“I wonder if this misfortune would have befallen me had my name been Suresh and not Salim. Would this have happened to me had I not been a Muslim,” – these are some of the questions that Salim Mohammed Hanif Sheikh, one of the five acquitted in the Akshardham terror attack case, keeps asking himself time and again.
Sitting at his rented accommodation in Juhapura, 11 years after he was forced to spend his life in jail for a crime he did not commit, Salim is clueless about how to take his life forward. “I don't know what to do. I will have to learn something,” says Salim as he tries to figure out how to pick up the threads of his life. While his life came to a standstill, the city progressed rapidly from a slow city to a fast one. “I don't even know whether I will fit in any more. Before this happened, I had a job, my children were studying in English medium school and I had a house of my own,” he lamented.
Salim believes that his false implication in the case also ended up ruining the future of his family. “My children had to move to an Urdu medium school. Earlier, they were in an English medium school and I had high hopes for them. Now, I live in a rented accommodation,” he said.
Until the charges were filed, Salim had no idea that he would be implicated in the Akshardham case, he said. “They took me and beat me. They would continue beating me until I gave up the will to fight. They then made me sign documents and I had no clue that I was signing my life away,” recounted the broken man.
Ironically, jailed IPS officer GL Singhal had given Salim the options to choose a case in which he would like to be implicated in — the Godhra case, the Akshardham case or the Haren Pandya case. “I happened to chance upon him once or twice in jail and he told me, 'you are here and so am I',” said Salim, who still lives in fear that despite the acquittal, the police might come searching for him once again.