How Salman Farsi copes with the stigma after his acquittal in the 2006 Malegaon blast case

Salman Farsi, who was acquitted in the 2006 Malegaon blast case, speaks of his ordeals and the pain of social exclusion.

Published : Mar 22, 2021 06:00 IST

Salman Farsi,  a medical practioner, works with an ambulance service in rural Maharashtra.

Salman Farsi, a medical practioner, works with an ambulance service in rural Maharashtra.

TEN years after he got bail and five years after he was acquitted in the Malegaon blast case of 2006, Dr Salman Farsi continues to face social discrimination. Life for Farsi, a medical practitioner, is one of social exclusion and nagging fear. People in Malegaon are too scared to be seen with him in public. Many do not save his number on their mobile phones so as to not arouse suspicion. Not even members of his own community want to associate with him.

Working with an ambulance service in rural Maharashtra at present, Farsi says: “In Malegaon, people try to avoid me. When I pass through a public street or market, people speak in hushed tones. They do not even save my number on their mobiles and avoid calling me. Though they all know I was innocent and that I was framed in the Malegaon case, and finally acquitted in 2016, in their heart of hearts I am one who was charged with the UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act], the MCOCA [the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act], the Explosive Substances Act, the Passport Act, etc.”

Farsi was accused of conspiracy and abetment in the Malegaon serial blasts. The town was rocked by serial blasts soon after the Friday prayers at Hameediya Masjid on September 8, 2006, that killed 30 persons, and injured 125. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) picked up nine men, including Farsi. All were Muslim men.

Also read: The scapegoats

Farsi was at his clinic on November 5, 2006, when a policeman arrived and asked him to come to the police station for 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes turned into an ordeal of nine years, including the years of extreme torture in custody, something he finds too painful to recall even today. “We were subjected to great torture, great brutality. I would not like to go into the details as any mention of it brings back the pain,” he says.

In his judgment acquitting all the eight men (the ninth, Shabbir Ahmed, died), sessions judge V.V. Patil said: “In my view, the basic foundation or the objective shown by [the] ATS behind the blast is not acceptable to a man of ordinary prudence. I say so because there was Ganesh immersion just prior to September 8, 2006. Had accused Number 1 to 9 any objective that there should be riots at Malegaon then they ought to have planted bombs at the time of Ganesh immersion which would have caused deaths of most Hindu people. It seems to be highly impossible that the accused number 1 to 9 who are from Muslim community would have decided to kill their own people to create disharmony between the two communities, that too on a holy day, i.e. Shab-e-Baraat.”

The plight of Farsi and others framed for a crime they had not committed got highlighted when the Innocence Network published its First People’s Tribunal on Innocent Acquitted report at the end of 2016. The jury was headed by Justice A.P. Shah, retired Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. The report observed: “It is routine for police and investigating agencies to round up and arrest Muslim youth in the aftermath of any bomb explosion or attack. The most striking example of this is the manner in which the investigation into the Malegaon blast 2006 was carried out. Members of the Muslim community were rounded up, trumped up as SIMI [Students’ Islamic Movement of India] activists and shown as key suspects despite the fact that at least one of them was already in police custody at that time, and another key accused was hundreds of kilometres away leading the Shab-e-Baraat prayers in Yavatmal on that very day.”

Also read: Malegaon’s innocents

Farsi believes that full justice has not been done to him even after being released. He points to the absence of compensation to live life anew. And people’s inability to shake off the shadow of the images they would have seen on the electronic media at the time of the incident. Says Farsi: “It is difficult to live a dignified life even after acquittal. I was released on bail in 2011 and was discharged in 2016, ten years after the case. There was demand for compensation too, but nothing came of it. The case made news worldwide. The general public, not just people from my community, knew the truth. Yet even now, in 2021, people do not want to associate with me. Strangely, the people who led agitations for our release and burst crackers when we were acquitted do not want to have much to do with us save social courtesies. Nobody wants to save my number with details on their mobile for fear of the police. They all know I was innocent.”

‘I reared goats’

After being released in 2011, Farsi could not resume his medical practice as patients refused to come to his clinic. Forced into social exclusion, he took up rearing goats in Yavatmal to earn a living. “For a year, I reared goats in Yavatmal. I charged people for rearing their goats. I also worked as an imam. Then, I did a certificate course for emergency medical officer from Symbiosis. After that I got a job at an ambulance service as an emergency officer. Since 2014, I have been employed there. In rural areas, where most people are Marathi-speaking, I have got no negative response from anybody. It is in stark contrast to what my own community people did in Malegaon.”

Then, Farsi happened to meet the Nirankaris, a religious group, in Yavatmal. It proved to be a soothing experience. “They accepted me and asked me to address their devotees from the stage. I preached from the Quran. They all embraced me, opened up to me, asked me to go to Mumbai and Delhi to address bigger gatherings. Interestingly, never from the stage did they call me Dr Salman Farsi. They called me Salman Manmar or Salman Nasikwale, Dr Salman Malegaondhule. They did it to avoid the public’s negative attitude and prevent anybody from going into my history.”

Also read: The fall guys

He recalls one Zahid Bhai, who was arrested and released alongside him in the Malegaon case. Zahid, an imam by profession, has since not been accepted as an imam in any mosque. “He is pushing carts for a living,” says Farsi. “This is an indictment of our society. Those whom we believe to be innocent are not accepted back into the social fold after being acquitted. In the people’s mind, the past continues to cast a shadow.”

Incidentally, in jail, Farsi, who is a Quran hafiz , used to lead the Friday and Eid prayers, and he claims that people of all communities used to attend his talks. Today, though his house is still in Malegaon, Farsi is on the move because of the nature of his job. “Neighbours meet me out of social obligation, nothing more,” he says, predicting similar challenges ahead for the 122 men released in the Surat case recently. “Life is never the same after being arrested for any terror case, even if it is proven to be a fake case. Nobody arrested for being a member of SIMI or working for it has been proven to be a part of the banned organisation. Yet, even after acquittal, the feeling lingers in the minds of many.”

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