“Get in fast,” said an anxious Farida Khan, “Don’t talk at the door, someone might hear.”
It has not been easy for the mother of six to guard the family’s terrible secret in these narrow bylanes of Jogeshwari’s Kadam Nagar chawls, where house breathes upon house, neighbours hear neighbours whisper through thin walls.
But Farida has so far managed to stop rumours from spreading — that her husband Roshan was detained in Spain on January 19 and kept in jail since, accused of being an Al Qaeda-linked suicide bomber. Spain has not explained his crime. This despite the Indian Ministry of External Affairs writing to Spain in March first week that Roshan was “clean”.
From her, it is difficult to get the story of how the ex-student of south Mumbai’s cosmopolitan St Xavier’s College, popular as a boxer, went on to be an olive trader before being picked up from a mosque in Barcelona and branded a terrorist.
“I fear of repercussions on the children. The family name is at stake. Only my two eldest children know about his arrest. The four younger ones — between seven and 12 — don’t know,” she said.
And as Roshan goes about his routine in a Spanish jail 7,000 km away, his 16-year-old son Talha will be writing his SSC Physics exam on Monday.
“My exams are near, but I’ll manage. I’m worried about Talha,” said teary-eyed 17-year-old Safiya, a first-year commerce student. “He’s upset. He wants to hear father’s voice.”
The government, meanwhile, ran its cold, officious lines. “The embassy was given consular access to Roshan Jamal Khan, and two officials from the Indian embassy in Madrid went to meet this gentleman in prison,” said a senior Indian diplomat in Spain. “They have confirmed that he is indeed an Indian and is in good health.”
A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson in Delhi just said: “We are in touch with the Spanish authorities.”
Meanwhile, brother Mehboob Khan shows some of Roshan’s certificates. “Shri Khan comes from a respectable family and... bears a good moral character,” says a certificate issued by Professor AA Kazi, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, on November 7, 1981.
A letter of appreciation issued by the American Embassy in Kuwait in 1994 reads: “Your professionalism and willingness to provide assistance... is sincerely appreciated.” (This was in connection with services Roshan Khan provided while with a Kuwait-based aviation company).
Roshan’s younger brother Mehboob Khan, a BJP worker for 25 years, says he called Roshan two days after he was detained on January 19 in Madrid.
“His cell was switched off and it continued being so for the rest of the week. I got worried and called his brother-in-law in Barcelona. He told us about the charges. Till then neither the Spanish authorities nor our authorities informed us,” Mehboob recalled. “I then started corresponding with the Ministry of External Affairs and the PMO, which told me they are looking into the matter. I offered to go to Spain but was told it was not required at this stage.”
More than a month after Jamal’s detention, the family received a letter (dated February 25) from Sujata Mehta, Ambassador of India in Madrid, stating that two officials had met Roshan and he was being looked after well and that he had asked them to inform his family members in this regard. He also conveyed a message that “his family should await a resolution of the situation”.
“That is what we are doing: waiting,” said Mehboob. Mehboob is preparing to go to Spain. “I have requested the embassy to help me with a visa. I will go to fight for my brother,” he said.
Their father, Babu Peshgar Khan, who runs a dairy in south Mumbai, is in shock and refused to speak.