July that year, the Delhi Police arrested Wani from his friend’s house. He was accused of orchestrating a bomb blast on the Sabarmati Express train, which killed at least nine people, when it was near Barabanki, in Uttar Pradesh, in August 2000. Wani then spent more than a decade incarcerated in different jails in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. On 20 May 2017, he was acquitted by a trial court in Barabanki for lack of evidence. On 6 June, Wani, now 44 years old, stepped into his home for the first time after 16 years of imprisonment.
I visited Wani at his house in the afternoon of 7 June. In a packed hall on the second storey of his home, Wani sat quietly in a corner. The edges of his beard, most of which had been recently dyed with henna, were grey. Wearing a prayer cap and a white Khan dress, he was sitting among many visitors, neighbors and relatives, all of whom had been pouring in to congratulate him on his homecoming. As they came in, he would stand up to shake hands or hug his guests and relatives. When Wani was unable to recognise a few relatives, Mudasir Ghulam, his younger brother, introduced them. The visitors took turns to embrace him tightly, their eyes brimming with tears after seeing him return home. As they left, he thanked each of them for visiting.
When he was arrested from Azadpur on a humid morning in July, Wani told me, he was blindfolded and taken to a secret location by personnel from the Delhi Police Special Cell, the anti-terror wing of the Delhi Police. He did not know where he was taken, but he said he was kept in a large two-storey for ten days. He was not produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of his arrest, which is the procedure prescribed under the code of criminal procedure in India. “During those ten days, I was tortured,” Wani said, without giving any further explanation. “It was very painful.”
“Those days [in the early 2000s], they [Delhi Police and Special Cell personnel] would take Kashmiri youth such as myself to some unknown location, keep you in an illegal detention, and put a gun on your head to coerce you into confessing whatever they wanted,” he said. He told me that after his arrest, he was afraid because he did not know what would happen to him next.
After ten days of illegal detention, Wani was produced before a magistrate in Delhi. “Media se kuch nahi bolna”—Don’t say anything to the media, he recalled a police officer sternly instructing him before producing him in court.