The court verdict on Thursday convicting local boy and alleged IM operative Shahzad Ahmad might not have been the resolution Azamgarh residents were hoping for, but the latter half of the day saw them struggling to cope with the disappointment.
Five years ago several youths from this small town in Uttar Pradesh were allegedly recruited for the Mahmood Ghaznavi brigade of the Indian Mujahideen, which was responsible for pan-India bombings. Some of these youth were also embroiled in the Batla House encounter, following which the town itself came to be known as the home of terror.
“We have no option but to accept the verdict. We will eventually work out how to file an appeal in higher courts,” said Iftekhar Ahmad, Shahzad’s grandfather and former principal of Shibli college.
No one from Shahzad’s immediate family lives in their Khalispur home. Soon after his arrest in February 2010, his mother left for Azamgarh city and his father Siraj Ahmad took up a job in Saudi Arabia. “They don’t come here anymore. The stigma is too much to bear,” said Mohammad Abu Bakar, an elderly villager.
But Shahzad’s uncle Anees Ahmad has not given up hope. “We have faith in the judicial system of the country. Shahzad and other innocent Muslims will be acquitted some day.”
“He was innocent. He is being framed,” chimes in gram pradhan Mohammad Shoulat.
The scene is not too different in the neighbouring Sanjarpur village. Nine youths alleged to be IM operatives, including the two who died in the Batla House encounter, come from this village.
Fifty-year-old Shadab Ahmad Mistry is the father of Saif and Shahnawaz, both accused in the 2008 encounter. Shahnawaz, a Unani doctor, is absconding, and son Saif is in an Ahmedabad jail.
After the incident, Mistry, who owned a small travel business, had to shut shop. The next few years were difficult but he was beginning to pick up the pieces. He married off his son Sarfaraz this April and sent him off to the Middle-East. He now plans to marry off his four daughters one by one.
“It has been five years since my two sons were framed in the case. I had started coming to terms with it. But today’s development has taken me back in time,” he said.
The villages, too, are struggling to cope with the setback. They want justice for their sons, and more than that, the restoration of their good name.
“We want to get rid of this stigma of being linked to terror every now and then,” said Mohd Shoulat, gram pradhan of Khalispur.