‘Smoke began to fill our coach, I couldn’t breathe’: Samjhauta Express blast witness
I was sleeping on the floor of the train when I heard a loud explosion. Soon, smoke started filling the compartment and, I remember, I couldn’t breathe. Within minutes, I could hear my wife shouting, where are my children, where is my husband? Are they dead or are they alive?”
Rana Muhammad Shaukat, one of the three victims, who moved the special court on the day it was to deliver a judgment on the Samjhauta Express blast case, remembers the night of February 18, 2007, very clearly.
That day, bombs ripped through two compartments of the “peace train”, killing 68, of which 43 were Pakistani nationals. Among the dead were five of Shaukat’s children.
Shaukat, Muhammad Sammu Ullah and Rahila Wakeel, all Pakistani nationals, filed an application in the special National Investigation Agency (NIA) court in Panchukula on March 11, pleading that their testimonies be taken on board.
The application was moved at the last minute through their advocate, Momin Malik. HT spoke to Shaukat and Rahila Wakeel over the phone. Both said they want to be a part of the legal process and have received no summons over the last 12 years, though NIA is on record that several summons were sent through the ministry of external affairs and did not receive a response. “I saw two suspicious men on the train. The railway police came to our compartment to check our documents. They similarly approached two men, sitting next to the door, and when asked where they were going, they said, ‘Ahmedabad’,” Shaukat recalls. “I was surprised because the train travels from Delhi to Lahore.” Advocate Memon told HT that his clients “are eyewitnesses who have seen the main accused” and their testimonies were important. He defended the last-minute intervention saying, “There is a legal provision under CrPC 311, under which there is no time limit.” Shaukat returned to Pakistan with his wife and a one-year-old daughter. Wakeel came to Panipat a day after the blast, in search of her father, who boarded the train from Delhi.
“I have been looking for him for 12 years. We know that he boarded the train but his body was not found. DNA tests were conducted but did not match with any of the unidentified bodies. How can the court give a verdict without hearing us? I request the governments of Pakistan and India to help us. We are victims,’’ she said over the phone from Pakistan. The court reserved its judgement on March 11 and asked NIA to respond to Memon’s plea by March 14.
The next date of hearing has now been fixed for March 18. There were eight accused in the case but only four faced trial. RSS functionary, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, the prime accused in the case, was granted bail in 2015.
Three other accused, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma, are in judicial custody in Central Jail Ambala. The accused are facing charges for murder and criminal conspiracy.