India man struggles with freedom 23 years after 'wrong' conviction

Nisar-ud-din Ahmad (right) said it was an emotional reunion with his mother Zaibunnisa Begum and brother Zahir-ud-din (left)
Image caption Nisar-ud-din Ahmad (right) said it was an emotional reunion with his mother Zaibunnisa Begum and brother Zahir-ud-din (left)

India's Supreme Court acquitted Nisar-ud-din Ahmad of terrorism offences last month, after he had spent 23 years in prison. He tells BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi that he is struggling to start his life afresh at the age of 43.

Mr Ahmad and two others were released from a jail in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan after the Supreme Court overturned their convictions in terrorism offences, citing insufficient evidence.

They had been convicted by lower courts of planning blasts in five trains in December 1993, which killed two passengers and injured another eight.

More than two decades later, Mr Ahmad said his family was struggling to believe that he had actually returned to his home in Gulbarga in the southern state of Karnataka.

"My mother comes and touches my head in the middle of the night just to be sure that she is not dreaming her son is home," he said.

He added that the police had built their case against him on what he called "fabricated confessions" allegedly taken from him, his elder brother Zahir-ud-din Ahmad and two others.

But the top court said in its ruling that "the conviction and sentence [of Mr Ahmad] is completely unsustainable".

"In the absence of any other material on record to lend any semblance of corroboration to the confession, we find it extremely difficult to sustain the conviction and sentence...," the court said.

'Fabricated confession'

Mr Ahmad still vividly remembers the day he was arrested by the police on 15 January 1994.

He had been getting ready to go to his pharmacy college.

"I was held illegally for 43 days before they produced me before a magistrate. They beat me, tortured me, hung me upside down and beat me some more. I begged and pleaded with them to let me know what wrong I had committed. Then they made me sign a fabricated confession," he told BBC Hindi.

Image caption Zahir-ud-din Ahmad (left) was in Rajasthan to welcome to his brother Nisar-ud-din

Three months later, his brother Zahir-ud-din Ahmad was also arrested by the police and later sentenced to life in prison on terror charges.

Zahir-ud-din Ahmad was released on bail in May 2008 on health grounds.

"I got bail because I got lung cancer. But I continued the fight to get us acquitted," Zahir-ud-din Ahmad said.

'Everything has changed'

He was present in Rajasthan to welcome his brother and celebrate his freedom last month.

But Nisar-ud-din Ahmad said that while "normally in the jail there is some kind of happiness when somebody is about to be released. I could not even feel happy that I was free".

He said that he felt a sense of freedom "only after reaching home" but added that "everything has changed".

Image caption Zahir-ud-din Ahmad said his mother was very emotional to see him home after 23 years

"In my own town, I feel like a stranger. My nephews and nieces had to be formally introduced to me. My father passed away [in 2006] while fighting for me."

He added that he was unsure about his future after spending the best part of his life in prison.

"I was 20 when I was picked up and wrongly convicted. One shouldn't be forced to start his life afresh at the age of 43."

But he has a message for the government.

"My mother yearned for her son for more than two decades. I don't want any other mother to go through this. My only wish is that no other innocent person should suffer and I want this message to go out to the administration," he said.