On September 12, 2006, Parvez Ahmed Radoo left home in Sopore, a hotbed of militancy for decades, to return to his university in Pune. A postgraduate in zoology, Radoo had received a scholarship to pursue a PhD in South Korea. He was to catch a connecting flight to Pune to appear for his TOEFL exam when he was arrested at the international airport by members of Delhi Police’s Special Cell.

Following a long ordeal, that included illegal custody and torture at a secret detention chamber in Dwarka in southwest Delhi, Radoo was finally acquitted of all charges by the sessions court in 2013. Today, the PhD dropout runs a small wholesale shop selling dry fruit, chocolates and candies – with nobody to account for the seven years he spent in jail or a lost career.

Radoo’s story is now a part of 24 such cases compiled in the second edition of the report Framed, Damned, Acquitted prepared by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association. The report looks at cases of youth arrested by the Delhi Police Special Cell on terror charges, tortured, jailed and eventually acquitted by courts for lack of evidence. Among the eight new cases in the second edition, seven involve Kashmiri youth – all Muslims.

‘Allah does justice’

On the day we met at his store in Sopore, Radoo seemed reluctant to talk. “When such things are written about, it comes back all over again,” Radoo said. “When they would interrogate us, they would show us pictures of previous encounters and tell us our fate would be same if we didn’t comply.”

At the flat in Dwarka where he was illegally detained, Radoo said all inmates were kept naked. “We had to even use the bathroom in front of them. It was humiliating. There were many other boys in that flat and shoutings and cries could be heard from other flats too. There would be beatings, electric shocks but the police officers would make sure no injuries were caused. Mosquito repellents would be switched on round-the-clock so that none of us would fall sick and need to be taken to hospitals, lest we told someone of our situation.”

Though all windows and doors of the houses were kept covered at all times, Radoo managed to see an “ITL Public School” from gaps in one of the windows.

Radoo’s elder brother Aijaz says they would make the family speak to him regularly. “They used his Pune number to make calls so that we would not suspect anything.”

It was on television that the family learnt of Radoo’s arrest in October 2006 – Diwali was round the corner and he was accused of being a Jaish-e-Mohammad operative who had come to orchestrate blasts in Delhi. A team was also sent to Awantipora in Kashmir to search for his commander.

Radoo and his father, who retired as a professor from Sopore Degree College, later reportedly wrote to the Home Ministry, National Human Rights Commission, Delhi Police Commissioner and even Minority Commission. “We were desperate for some kind of relief. But no help came.”

However, the prosecution story fell apart when the sessions court noted there were no records of mobile phone usage during the period technical surveillance was mounted; the statement of Jammu and Kashmir police personnel who had accompanied the police party were not recorded; there was no proof of his militant affiliations and a “bomb timer” police claimed to have recovered from Radoo turned out to be a time pencil as per the forensic reports. Exclusion of key witnesses and contradictory statements by police officials in the court further punctured the police version.

Stating that it was “crystal clear” Parvez was not part of any banned militant organisation and had not come to Delhi for purpose of a terrorist act, the court acquitted him of all charges in 2013. Special Cell’s appeal in the High Court against the judgement was dismissed.

Radoo wanted to pursue a career in academics. But after his release, he was reluctant to leave home and started looking for a job in Kashmir. “For six months, I tried but everyone would back off when I would tell my case.”

Then, a year ago, he began his own small business. Radoo’s father Sanaullah had never thought of this future for his son. “He was doing really well. But Allah does justice. I am happy his innocence was proved.”

‘Innocents suffer with the guilty’

Not every case stops at the trial court, though. Sometimes, there are longer walks to justice.

In November 2006, Mushtaq Ahmed Kalloo left for Delhi to accompany his friend Iqbal on a business trip. Leaving his infant son in the care of his wife, Afroza, he promised to be back in a few days. The wait, however, lasted seven long years as Mushtaq and Iqbal – arrested abruptly by the Delhi Police Special Cell and charged with “waging war against India” – battled it out in Delhi’s courts to prove their innocence.

Now 42, Mushtaq runs his own poultry business. As he chats with Scroll.in inside his house in New Colony in Sopore, his eyes bear a faraway look.

“When militancy was at its peak, everyone demanded azadi,” Mushtaq said. “Till date, most of Sopore boycotts both assembly and parliamentary elections. The separatist sentiment is strong here and agencies know it, so young men from Sopore are soft targets.”

Recalling the events, Mushtaq said they had gone to Delhi by a Jet Airways flight as Iqbal, who runs Jaan Gas Agency in Bandipore, had to pay money to gas stove owners.

Upon reaching Delhi, they checked into a hotel in Urdu Bazar near Jama Masjid. According to Iqbal (38), some persons in civilian clothes who identified themselves as Delhi Police officers checked their rooms on the first day, claiming they had some information and were inspecting the place.

“Behind the hotel was a fish market and our room stank,” Iqbal told Scroll.in. “So, we wanted to change our hotel. Next morning, after we had settled our bills, another police party in civilian clothes came and apprehended us. They said they just needed to speak with us for a few minutes.”

Iqbal says there were no police vehicles with the team. “They came in Santros and Indicas. After driving us around for a few minutes, our faces were covered with a towel.” Court documents later revealed they had been taken to Special Cell’s office in Lodhi Colony.

“They kept telling us that they would release us as soon as the verification from JK Police came,” Iqbal said. “Till then, our hands and feet were kept tied to the tables in the Special Cell office so that we could not move.” They were neither allowed to change their clothes nor take a bath.

Mushtaq adds how they would make the two speak to their families regularly over phone so as to avoid any suspicion. “Much later, Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma told me that innocents also suffer with the guilty.”

Like Radoo, Mushtaq and Iqbal’s families also got to know of the arrest only through the press conference footage splashed across news channels. They were touted as Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorists, carrying explosives and Rs 5 lakh hawala money who had come to free Afzal Guru, who was convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack.

“At the press conference, senior officers proudly claimed they had nabbed terrorists,” Mushtaq said. “No media-person asked any questions. They just clicked pictures from a distance and left. When we told the magistrate that we had been kept in illegal custody, he too simply smiled.”

‘Believe us, not them’

In all the 24 cases in the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association report, same policemen’s names appear repeatedly – Mohan Chand Sharma who was killed in the Batla House Encounter in 2008; Deputy Commissioner of Police (Special Cell); Sanjeev Yadav who was then the Assistant Commissioner of Police and later got promoted; Inspector Badrish Dutt who was found dead under mysterious circumstances in Gurgaon; Inspector Sanjay Dutt; Sub-Inspector Dharmendra Kumar and many more. Their modus operandi and torture patterns also largely remain the same across cases.

Recalling their roles, Radoo painfully said, “Inspector Badrish Dutt died and I know we must not disrespect the dead. But honestly, maine unke liye bahot baddua ki thi. He had done great injustice to all of us and he was ruthless.”

Mushtaq accused these officers of using Kashmiris for their own gains. “Many such officers, including Sanjeev Yadav, have gained promotions after handling such cases. It speaks a lot about how the government thinks. How, despite grave investigation lapses, are these officers getting promoted?”

A senior police officer who once worked in the Special Cell admitted that the Cell undertakes many operations with the Intelligence Bureau. “In five cases, there were convictions by trial courts,” the officer argued. “There must have been something in the evidence that judges found concrete.”

When asked how higher courts then acquitted the same people, the officer said, “It doesn’t matter. Appraisal of evidence depends on the judge. In such cases, evidence is very difficult to gather because often foreign involvement is also there. Whatever evidence the Cell has, they present it to the court.”

On the issue of illegal detention centres such as the one Radoo pointed out in Dwarka, the officer responded: “We have a lockup in Lodhi Colony. Rest, I don’t know what these people are talking about.”

Maintaining that the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association was responsible for “spreading misinformation” and should be held accountable, the officer asked, “We are the cream, National State, coming from good part of society. Why do you find it so difficult to believe us rather than them?”

Repeated calls and messages to DCP (Special Cell) Sanjeev Yadav went unanswered.

Broken relations

Despite holes in the evidence, Mushtaq and Iqbal were awarded life sentence by the trial court in 2009. Mushtaq’s mother Jana Begum (72) said there was a deathly silence in the house that day. “Next day was Eid. Nobody ate or drank anything. All witnesses were so weak that we were expecting their release. But the trial court judgement came as a shock.”

With her husband in jail, Afroza returned to her parental home to raise her son. She went to see Mushtaq once at the court, but kept sending him photographs of their growing son.

The nine-year old today does not share much of a relationship with his father. “He does not understand the concept of father. I told him his father worked faraway, earning money for us. He looks at his grandfathers and uncles as father figures in his life. I try to make him feel close to Mushtaq but I am unsuccessful.”

However, when the case went to High Court, the prosecution story fell apart primarily on the ground that the police had no documents to prove Iqbal was a Jaish commander. Rather, it was established in High Court that the “hawala money” was actually withdrawn by Iqbal from his own account.

Moreover, ACP Sanjeev Yadav had issued notices to both accused on November 17 while the first information report in the case was only registered on November 27. “The 10 days illegal detention was proved itself. Also, there was no mention of a timer in the recovery. But, Yadav had claimed in the chargesheet that he had sent the timer to Central Forensic Science Laboratory. When court questioned him, he responded it was a human error.”

The High Court acquitted both of all charges.

Iqbal’s fiancée waited for his release and they eventually got married. He has since gone back to managing and expanding his business.