By: Uma Sudhir
“Will they give me a character certificate, ma’am?”
It was an earnest question and I was surprised. Here I was telling this young man that he is going to be paid three lakh rupees as compensation by the Andhra Pradesh government for having been wrongly implicated after the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad. After his subsequent acquittal, this was a landmark decision with wide implications. And at this time, I may not have thought a “character certificate” would be priority number one.
“Why? Is it that important?” I asked, not able to hide my curiosity about what had driven him to ask me the question.
“Yes, ma’am. Even this week, for December 6, there were people from Special Branch and IB enquiring if I was in town. If I go out for a day, the police come visiting at my place, to find out where I am.” The pain in Rayeesuddin’s voice was obvious as he said this.
“You know every time there is trouble, we are the usual suspects. As though having been acquitted in court doesn’t really matter. We are still some kind of ISI agents and terrorists and anti-social elements in the eyes of the police. We are marked for life.”
I recalled that at least twice in the past three years, when Rayees (extreme right in the above photograph) had gone missing, his family had contacted me. I asked the police. Rayees was sent home. The job he lost at a jewellery showroom when he was first picked up by the police, he never got back. Earning a livelihood was tough. The family did not have any money and banks would not give him a loan. Getting married had not been easy either; who would give a `labelled’ man their daughter. Even getting a house on rent was far from easy. I understood why this was important to him.
I promised Rayees I would find out. I had thought it would be quite a simple matter, now that the youth, Rayeesuddin and 20 others, were declared innocent. After all, the government itself was openly acknowledging a wrong and was trying to correct it through “confidence-building” measures, wasn’t it?
But I was wrong.
I met the minority welfare department secretary Mohd Ali Rafath, who said they had decided to issue orders to pay money to these young men because they did not want the youth to lose trust in the system and the government, to say we understand you and we are responsive to the suffering you had to undergo. But the legal aspects of the National Minorities Commission’s recommendations like issue of character certificate and action against erring police officials would be taken care of by the home department.
The police say issuing a character certificate is not that simple. The youth are still in what they call a `suspect sheet’ and their names will probably stay there for a long, long time. In fact, the police don’t even want the money ordered to be paid (three lakh rupees each to twenty youth against who chargesheets were filed and Rs 20,000 each to fifty others let off without a police case, all allegedly subjected to illegal confinement and torture) to be called compensation. They would rather call it a rehabilitation package or even an interest-free loan. They are afraid this could open a pandora’s box.
My young friend wants to hold his head high and tell the world: “My name is Rayeesuddin and I am not a terrorist.” The government may know and acknowledge it, but no, they are not yet willing to proclaim that on his behalf.
(Uma Sudhir is Resident Editor, NDTV)