"Gujarat: Hizbul Mujahideen's 'Pepsi bomber' arrested", the headline of the leading Indian news organisation in March 2010, changed to "11 Years. In Jail Under Anti-Terror Law, Kashmir Man Acquitted Of Charges" recently.
Synonymous with the change in headline, the life of then 33-year-old Bashir Baba has changed after more than a decade of his arrest for a crime he never committed.
Bashir Ahmed Baba ran a small computer institute in the Rainawari area of Srinagar. After completing his Diploma in Software Engineering from International Computer Institute, Delhi, Baba again enrolled in Kashmir Technical Institute for Advanced Diploma in Software. "I had a dream to convert my small computer institute into a college, but everything changed, and this will remain a dream," says Baba.
"We came to know about his arrest when we saw the news on Television ", Bashir's younger brother Nazir said. "Our world came crashing down, and I had to look after my traumatised family and also had the responsibility to look after my brother's case", he adds.
In due course, Baba joined a German-based NGO working on Healthcare in India. In February 2010, he was on a trip to Gujarat for a training session. This was when he was arrested by Gujarat's Anti-Terrorism Squad and Intelligence Bureau after they raided his apartment.
Baba was booked under Unlawful Activities PreventionAct (UAPA) section 16, 17, 18, 20 and IPC Section 120B. He was accused of setting up a terror module and recruiting Muslim men angry over the 2002 riots in Gujarat.
"When I saw the news headlines about me, it shocked me," Bashir says.
Bashir's father visited him in jail twice and left this world with his unfilled hope to see his free son back in Kashmir. After 11 years of his imprisonment, Bashir reunited with his family after being acquitted of all the charges.
Love of learning
Bashir always wanted to get into academics. While running an institute, he pursued his Masters in Urdu from the Distance Education Department of Maulana Azad National Urdu University. "I couldn't complete it because of my arrest, but I didn't give up," says Bashir. Being the elder son, Bashir used to manage his studies and responsibilities.
Soon after he was arrested, Bashir was moved to the jail, and his trial began.
Years passed, but Bashir continued his studies in jail, "I used the time constructively and tried to keep myself busy to remain sane" and pursued his Bachelor's in Public Administration and then Master's in Public Administration and the other Post Graduation in Political Science. Later, he did a Diploma in Intellectual Property Rights and the other in Legal Rights. Baba also completed a Certificate course in English. Bashir said that the welfare department of the jail helped him pursue his studies, despite all the distress Bashir carried on to pursue his aspirations.
"There were times when I got upset and distracted, but I recollected my strength and continued studying whenever I got time", he recalls.
Filling the Gap
"While I was suffering in jail, my family was equally suffering financially and emotionally," says Bashir Ahmed Baba. Baba's lawyer and the letters he wrote from the prison were the means of his connection to his family.
It was through his lawyer that Bashir came to know about the demise of his ailing father.
"My return was a festival for my family, but my mother didn't talk to me for a day; she couldn't believe I was back, " Bashir says. "My mother is under depression, and we have suffered mentally too".
Bashir's lawyer too passed away a month before his judgement. "Being a resident of Kashmir, the weather conditions and food habits are different from the region, but who thinks about these things when the trauma of being inside the jail for something you haven't done troubles you more than anything?" says Baba.
"We try to give him homemade food, but he was habituated to eat Dal Roti in jail" "He is not able to recognise his relatives", explains Nazir mentioning a few of the many changes his brother's life has been through.
"The ones who were born after I went to jail are 11 years old now; I'm being introduced to each of them afresh", adds Baba with a giggle.
In the period of 11 years, everything has changed for Bashir; the dramatic evolution that computing has gone through seems hard to adopt. "If I think about upgrading myself in the field of computers, it will take time; I have already lost most of it," he says.
Bashir aspires to get into academics and wishes to start working soon.
(Musheera Ashraf is an independent journalist and researcher)