As he sat on the floor leaning against the wall, Mohammad Hussain Fazili’s wary expression revealed the uneasiness he felt in sitting with me—a stranger—to talk about his arrest, incarceration and acquittal in the case of the 2005 serial bomb blasts in Delhi. I had arrived at Fazili’s house on the afternoon of 8 March 2017, unannounced. I walked past several rows of concrete two-storey houses in Srinagar’s Soura neighbourhood before I reached one constructed with mud and timber. “Is this the house of Mohammad Hussain Fazili?” I asked a lanky young man standing in the balcony on the first floor. He asked me to identify myself and the purpose of my visit, and then nodded at me, directing me inside. An old man with a neatly trimmed beard, who I later learnt was Fazili’s father, stood at the entrance to the house. He studied me carefully, before telling me to enter the guest room. Fazili followed me into the room. Although Fazili seemed suspicious of me in the beginning, he was considerably warmer once I showed him my press credentials. He said with a wry smile, “My family is always worried about me since I was set free. They inspect every visitor before letting me meet them.” He added, “Haadsa hi aisa hua ki unko kissi pe bharosa hi na raha”—The tragedy was such that they no longer trust anyone.
On 29 October 2005, a series of three blasts in Delhi killed 67 people and injured over 200 others. Less than a month later, on 21 November, Fazili was arrested from his house in relation with the blasts. As purported evidence, the police relied heavily upon a phone recovered from Fazili, which they alleged was used to hatch the conspiracy. After serving more than 11 years in prison during the trial of the case, Fazili, now a 42-year-old man, and Mohammad Rafiq Shah, one of the two other accused persons, were acquitted of all charges on 16 February 2017. Tariq Ahmad Dar, the third accused, was convicted for offences under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and sentenced to imprisonment for 10 years, but was released because he had already spent more than 10 years in prison. In the judgment of the case, Reetesh Singh, an additional sessions judge in the Patiala House courts complex, in Delhi, noted that there was no evidence or witnesses linking Fazili and Shah to Dar. The judgment also stated that Shah was in Kashmir University on the day of the blasts, and that the mobile phone recovered from Fazili had only been used twice—for mobile recharges.
Before his arrest, Fazili lived with his family, which then comprised his parents, and three brothers, who lived in the house, and a sister, who was married and lived with her husband. Although his father and brother were earning members of the family, they were also dependent on Fazili, who used to weave and sell shawls. That cold November evening in 2005, Fazili told me, he was stacking shawls in the kitchen of his house. His family had finished dinner and was watching a news bulletin about a Kashmiri man who had been arrested by the Delhi police in relation to the bomb-blast case. Within minutes, he recounted, someone knocked on their door while others had entered the house compound by scaling the gate. “Those unknown men entered our house and asked us to stand up. I was separated from my family and taken to another room of my house and asked if I had been to Delhi or telephoned anyone,” he said. While the police officers who entered the house were in plain clothes, there were officers outside in uniform. “I answered that I have been to Delhi once in my childhood before 1990’s.” Fazili was forcibly taken into their vehicle, and the police team—which Fazili later learnt was the Delhi Police Special Cell—assured his family that their son would return after “investigations.”