By Mudasir Majeed Peer
Cutting across meadows and mountains, a six kilometer road leads to Magam – a village in Handwara area of North Kashmir – where aeronautical engineer, Imran Kirmani, was born. For years, the village took pride in Imran’s achievements – even a mention that the village had given birth to the first aeronautical engineer in north Kashmir made the villagers gloat. These days, however, people visit this village for a completely different reason. The aeronautical engineer has recently returned home from jail.
The 29-year-old engineer was kept in Tihar Jail on allegations of links with Pakistan based militant outfit, Lashkar-e-Toiba, a charge that Delhi police failed to prove in court. Delhi Police had arrested him on 15th November, 2006, from his rented apartment in Dwarkha area of New Delhi. When torture and illegal detention for 12-days failed to beak Imran and Delhi police gave up the idea of extracting a confession statement from him, they produced him before media and claimed to have uncovered a 9-11 like plane-hijack plan that would have been carried out by Imran. After a five year long battle for justice, the district court, Tees Hazari in New Delhi acquitted him while dismissing all charges leveled by police.
A five minute walk up a steep alley in Magam village ends at the gate of a house with a plush green courtyard. Inside the house, a modest single storey structure of mud and bricks with three rooms, an old man sits with his eyes fixed at the windows. Through the polythene sheet that covers the window instead of glass, he catches a glimpse of us and turns up at the door to greet us. Ghulam Rasool Kirmani, a retired government teacher, welcomes us into his house with a smile on his face.
“My son, if you are from any propaganda channel, then I will not tell you a single word about my son,” Kirmani, father of three sons and two daughters says. “But if you are from any Kashmiri newspaper, then I will talk to you”. As we sit there, Imran appears at the door.
Imran had been trained in aeronautical engineering at the Rajeev Ghandhi memorial collage of aeronautical engineer Jaipur. “I was at Amritsar Aviation club for six months and later I had further practice sessions in Gurgoan at Star Aviation Academy. I had appeared for interviews few days before my arrest at Air Deccan, Sahara Airlines and Jackson Airlines. I was waiting for some exciting news when I was arrested,” says Imran. Narrating the story of his arrest, he says, “I was blindfolded on 15th November 2006 by a special Delhi Police branch and taken to illegal custody for 12-days. I was innocent, I pleaded my innocence before them but they were hell-bent on framing me. I begged but they did not care, instead I was subjected to different forms of torture for two weeks”.
During imran’s incarceration in Tihar Jail, his family sold their house and land to pay the lawyers that were pleading Imran’s case. Most of KIrmani’s savings had gone into Imran’s education. “My provident fund, my pension and whatever the allowances I got after retirement exhausted in freeing my son. I couldn’t marry off my daughter. We had to postpone her marriage every year after his arrest,” Kirmani says.
Imran says that his days in prison gave him a world of new experience. “Prison is not heaven for anyone. No one is greeted with garlands. A prisoner sees the worst of life in prison,” he says. But he thanks Allah that the prison brought him closer to his religion. “I didn’t even know the basics of my religion (Islam). Thanks to Almighty, I learnt a lot in jail. I used to read different renditions and commentaries of the holy Quran.”
While Imran wants to start his life afresh, life has left him with few options to choose from. His family wants him to explore career options within Kashmir valley, even if it means giving up the idea of working as an aeronautical engineer.
“I have lost much. My bones are not so strong now. I have lost the valor. I want to see my son here, with me, all the time and feel satisfied that he is safe. We will not allow him to go there now,” says Kirmani, with a heavy voice.
Imran too has grown suspicious. Places outside Kashmir, where he studied engineering and made his villagers proud, feel unsafe. He abhors the judicial system. “They were unable to judge my case early despite understanding that I was innocent,” he says.
“I can’t fight any more now. I feel a Kashmiri is safe only in this small valley. Seven judges changed during these five years. All of them were in favor of police except the last judge. Even the third judge admitted in court swarmed with people that he has understood the case very well but his hands are tied,” says Imran