Hyderabad Blast : Unheard Voices of the City

Afroz Alam Sahil for BeyondHeadlines

Lying in the heap of bodies and blood splattered around, shattered glasses and shrapnel, 45-year-old Abdus Samad was surprised he was not dead. In a flash of a second, everything had changed. He was waiting for bus on the evening of Feb 21 at the Dilsukhnagar stand; suddenly a deafening noise filled the air which he thought was an electric transformer’s explosion.

What was unfolding the very next moment before his eyes seemed like a muted movie scene. Semi-conscious, he saw unknown faces saying something which didn’t reach his ears, gestures that seemed like helpless wail. Bodies were being loading into ambulances, autos or any vehicle that was in sight.

Senseless, Samad saw he waived his hand. Someone, realizing he is not dead, came and picked him. Next, when he woke up, he was staring at the hospital ceiling, with bandages all over his body.

Blast Spot

Blast Spot

Samad was not alone in the Hyderabad’s Yashoda hospital; at least eight unlucky men lied there, with their well-wishers trying to cheer them up. Some more than 100 were similarly recuperating in other hospitals of Hyderabad. Everyone had a story to tell, no less shattering than the other. Many dreams had broken, many were forced to be modified, some with one leg, other with one eye.

22-year-old Ranjita was in her final semester of MBA and was planning to marry in a next few months. As the first blast happened, she was in Dilsukhnagar to buy some stationary for her college projects. Fate had something else for her. She has lost her left leg now in the blast. Daughter of a Beedi worker from a village in Nizamabad, she was the only hope of her family.

Then there is Shiv Kumar, son of a constable. There is one Krishan Kant, whose leg is permanently damaged. He lost his thela in the blast, and more importantly his friend, Rafiq. His business was worth a lakh rupee (0.1 million) which he had started after borrowing 50 thousand from a relative.

It was my first visit to the city of Nizams. And what, among other reasons, prompted me to go there was the sensationalist news which blared after the blast — that sounded very similar to what we heard after Mecca Masjid blasts six years ago. Also, curious after the recent developments like the issue of temple at Charminar and Owaisi speech, I wanted to see the city for myself – a city which I knew more because of Nizams, Charminar, Hyderabadi Biryani and Sania Mirza.

After visiting the injured in the blast, I went to see the blast site. It’s been a week now but the reminiscence of the blast lingers. Shopkeepers are repairing the damaged windows, desks, shutters. A Pandit is preparing for Puja as the Anand Tiffin Centre was re-opening after a week. Youth are out with candles. Flowers and posters dot the site. There is one which attracts my attention. It says, “The persons who are responsible for Dilsukhnagar bomb blasted incident are to be punished immediately by HANGING OUT. No case, No jail. By Common Man.”

I talked to the shopkeepers near the blast site. Already lost their business due to Telangana movement, the shopkeepers had practically nothing left to cheer. The issue, though, that resonated throughout the city were Hindu-Muslim discourse and security.  For example, said Sajid, a mobile shop owner near the blast site, “This blast has only brought us more closer, irrespective of what media portrays us as.” Such statements were everywhere, to my surprise, without any provocation. Krishna Kant, the injured lying in the hospital, agitated, asks me, “Why do we both communities fight? I have lost my best friend, a Muslim in the blast. The one who brought me to hospital was also a Muslim.”

But what common man had to say, sadly, has resonance only among common men. Police and media had a discourse of its own, away from the reality.

While as a journalist, I already had a few friends in the city. Sad after meeting blast victims, and no one to talk, I called a friend who works for the Urdu daily, Siasat. In conversation, what he revealed blew me off. Media was claiming police have got a definite lead and one Akhtar from Indian Mujahideen, close to Yaseen Bhatkal (said to be the founder of IM), was the culprit. Every channel was bursting with this breaking news. Though it’s a different matter that the reality happened to be little different.

There is a hotel named Shilpi Classic Court and Lounge in Dilsukhnagar.  A man with his wife was staying in the hotel but had vanished after the blast. Out of nowhere media arrived at the hotel asking about one Raju alias Akhtar. Local media started flashing his photo claiming that the said man is a close associate of Yasin Bhatkal. After hearing the news, the man who was being called Akhtar, scared, rushed back to Hyderabad and met police officers claiming his innocence. He was in fact Purna Chandra Raju from Miryalguda of Nalgoda district. Finally, after his appearance, the unsubstantiated claim of “breakthrough” subsided.

One is forced to say, given the present situation, even after six years of the Mecca Masjid blasts, not much has changed. Same hysteria in media coverage and same anonymous “source” business goes on.

Curious to understand all this, I tried meeting commissioner of police. He didn’t meet, though his PRO suggested we meet Sandeep Shandilya, ACP, crime and SIT, who is heading the investigations. After the normal waiting and haggling, and submitting my credentials, to my relief he finally agreed to meet.

During our conversation, I asked for the list of the dead persons. A ritualistic thing for a journalist, but the officer’s answer stunned me. “No, we can’t give you the list. If you want, I will give you the names of few Muslims casualties.” I responded, “No, I am not here for Muslims names, I want all the names.” But Mr. Shadilya pronounced his gem, “If I give you the list, you will publish it and communal people will read and then Bajrang Dal, VHP guys will also organize a blast. How many blasts we will handle?” His answer was a question in itself. I didn’t know how to respond to that, I returned and met others from the city’s civil society.

Adovcate Ravichandaran, who headed the fact-finding team constituted by Andhra Pradesh’s minority commission after the Mecca Masjid blast, only validated what I had just heard from the police officer. “Police starts the investigation with a presumption that a particular community is the conspirator.” His report of Mecca Masjid blast had highlighted the illegal method used by Andhra Police to detain and torture Muslim youth after the Mecca Masjid blasts – which was later found out be handiwork of Hindutva terror groups.

Enough of all this, I talked to B Bhaskar Benny, president of Indian Christian Party. Born and brought up in Hyderabad, he has seen his city growing into what it is now. “No one was communal here. It was a thing of North. Religion is no more a personal affair, rather state has adopted it. Ministers use the state’s resources to visit religious sites.”

By now, after a week of the blast, a definitive lead in the blast was announced and many names of “terrorists” came up. Only that many of them happened to be the ones who were already once arrested in Mecca Masjid blasts but later released with good Character Certificate after almost five years in jails.

Injured Wasey Mirza is thankful that he was second time lucky. Unfortunately, he was injured in Mecca Masjid blast too; he was working as a salesman in a footwear shop near the mosque. In the hospital bed, some journalist asked  him the reason to come near the blast site. He answered “Tea break” and all hell broke loose. Why will a man from Old City, quite a distance from Dilshukhnagar, come there to have tea? A conclusive enough “proof” and he was pronounced guilty by the media. Mirza worked as a salesman in a cloth shop in Dilsukhnagar and was on a tea break in the evening when the blasts happened.

When Prime Minister visited the injured in hospital, Mirza was shifted to other room. He was told, since he doesn’t need an artificial limb, he is not eligible to meet the PM. Only those who need an artificial limb will meet him.

Eldest of six siblings, he is the backbone of the family. As the tag of terror suspect looms everywhere, finding a decent job is not easy. So the family can only bear the cost of brother’s study — sisters have become the first casualty of family’s bad economy.

Let’s meet Rayeesuddin’s family. A buffalo seller, he used to live in a rented apartment. Due to the taint of “terrorist” and police’s frequent visits at his residence, he was thrown out by his landlord. Now he and his family live in his in-laws house. After the Dilsukhnagar blast, police detained him for a day on Feb 24 along with others and then released. Happy, he returned home but once again, after a week, he got a call from Police saying they want to serve him a notice. To avoid annoying his in-laws and their neighbors, he said he would rather come to police station. He went there but hasn’t returned since then.

In the background, his parents have a different story to tell. Rayeesuddin’s guilt lies somewhere else, they say. He is an eye witness in a case of police firing in which his best friend died. Gujarat police had come to arrest Maulana Naseerudin, who had allegedly given inflammatory speech against Narendra Modi. Police allegedly manhandled Maulana so his supporters protested. Rayeesuddin was one of the gullible supporters. Police fired at the protestors and his friend Mujahid Islahi was killed. Being an eyewitness to the case, police put pressure on him to withdraw the case, family says. Rayeesuddin is an eye witness in that case, and that’s his guilt, say his mother.

It’s not only Rayeesuddin. Five others who were wrongly detained for Mecca Masjid blasts were picked up again. The story continues.

But it’s mostly youth who have lost their lives, youth who are picked up, and youth who chase the news for us, probably for a better career.

Amidst all this, Gokul Chat still sells like a hot cake. Shah Ghaus, Palace Height or 4 Seasons, or Irani tea at Charminar still tastes the same.

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