When a sporty teen from Old Srinagar—popular among his peers for organizing cricket tournaments—landed in a Kolkata prison in December 2003, none could make sense of an ‘explosive charge’ slapped on him. Nearly 16 years later, as the West Bengal High Court declared him innocent, the old question resurfaced: ‘How long will Kashmiris endure a wrongful punishment.’
The much-awaited day had finally dawned for Sheikh Abdul Rehman — a struggling father, whose silent and skinny transformation reflected the 16-year-long ordeal and longing for his incarcerated son.
In the twilight of July 30, 2019, Rehman was out on a street in the Old City’s Nawab Bazaar that wore a subdued festive mood. Groom was on his way home, a bunch of women whispered, while eagerly waiting for him with candies and floral garlands.
Amid happy vibes, Rehman stood thoughtful—patiently waiting for a car to pull over in front of his residence.
He had last seen him home when he was only a 15-year-old cricket buff. But now, the captive son was returning as a nonchalant adult.
The wait finally ended for Rehman, when a slowly-built street commotion announced the arrival of his released son.
Sporting skullcap, dark blue T-shirt and trouser, Rehman’s son, Sheikh Imran, stepped out of a car. The father ran to embrace him, and stood holding him, in his thin arms, at length. The sullen father was shortly beaming, so was his son.
But the freeman couldn’t conceal his long-lived caged routine. His eagerness for solitude and evasion of crowd reflected his captive calendar.
Imran’s walk to freedom was also bereft of acquaintance.
He knew a different home before landing in prison and returned to a new home which his family had bought during his captivity.
Neighbours and relatives, meanwhile, came forward to welcome him. Inside his home, he was showered with candies. But Imran put up a captive mood, and tried his best to avoid the sentimental swarm swelling at his home.
He quietly went upstairs and sat among the visitors with bewilderment. On his opposite side, his mother sat with moist eyes. Amid frequent handshakes and hugs, she regularly gazed his face — which wasn’t holding the teenager’s eagerness anymore.
Her son finally came out of confines when the West Bengal High Court declared him innocent on July 4, 2019. The court struck down the judgement of the lower court and ordered his immediate release.
His acquittal came days after four Kashmiris were released by Jaipur court after serving 23 years of wrongful imprisonment.
Prior to his arrest in December 2003, Kolkata cops had found a truckload of explosives at Dhobi Talao area in West Bengal’s Garden Reach. Imran was arrested on suspicion, along with his relative, Sheikh Farhat, a resident of Bemina, Srinagar, and four others.
Days before his arrest, he had visited his acquaintance in Kolkata to spend his holiday. On his return, a team of local cops arrested Imran from his old residence in Karfali Mohalla of Srinagar. He was handed over to the Kolkata police.
The case continued for nearly ten years in a local West Bengal court.
Then, on July 15, 2013, Imran along with Farhat was sentenced to life under the arms Act by a Kolkata Lower Court.
A year later, the duo came in the limelight when Farhat sent a letter to the Inspector General, Alipore Central Jail, demanding to be transferred to Srinagar Central Jail. He went on an indefinite hunger strike and refused to go to the jail hospital. Imran followed suit.
On September 23, 2013, the J&K government sent a letter to its Kolkata counterpart agreeing to keep them in a jail in their state. After twists and turns, he was lodged in Srinagar’s Central Jail.
Now, back home, Imran does not want to talk about his incarcerated life anymore.
“What’s there to talk about?” he said, with a suppressed smile. “All I can say is that I forgot all the pain and sufferings after meeting my parents.”
His elder brother, Sheikh Muzamil, however, termed his sibling’s wrongful punishment as ‘harrowing’ experience for the family.
“We will never forget these years till death,” the tearful sibling said.
“Our conditions worsened after 2013 when the lower court in Kolkata awarded him life imprisonment, but we didn’t lose hope. We fought this case in the High Court for six years and finally they order his release on July 4, 2019. And now, when he’s finally home, we all wonder: who’s going to return his 16-years of youthful life?”
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