Killey, Part One

In 1996, a Kashmiri carpet trader was picked up in Kathmandu and accused of orchestrating two bombings in north India. It took hundreds of witnesses, four different courts, and 23 years of incarceration, before he was free again.

Killey by Adil Rashid; Illustration by Akshaya Zachariah for

On the day the police came for him, Mohammad Ali Bhat was having trouble deciding what to eat for lunch. He’d cooked beans, but they’d spoiled, and he had to settle for rice with chilli powder. It was June 1996, which would make him, according to court documents, 27 years old. He was in Kathmandu in a rented flat out of which he sold handmade carpets from Kashmir, his homeland.

When a compatriot named Mirza Nissar appeared, leading some tall men in hats towards him, Ali assumed they were customers. Behind them, however, were a number of Nepali policemen with guns. Ali raised his hands above his head. His mouth was still watering from the chilli powder when his wrongful incarceration began. He would not be a free man for another 23 years.


n that day—9 June, Ali recalled—Kashmiris in Kathmandu were being questioned about a shock attack in the bustling central market at Lajpat Nagar in south Delhi on 21 May. A bomb had gone off in a parked white Maruti car. Thirteen people had died, and close to 40 injured.

The media was reporting that the chief spokesperson of a relatively unknown militant group, the Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front, had called the Delhi offices of some news agencies and claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Ali, his brother Zafar Ahmed, and one of his workers were among those picked up for questioning in Kathmandu. The police seemed to be very interested in those who had crossed paths with a man named Javed Kariwar. The Kathmandu-based Kariwar had ostensibly masterminded the Lajpat Nagar blast on the orders of one Bilal Beg, who was in Pakistan. As it happened, Kariwar owed Ali money for carpets, and he told the police yes; he knew Javed. The police said to Ali that they had to take him to Delhi, but that they’d release him once he was there. It was the same thing they said to Mirza Nissar and Latif Ahmad, a cousin of Javed Kariwar’s.

There were more policemen waiting at the Sonauli border between Nepal and India, including Prit Pal Singh, an assistant commissioner with the Delhi Police. They halted once, at an army camp where the police ate breakfast. The Kashmiri men had all been chained together, and had to urinate while bound to each other. Ali remembered that as the first of all the indignities to follow.

The beatings began once they crossed over into Indian territory. When the police stopped the convoy at Gorakhpur to feed their prisoners, Ali assumed it was his last meal. The ACP had told them “things weren’t looking good.” Ali could only imagine that the police would stage an extra-judicial killing, a fake encounter, and get rid of them all. He asked for curd with his food as a last request. Prit Pal Singh laughed.

“We’re not going to kill you,” he said.


 first met Ali at his home in Hassanabad in Srinagar, days after he was acquitted on all charges and released in July 2019. He was my first “Innocent Kashmiri Man Released After Decades.” Reporters from Kashmir with longer careers than mine claim to have them by the dozens. To meet him, I sat in a room with other men—relatives, neighbours, strangers—who had come to visit him, to share his happiness or just to be a part of history by association. I talked with him for over an hour.

One thing was unmissable about Ali that day: his eyes gave the impression of a man in a state of shock, induced by happiness wrapped in disbelief. I got the impression that the world seemed make-believe to him. His eyes were red, perhaps from crying or sleeplessness, but there was also a spark. He seemed like a child witnessing a magic trick. He was hoping for it all to be real.

This year, we met again for this story. I couldn’t recognise him immediately. He’d gotten married, put on a little weight, and was now sitting with me in his car in the simmering July heat in Srinagar’s old town. He had tried his hand at various ways to earn a living since we last met.

A number of police and paramilitary jeeps rushed past us at one point. “They must be going to Lal Bazaar,” Ali said. “A policeman has been shot there.” His senses were always attuned to trouble and anxiety, as would those of anyone who’d spent half their life as Ali had.

As of this writing, two of the 10 men initially arrested in the Lajpat Nagar case are still in prison. There were 17 accused in all: six were never arrested. Mohammad Noushad and Javed Khan, the two convicted men, have appeal petitions pending in the Supreme Court since 2013. A hearing scheduled for October this year in front of a three-judge bench never occurred, like many of the earlier hearings. If they are eventually freed, the case will join the long list of terror crimes that have been left unsolved, but have nonetheless claimed years and decades of the lives of innocent Muslim men—and Kashmiri Muslim men in particular.

Chapter One: The Pick-Up


hree days before the bombing, a resident of Delhi named Atul Nath had filed a First Information Report with the police about a lost car: his white Maruti had gone missing. On 21 May, when the bomb went off, Subhash Chand Katar, who owned a shop in Lajpat Nagar’s central market, lost a cousin brother and the hearing in his left ear. His statement, in which he said he heard a loud blast from a white Maruti car, formed the basis of the police’s FIR.

In less than two weeks, the Delhi police were on the way back from Nepal, transporting this small group of Kashmiri men into the universe of the theory they’d developed about the blast. It was the beginning of a maze of circumstantial evidence and retroactive speculation, aided by a single confession from Javed Khan, who was then being held in Jaipur for his alleged involvement in the Sawai Man Singh Stadium blast case, which had taken place on Republic Day earlier that year.

The jeeps plunged into the immense summer heat of the Indian plains, towards the office of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police at Lodhi Colony, in the centre of the city. “This is Delhi,” they told the men, covering their heads as they drove through. “Ab pata chalega.” Now you’ll learn. In the cells, a procession of policemen arrived, casually doling out a slap here, a ‘motherfucker’ there. The interrogations hadn’t even begun.

Ali didn’t get slapped. He said his interrogation was more or less one question, asked over and over again: how do you know Javed Kariwar? It seemed absurd to him. In the Kashmir of the 1990s, it was very ordinary to know militants—professed or alleged—by face. “I told them I know Salahuddin, I know Mushtaq Latram, I know Yasin Malik,” he remembered—all well-known militant leaders of the time. “It’s the nature of the militancy in Kashmir. These people roam around daily in our neighbourhoods. The militants had offices in the abandoned houses of Kashmiri Pandits.” (Javed Kariwar and Javed Khan are different people. Kariwar was never arrested in the Lajpat Nagar case, according to the police.)

In the cell at the Lodhi Colony station, the back-and-forth continued for 10 days. The police took the men’s signatures on blank sheets of paper and served them survival rations: rotis and the Indian police’s trademark watery dal. Sometimes there would be a break in the routine when a “good officer” doled out tea. Sometimes the men were drip-fed hope: the cops would tell them they could leave in a few days’ time.

One morning they were groomed and shaved for court. A policeman told them that this could be the day of their freedom—if they did as they were told and behaved well. Ali said that they were instructed to “remain silent and not say anything,” whatever the question. His companion Nissar argued against this: he suggested to the group that they profess their innocence if the judge asked them how they pleaded.

Perhaps because of the Hindi films they’d watched, they’d been expecting the court to be a kind of theatre. But it wasn’t what they’d imagined. The judge before whom they were produced didn’t say a word to them before ordering them into police custody. The men got no explanations about what that meant, or why it had happened: they had no lawyer at the time. Instead, they found themselves at a bus terminal, where they were paraded in front of a posse of Indian media as the men who had bombed the Lajpat Nagar market. They weren’t allowed to talk to the journalists.

For more than a week, they were back in lock-up, treated to the same regimen. Only another explosion interrupted those days: a minor one. A cop outside their three-by-eight foot cell had put a plastic bag of hot dal on a chair and disappeared. Another one came to sit down without looking first. There was a short burst and a painful, sharp scream. The Kashmiris laughed their hearts out, separated from the cop swearing at them by the bars, his ass splattered with blistering dal.

On their next court date, they were sent to judicial custody, which, given the severity of the alleged offences, was no more than a formality. It wouldn’t have taken much for a public prosecutor to convince the court that the Lajpat Nagar blast accused had to remain in jail as the police collected evidence.

They spent the night in the interim ward at Tihar jail, and were sorted into separate blocks in the morning. Ali was paired with another man, a guy he claimed had been accused in another high-profile Delhi crime. Together, they were taken to a high-security ward. He had his first brush with the power structures of prison that night. To establish his dominance over the newbie, a man asked Ali for a massage. Ali obliged.

There was unexpected warmth, too. Inmates from Mumbai, whose names he remembered even a quarter-century later, brought him a notebook, sandals and a katori, a bowl, for everyday use. It filled him with a sense of solidarity, even as a fellow Kashmiri, showing him the ropes, tried to warn him: he was going to be in here a long time.

Chapter Two: The Bias

There has been significant degeneration of accountability in security and intelligence agencies officials who act illegally and wrongfully frame innocent Kashmiri men,” the investigative journalist and author Josy Joseph said. In 1987, a disputed state election caused widespread outrage in Kashmir, where the results were seen as interference from the Union government in Delhi. The unrest resulted in the sharp rise of armed separatist insurgency.

This history, Josy argued, was one of the factors that had seeded an enduring suspicion against Kashmiri Muslim men among security agencies, even 30 years later. Continuing tensions with Pakistan, which armed and aided separatist militants in Kashmir through the worst years of the insurgency, had caused the state’s suspicions to run deeper still. Further, he said, the rise of the Hindu right wing in the 1990s and beyond had brought anti-Muslim hatred into the mainstream of Indian politics.

A 2019 survey conducted by Common Cause and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies attempted to quantify the bias in police forces against Muslims around India. It found half of all police personnel surveyed believed that Muslims are “naturally prone” towards committing violence. “When we looked at what the police personnel think about various communities, the data indicated a significant bias against Muslims,” the authors wrote.

“The anti-Muslim bias in the police is very obvious,” the writer and retired police officer Vibhuti Narain Rai told me. “It didn’t come from a vacuum, and was aggravated by the role of Muslims in acts of armed violence against the state.” A state is given to seeing crimes committed by its minorities as an attack on its existence. Rai put it like this: “The state is always favouring Hindus, so why would they need to do blasts? Naturally Muslims will bear the brunt.”

Rai was the lead investigator in a case that he describes as the worst case of prejudice ever committed by the Indian state against Muslims: the 1987 Hashimpura massacre, in which armed policemen killed 42 Muslim men in a neighbourhood in Meerut. Thirty-one years later, in 2018, the Delhi High Court reversed a trial court’s acquittal and sentenced 16 ex-policemen to life imprisonment for their role in the killings. The trial court had concluded that the police lacked the motive to kill the Muslim men. The high court, on its part, unequivocally held that it was a “case of a targeted killing revealing an institutional bias within the law enforcement agents.” (It even cited the 2018 edition of the Common Cause-CSDS Status of Policing Report: “Institutional discrimination is another component of policing that cannot be denied.”)

This bias—and the state’s playbook to act on it—is endemic to Muslim life in India. It has become unremarkable for many Muslims, though not for the same reasons as it has for Hindus. This is especially true for Kashmir, where a man like Ali can casually point out to a building adjoining a park in Srinagar and say he was tortured there for seven days in the 1990s.

This bias is also how the names of unsuspecting Muslim men become a part of the court record, leaving them branded for life, irrespective of the outcome of litigation. They are picked up, asked questions that their captors have already decided the answers to, and incarcerated as the police system goes about reverse engineering a chain of supposed evidence and linkages. By the time lawyers are found, a defence is constructed brick-by-brick and the holes in the arguments of the prosecution are revealed to be vacuums, a lifetime has passed. The taste of freedom itself has changed, as it happened in the case—cases, actually—of Mohammad Ali Bhat.


hen we met in that park on the banks of a lake, Ali told me a story from the early 1990s, when he was in his early twenties. A police informer had “nodded” when Ali was presented in a line-up to identify possible militants or those linked to militants. The informer had been sitting in a jeep with his face covered, but Ali said he’d known who he was, and why he’d nodded. “Some time earlier, he had been at the receiving end of a similar exercise by militants,” he explained. “Maybe he thought I should have helped him, because someone in the militant ranks had been a playfellow of mine before everything happened. He held that grudge and misidentified me on purpose.”

Over the course of our conversation, Ali smoked a lot, looked around frequently and marvelled at the ease with which couples roamed in parks. At times I felt he was on the edge of vulnerability, but he regained some sort of zen, sure of his words, his gaze grave and steady. His sense of humour had a piercing edge. When I asked him if he’d had children, he replied, “For the moment, I am myself a child.”

He’d become a businessman when he was barely an adult himself, choosing to go into the carpet trade instead of going to college. His father, Haji Sher Ali Bhat, had owned over two hundred looms across Kashmir, he said. Back in the 1990s, even after the violence had become a part of daily life, he used to earn between ₹1,500-2,000 a day, he told me. “And sometimes I would make ₹10,000 after a good sale,” he said. He’d started running his own looms employing artisans in his neighbourhood.

But business was one of several casualties of the conflict. Trade and commerce meant travel, on which the system of military checkpoints put significant stress. Sher Ali’s looms, in far-flung villages, became inaccessible: there was no way to travel without risking your life.

“One time we were visiting Kulgam, and we were stopped at a checkpoint,” Ali said. “My father was frisked and it was my turn. I had a packet of cigarettes in my pocket and when the soldier felt it, I gestured to him to not take it out in front of my father. He understood.”

In time, it became apparent that they could not keep running the business. When artisans would visit their house enquiring about new work, Ali’s father would make excuses. Like thousands of other Kashmiri parents, he urged his son to move out of Kashmir.

Ali began to go to Delhi every year. “In Delhi, I saw life again,” Ali said. “After working for the day, you could go out in the evening. You didn’t have to be worried.” Business also took him to another country: Nepal. On one of these trips, which he made to follow up on a trade debt, he felt that it would be a good idea to start a carpet store in Kathmandu. Soon after he moved, his brother Zafar followed, bringing more Kashmiri handicrafts with him—the region’s signature papier-mâché objects. They set up shop, and things were good for a while, until the tall men in hats showed up at their door.

Chapter Three: Jail in Jaipur


he day after the Lajpat Nagar blast, another bomb went off in a state bus near Samleti village in Rajasthan’s Dausa district. The blast killed 14 people and injured 37. The JKIF had taken responsibility for this blast too, through telephone calls to media organisations. Unsurprisingly, Ali was implicated in this case too. The police had been collaborating across states. Only a few days after he had been brought to Tihar, Ali was taken to Jaipur, and kept there for a night.

In the morning, he was taken to a judge in Mahwa tehsil in Dausa district. Ali said the judge told him: “Son, I know you are innocent, but I can’t do anything to help you.” He refused to grant the Rajasthan Police’s request for a fortnight’s custody, and delivered an order for fewer days. “Do you have to crucify him so soon?” the judge remarked, in Ali’s memory. They shared a beedi together afterwards, and Ali always remembered him afterwards as the “charsi judge,” the stoner judge.

As he’d entered the court premises, he’d seen two men leaving in a police truck. They were Farooq Khan and Abdul Gani, his co-accused in the Samleti and Lajpat Nagar cases. Of those who were rounded up in Nepal, Nissar was brought to Rajasthan a few days after Ali, but Latif was taken to Gujarat for interrogation in a separate case.

Ali and Nissar spent the next five months inside their cell, where they ate, shat, bathed and slept. Not once were they allowed outside, Ali said. “I started losing my hair there.” He believes they were interrogated by police, the Indian Army, and other agencies he could not name. “I didn’t know anything, so I couldn’t tell them anything,” he said.

In Rajasthan, unlike Tihar, other inmates weren’t allowed to meet or mingle with them. But even without the bonhomie he’d known before, life seeped through. A Pakistani inmate named Parvez brought Ali a bar of Lifebuoy from the canteen one day. Ali hadn’t had a proper bath in months, and, in his excitement, he couldn’t help but share the development with a Sikh inmate in a cell close to his. “Raju,” he said, “I’ve got soap!” Raju didn’t believe him, so Ali showed him the soap. Raju asked if he could use it for a bath. With all that hair beneath his turban? Ali thought, I won’t be getting anything back. He took the first bath, rubbing, squeezing and clenching the soap over every inch of his body. Then he gave the soap to Raju, not expecting him to return it but too content with his freshly clean body to feel bad about it.

In the sixth month, the superintendent permitted them to leave their cell for 30 minutes a day. Walking around the ward, Ali began to wonder what had happened to Zafar, his brother. For all this time, he’d had no way to reach his family, or send them news. This didn’t change until the day a Kashmiri woman showed up in the courtroom on a routine court date. It was the wife of Farooq Khan, who’d come all the way to Rajasthan with her two small daughters to look for her husband. She didn’t see him; Farooq had been transferred to Delhi. But the woman agreed to take word of Ali to his family. Before she left, she brought the men food and items of use. It was one of the few acts of kindness he could remember from this time.

Later, he pieced together fragments of what his family went through after his arrest. Rumour had gotten around that Ali and the others had been killed. Sher Ali went to Nepal to look for his sons. There, he found Zafar, who’d been held for over 40 days after his arrest before he was set free. Then, Sher Ali began to look for his other son: a fruitless search, until Farooq Khan’s wife brought him news from Jaipur.

Haji Sher Ali Bhat was a proud man. When an officer at a checkpoint once asked him, “Ab kya karna hai?” Sher Ali retorted, “Maar do, aur kya?” What shall we do with you now? Kill us, for all I care. But for the rest of his life, Ali told me, his father strived for his son’s release. He lost his business, but held on to his faith, and bore the humiliation that came his way with stoicism, even during the time when he showed up to a court date and was barred from meeting Ali.

Ali and Nissar were in Rajasthan for nine months. Then, they were returned to Delhi, where they were remanded to judicial custody again and sent to Tihar. Around the time of the Kargil War, in the summer of 1999, they were moved back to Rajasthan. The penultimate round of this agonising prison ping-pong came in the summer of 2000, when they were brought to Delhi and charged by the court in the Lajpat Nagar case. Ali would stay in Tihar for the next 12 years.

Chapter Four: Tihar


ife in Tihar Jail had a routine: wake and answer the counting call at 6am, eat a breakfast of tea and two pieces of bread. To kill time during the day, there was ludo or carrom. Lunch was watery dal with five rotis. There was tea afterwards, then dal and rotis for dinner again.

Kashmiris prefer eating rice so I wondered aloud how he coped with eating only roti every day. Ali told me they managed a rice ration by writing applications to substitute roti with rice. Four of them—two with rotis and two with rice—would share the meal together. On festive days, the inmates pooled together to buy a happier meal: biryani made with soya or paneer, as meat of any kind was not allowed. Ali began to exercise and to study. He got his hands on the Hindi alphabet, and began to teach himself, practising his reading with the newspapers. He says a Punjabi inmate taught him the Gurmukhi alphabet, too, though he couldn’t hold on to it for long.

A lot of his reading was done at night, a hard time for him. He’d developed insomnia, but couldn’t bring himself to take the anti-anxiety medicine a doctor had prescribed. He went through phases in which he felt unable to eat, going hungry until a fellow inmate forced some food into him.

Among those charged with Ali in the sessions court in Delhi were the feared international gangsters Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim. Neither is Kashmiri. Ali became ‘accused number six,’ or A6. He was going on trial for multiple charges under the Indian Penal Code, Explosive Substances Act, and Arms Act, including murder (302) and attempt to murder (307) in the Lajpat Nagar FIR.

Additional charges were filed against him and two other co-accused in the Nizamuddin FIR, about the missing car. Ali’s alias in the hundreds and thousands of court documents prepared over the next two decades was “Killey.” It was a bureaucratic shortening and misspelling of “Ali Clay,” his nickname in his Srinagar neighbourhood after his legendary namesake, Muhammad Ali, who’d been born Cassius Clay.

Ali and the other accused were represented by Raja Mohammad Tufail, a renowned Delhi criminal lawyer. But Ali was puzzled by his approach. “He was like ‘Yes, charge us, our crime is that we are Kashmiris and Muslims,’” Ali told me. “I thought: why isn’t he arguing to get the charges dismissed instead?”

Tufail did have a flair for drama and fought his cases passionately. He’d once slapped a sub-inspector of the same Delhi Police Special Cell in the courtroom, in a different bombing case. Whatever the efficacy of this theatrical approach, it made Ali so apprehensive that he sometimes doubted his very motives in defending them. I spoke to Anwar Ahmad Khan, who’d been Tufail’s junior during this trial, and who Ali had liked rather better. Anwar had melancholy news. Tufail, who suffered a haemorrhage last year, is partially paralysed at the time of this writing, and barely able to speak.

There had been lapses in their defence, Anwar admitted, though he refuted the idea that Tufail might have had ulterior motives. “He didn’t get paid to do such cases,” Anwar argued. “To my knowledge he didn’t take any money, ever, from anyone. Even when he travelled to Rajasthan, he would use his own car. It was often other inmates caught in similar circumstances who would tell the accused to reach out to Tufail to fight for them, knowing that he worked pro bono.”

Ali pleaded not guilty to his charges and claimed trial. He was in and out of court at regular intervals over the next ten years. At a typical hearing, his presence would be recorded; a witness statement or two heard; an objection occasionally registered; a cross-examination now and again, then close of business until the next date.

The trial ended in 2010, thirteen years after the case had been committed to the court. By this time, the prosecution had called on a total of 107 witnesses. But these depositions didn’t always support the police’s theory. Gajender Kumar, Witness 15 of the prosecution, was a parking attendant at Lajpat Nagar who had himself sustained injuries in the blast. He was declared hostile after he said in court that he didn’t remember the vehicle in which the blast had occurred. “I have heard statement Mark A4 which I did not make to the police,” he stated before the judge.

“It is incorrect to suggest that on that day at about 5.30pm, I had seen two Kashmiri youth parking a white colour Maruti car in the parking. It is also incorrect that they hurriedly left the parking leaving behind the car, towards the main road. It is incorrect that at about 6.30pm the explosion took place in the same car. It is incorrect to suggest that I had given the age and other particulars of the boys in my statement to the police.”

“It is also incorrect that accused Mohd Killi and accused Mirza Nisar Ahmed @ Naza were the same persons who had parked the car in the parking that day.”

Gajender’s testimony rescinded the statement that the police claimed he had given them. He was cross-examined by the additional public prosecutor, but stood his ground. Another witness for the prosecution was a scrap dealer, a neighbour of one of the accused. This witness, Ikram, denied having said to police that he had seen Kashmiri youth at the house of the accused neighbour on a particular day. He also denied that he had identified those Kashmiris in police custody later.

Gajender, a Hindu from Bihar, and Ikram, a Muslim, were both working-class, low income-earning men. (Their testimonies were not expressly mentioned in the judgement.) It would have taken great courage on their part to tell the court that the police were lying. Many others, better situated, in later stages of the trial, were not to muster that courage.

Chapter Five: The Trial


t the trial court level, the case came to be known as “State vs Farooq Ahmed Khan,” named for the husband of the woman who’d taken the first news of Ali back to his father. Farooq, labelled A1 in the trial, was a junior engineer employed by the government of Jammu and Kashmir. The chain of association between A1 and A6—indeed, between all the first ten accused—was a simply arranged sequence. Each new arrest strengthened the merit of the previous arrest, and was meant to justify the capture of those subsequently apprehended.

The state claimed that Farooq had made calls to several media outlets on the evening of the day of the blast. Without revealing his name, he introduced himself as the “chief spokesperson” of “Jammu and Kashmir Islamic Front,” and claimed responsibility for the blast. A journalist named Vinod Kapri, then working with Zee TV, testified that he’d received a call of this nature, in which the caller hadn’t revealed his name. “He appeared to be a resident of Kashmir,” Kapri told the court, “as he was frequently using Urdu words.” However, he did not state the numbers from which the call had been made and received. Inexplicably, the investigators had failed to produce a recording of the conversation.

A second journalist, Amitabh Rai Chaudhary of the Press Trust of India, also said he’d answered a call on an office number on the night of the blast, and that “the voice of the caller appeared to be that of a young man and he was speaking in Hindi just like the Kashmiris speak.” Rai said the caller told him the blast at Lajpat Nagar had been caused by the JKIF. Rai did not have the telephone number from which the call had come. A third journalist, Suparna Singh of NDTV, did not support the prosecution’s line of questioning, and was ultimately declared hostile.

“From the testimonies of people from Media,” the judgement said, “nothing is clear if it was only A1 who had made telephone calls to them to own responsibility of the bomb blast at Lajpat Nagar (sic).”

Accused number 2, a woman named Farida Dar, was clubbed as a co-conspirator by the police because of frequent phone calls between her number and Farooq’s. In his disclosure statement, Farooq claimed that he had been calling Farida’s daughter on a purely personal basis.

Farooq’s statement to the court seemed to cut through the tangle of theories. He stated that he lived in Srinagar and not Anantnag, from where the phone calls to the journalists had allegedly been made. The phone was in his father’s name and did not support STD calling, meaning it couldn’t have made calls to Delhi, or anywhere outside the state. Farooq also made serious allegations about how the police had treated him, denying him his legal right to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours, and subjecting him to torture at the Lodhi Colony police station.

The police claimed to have recovered arms and ammunition from the houses of Farooq and Farida. The witnesses produced to support these findings included members of the Border Security Force, which is a police agency. Indeed, Inspector Prem Bhallab Dhayani of BSF, one of the prosecution’s independent witnesses, admitted to the court that the recovery and raid was conducted under the supervision of M.S. Sharma, a joint director of the BSF.

Farooq and Farida maintained that all the evidence was planted. The prosecution admitted in court that the recoveries from Farooq and Farida’s houses were not linked with the Lajpat Nagar bombing.

Hostile witnesses, procedural lapses, the conflict of interest of supposedly independent testifiers: taken together, all this had the trial court’s alarm bells ringing and pointed out the inconsistencies in the prosecution’s grand theory. Then, over time, the case swung in favour of the state, and the ordeal grew longer than Ali could ever imagine. Beyond the prison bars and witness stands, the world went on. But so, somehow, did Ali.

Adil Rashid is an independent journalist. He has written for The Caravan, TheWire, PARI and SCMP. Previously, he worked at Outlook.