For a fleeting moment, nobody seemed alarmed by the sound of the explosion inside the sprawling Aahat-e-Noor courtyard of the Ajmer Dargah on the evening of October 11, 2007. Many thought the cause was an old cannon located on a nearby hillock, fired for over a hundred years to signify the start of the namaaz during the holy month of Ramzaan.
But then followed the screams of agony, and the expression on the otherwise sombre faces of countless devotees assembled at the shrine turned to that of horror. The truth dawned, but slowly, as they were greeted by the sight of blood-splattered bodies strewn all around them.
The dargah had fallen victim to a terror attack.
At a corner of the courtyard lay 70-year-old Badiul Hasan spread-eagled, rudely dislodged from the spot where he had kneeled to offer namaaz almost every week for the last 50 years. Today, 10 years after his demise, he is yet to receive justice.
“My father would often tell us that even if we cannot help someone, we should never harm them. We still can’t bring ourselves to believe how he lost his life. And now it hurts us even more to see that the people who orchestrated the Ajmer Dargah blast have been declared innocent,” says Shamsul, Hasan’s son.
Two days after a special NIA court in Jaipur acquitted seven people – including former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh member Swami Aseemanand – in the Ajmer Dargah blast case, devotees offered their prayers at the shrine with a sense of resignation.
The relatives of the people who lost their lives in the blast can’t help but exclaim how the NIA court verdict has dealt a severe blow to their quest for justice. “My mother lost her mental balance in the days that followed my father’s death. He had retired as an English lecturer from an army school, and was a well-respected man. We thought the accused would be stringently punished by the court, not acquitted,” says Shamsul.
Inside the office of the Anjuman Committee, which is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the dargah, a motley group of people plan their future course of action in hushed voices. “We will appeal against the NIA court order because it is unacceptable that people such as Aseemanand be declared innocent even after their acknowledgment of the crime. The security agencies probing the case didn’t follow it up properly,” says Mussabbir Hussain, joint general secretary of the panel.
Standing a few metres from the Anjuman Committee office, you can’t miss the sound of rustic quawwals singing praises of Moinuddin Chishti – the mystic 12th century Sufi saint – amid a sea of devotees forming serpentine queues to visit the heart of the shrine. An elderly man with an eccentric glint in his eyes fiercely shakes a tambourine as he recites verses in chaste Urdu, completely oblivious to his surroundings. Located in the centre of the courtyard before him is the tree where the blast occurred.
Surrounding the tambourine man is a palpable sense of anger, threatening to burst out like a volcano in full spate. “After Aseemanand’s acquittal, we don’t expect that the two people convicted by the court to be punished stringently by the court. No one talks about the blast anymore, and there is a feeling that the government wants us to forget about the entire incident,” says Haji Syed Iqbal Ali, another devotee.
Mohammed Khalid Hashmi, a khadim (attendant) at the dargah, says maintaining peace is paramount in a situation such as this. “The verdict has angered a lot of people, and we have to ensure that no untoward incidents occur because of it. The acquittal has set a bad precedent,” he adds.
According to the dargah administration, no security arrangements were in place at the time of the blast because few had even imagined that such an incident could occur. “Many Hindus visit the shrine because it symbolises the Sufi ideals of inclusiveness and humanity. We find satisfaction in the fact that the attack did not succeed in disrupting communal harmony, pitting community against community. We have shown the world that we will continue to champion peace, no matter what,” says Hussaain.