The last thing Nikhat Perveen’s husband told her was, “I am being taken for questioning and may not come back.” That was 10 days ago, in Saudi Arabia’s coastal industrial town of Jubail.
Back in Delhi sifting through Fasih Mehmood’s papers and frantically getting them photocopied, the wife of less than a year hopes that is not true, as she runs from pillar to post seeking to know where her husband is.
A young management graduate who married Mehmood last autumn, Perveen struggles to maintain her composure as she recalls the day (May 13) when Mehmood was picked up and reportedly “deported” to India on alleged terror charges.
“We were all set to move to Yamu for his next posting, and most of our house had been cleared when he got a call that left him confused. The callers asked him to come over for some time. I waited anxiously for an hour till he returned with a few men and a woman from the Saudi police. Some Indians were with them. I was kept locked in a separate room as they searched the house. They found nothing, but took away his laptop and two mobiles. Fasih told me he was being taken for questioning and may not come back. I was then told he was being deported. I was in shock and could barely comprehend what was going on… and then they took him away.”
It was only three months ago that Perveen had moved to Saudi Arabia to live with her 29-year-old husband. Not knowing what to do, she has returned to India. Since then the family has been making the rounds of the Saudi Embassy here, the Ministry of External Affairs, any official whom they have been able to approach, without any news of Mehmood.
Unable to return to their village in Darbhanga, from where she too hails, Perveen waits in tension and disbelief. Days are spent making photocopies of Mehmood’s identity cards, his academic and character and job certificates in the hope of proving that the “terror” allegations against him have no basis.
While Mehmood’s father is a doctor at a primary health centre in Madhubani, mother is the headmistress of a primary school. Says Perveen: “In a village, houses are cheek by jowl and people know everyone. Fasih hails from the same village Barh Samaila from where some others have been picked up and charged for the Chinnaswamy Stadium blasts (of Bangalore) and the German Bakery blasts (Pune). Maybe that’s why he has been picked up too. But that is ridiculous and unfair. What is worse is we don’t know where he is.”
Convinced that the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia knew what has happened to Mehmood and that an Embassy personnel was present when he was taken away, Perveen adds: “I need to know where he is.”
A cousin of Mehmood pulls out character certificates they have procured from the local panchayat certifying his credentials. “Now all we have are stories being put out by unnamed sources in the police. We have heard that he is alleged to be the main recruiter for the Indian Mujahideen. They will try and spin as much as possible and hope that some of it sticks.”
Says Perveen: “He has lived away from Darbhanga most of his life. He completed his engineering, like a lot of students, from Bhatkal and was a sociable, easy-going and hospitable person. His hobby in fact is entertaining friends at home. Everyone in Darbhanga is very angry, irrespective of religion… After sullying his reputation, putting him and us through this, what will be the point of all this?”
The arrest is a big mistake, adds the cousin. “What they did to Azamgarh is now being done to our small village. They have no proof, nothing, just prejudice. In six years’ time… they will say that he is innocent.”
Mehmood’s maternal uncle Iqbal Ahmed too questions the spate of those picked up from Barh Samaila. “It’s not a question of Hindu or Muslim. Fasih Mahmood’s grandfather Mehmood Alam was a respectable zamindar and a local leader connected with nationalist politics. If people are picked up and transported mysteriously like this, are we not justified in believing that this is a concerted attempt to finish off the small section of our community that studies and tries to get jobs outside the country? First we are told Muslims don’t believe in education. But now, is it also a crime to be an engineer or a doctor and be a Muslim?”
(The article was first published in The Indian Express)