The National Investigation Agency can’t seem to take a stand on the 2006 Malegaon bomb blasts case, and nine Muslim men accused of the crime are paying the price for its flip-flops.

In 2014, the NIA had asserted in special court in Mumbai that there was no evidence linking the nine Muslim accused to the September 8, 2006 blasts that killed 37 people in Malegaon. Instead, the Agency had implicated members of the Hindutva extremist group Bajrang Dal in the case. In July 2015, Sharad Kumar, the director general of NIA, told the Economic Times that when the agency investigated the case, it found the Muslim accused were "innocent". This Tuesday, even while maintaining this stance about its own investigations, the NIA refused to discharge the terror charges against the nine Muslim men.

On April 12, the NIA’s counsel Prakash Shetty told the court that the discharge of the case against the Muslim accused could not be allowed because two other agencies – Maharashtra’s Anti Terrorism Squad and the Central Bureau of Investigation – had named them in the case and the court had to look into their evidence too.

Of the nine men who were arrested in 2006 and released on bail in 2011, two have already died. The rest have been left feeling helpless and clueless about their fate, as the tag of “terror accused” continues to dangle over their heads. For now, they have their hopes pinned on the special court’s verdict scheduled for April 25.

‘We sensed something fishy’

Farogh Anwar Magdumi, an Unani doctor in Malegaon and one of the nine Muslim accused, says he sensed a danger to their fate soon after NIA prosecutor Rohini Salian claimed, in 2015, that she was under pressure to “go soft” on the Hindu accused in the Malegaon blasts case.

“I believe there is definite political interference in this case. Ever since Salian stopped representing us, the NIA has not taken a clear cut stand on whether the charges against us should be withdrawn,” said Magdumi, speaking to Scroll from Malegaon soon after Thursday evening prayers.

“The NIA is the only agency that has prosecution rights in this case. But we’ve seen that the prosecutor representing the Maharashtra ATS is always present in the court even now, when he has no legal right to interfere,” he said. “We just sensed that there is something fishy going on.”

Magdumi, the son of a retired school principal and father of two, was arrested after the blasts on charges of being a member of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India. He describes the past 10 years of his life as painful and full of sorrow. “When I was in jail, my family had to survive on my father’s meagre pension,” he said.

Although Magdumi was able to renew his private clinic practice as a Unani doctor after getting out on bail, work has not been the same. “I have to leave work and lose income every time I have to visit Mumbai and attend court hearings. I am used to such pain and hardship because of my jail experience, but now that the state of Maharashtra is clearly against us, I feel rather helpless.”

‘We are innocent, should not have suffered’

Noorul Huda Shamsuddoha comes from a different socio-economic background from Magdumi, but his ordeal has been similar. Accused of planting one of the bombs and allegedly belonging to SIMI, Shamsuddoha says he faced third degree torture for 48 days at a stretch when he was arrested in 2006. He works as a labourer folding clothes at a powerloom factory, but often feels weak even for such work.

“Five years in prison have taken their toll on my body, and I often have to miss work because of court hearings,” said Shamsuddoha, who makes between Rs 1,200 and 1,500 a week to support his wife and two babies. “I spent my jail time fruitfully, completing my BA degree and teaching Urdu to other inmates. But all nine of us are completely innocent and should not have had to suffer so much.”

Shamsuddoha claims he began to lose faith in the NIA when he saw the Agency’s prosecutors mingling with counsels of the ATS and defence lawyers of the Hindu accused in court. “How can both groups be considered accused at the same time? Something definitely felt wrong,” he said.

As they wait for the decisive April 25 hearing, Magdumi, Shamsuddoha and the five other accused draw strength from the fact that at least in Malegaon, they have public support. “All of Malegaon believes in us and supports us,” said Shamsuddoha. “Now all we can do is pray to Allah to take this case off our backs.”