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.”
Fazili told me he was taken to Srinagar Air Cargo—an infamous interrogationcentre, which was allegedly converted into a cyber-police station in 2012. After being interrogated there for 24 hours, he was blindfolded and flown to Delhi, where he was taken to the Special Cell office at Lodhi Road. In the judgment, the judge reprimanded the Delhi Police for not producing Fazili before a magistrate in Srinagar within 24 hours of his arrest, as is mandated by law. Fazili described the torture that he endured for a fortnight in Delhi in graphic detail: “One end of a water pipe was inserted in my mouth while the other was put in a commode. Male private parts were inserted in my mouth and a pig was smeared on my body. Electric shocks were applied to my body and rats were put in my trousers. I felt like I was in hell.” His eyes began to tear up as he spoke. “I leave my food when those scenes return to my mind,” he said.
According to Fazili, the interrogators repeatedly questioned him about a phone call he made to Delhi, days before his arrest. He told them that he had made the call to his client, a Kashmiri man based in Delhi who dealt with handicrafts exports. Fazili told the interrogators that he had sold the client some shawls and he had called him about the pending payment for it. “But they did not trust me and kept on torturing me,” he said. “On the phone, I requested him to send the pending payment for my shawls as Eid was ahead. I also told him I had in my possession a banned Shahtoosh shawl if he wanted it.” The client told him that Kashmiris were not moving out freely in the aftermath of the blasts and requested him to bear with the delay in payment for some time. A few days later, he called Fazili and disconnected the phone without speaking to him, but Fazili heard the client telling someone in background, “Yahi woh number hain”—This is that number.