The Techie Terrorist
Exclusive excerpts from the book, Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India by Manisha Sethi
Even the so-called it stories are really stories of struggle and often the first generation breaking into higher education and professions. Sarwar, son of a Maths teacher, known to all as Master Saab of Chandpatti (Azamgarh), was sent for IIT coaching in Benaras but when he could not clear JEE in two attempts, he joined Integral University in Lucknow. “He always stood first,” his mother recalls as she caresses the file that holds his degrees and testimonials. Sarwar wanted to pursue M.Tech but they lacked the resources to fund his studies. “We were ready to sell the farm land,” his father says, “but Sarwar wouldn’t let me.”
Instead, he decided to work and enroll in M.Tech as a private student. “We were so happy when he got the job. We thought our days would change now.” Sarwar’s mother lets out a loud wail: “If only I had known, I wouldn’t have let him out of my sight. We would have eaten meagrely, but would not have sent him to earn in another city.”
Piece together the story of Ranchi’s Danish ‘Reyaz’ from the interrogation reports, which surfaced in major newspapers and you will see a cunning software engineer operating multiple emails, plotting and planning kidnappings for ransom and bank robberies to raise funds for a tattered IM organization. Like many of his generation, IT had seduced Danish too. Completing his BA (Hons.) in Geography, Danish enrolled at the Indian Institute of Hardware Technology, one of those many private colleges that sell dreams of social mobility to young men like Danish. Financial constraints forced him to drop out of the last year of his course, sending him instead to Mumbai, that waiting post en route to Middle East. He lodged with an Urdu bookshop owner — also named Danish Reyaz — in Meera Road, in the time that he looked for employment in the Gulf. Without his certificate from the IT institute, he remained singularly unsuccessful. And in the manner of many fickle minded, unlucky and unemployed young men, had to return to Ranchi now to complete his course. This time, however, he completed his course by 2007. For a while repairing computers in Ranchi, Danish left for Hyderabad in 2008, in the hope of a white collar job, comforted by the presence of other young men from Baryatu, Ranchi’s Muslim neighbourhood, who now lived and worked in the city.
When the crime branch came to his house in November-December 2008 (his brother could not recall the exact dates), he was already in Hyderabad, and dismissed this as a case of mistaken identity– perhaps a confusion of names. His landlord Danish Reyaz had been picked up briefly after the Mumbai train blasts by the ATS, but never charged. Danish’s name first surfaced publicly, along with that of his neighbour and friend Manzar Imam, in local newspapers in Ranchi on 15 December 2010. “Two among IM operatives hail from Baryatu” was the general tenor
The same day, his brother saw his photograph being flashed on a news channel. Visits by media and the local crime branch were followed by a few months of peace. In April 2011, a team of NIA men visited Baryatu. “They were South Indian men who first posed as personnel of the passport office,” recalled his brother who was home when the team arrived. They left the number of the DSP, NIA, in Hyderabad, asking for Danish to contact him.
The private correspondence between Danish and his brother ‘R’ from those days reveals another man altogether: a young, unsure and vulnerable Danish — hardly the crafty organizer of terror attacks that he was portrayed to be.
R: Is everything alright there?
R: Did you receive any more phone calls? The person who used to call you from Ranchi.
R: Oh, that’s a relief… Did anyone try to meet you?
R: You gave them your address. Maybe they are watching.
D: Perhaps they are busy in something else. I have told my office also. To
R: What did you say?
D: They have told me not to worry. They have promised me that they will help if there is any problem.
R: Inshaallah. But what did you tell them?
D: I have told them that perhaps there is a misconception because of
R: Give our number to the office so that they can call in case of any emergency.
R: Yes, do it, if possible.
D: Inshaallah, there won’t be an emergency.
R: We are all praying for that.
R: This problem won’t be solved till you see him. In fact it will only increase.
R: Hello, where are
D: He just called.
R: Who? The DSP?
D: Yes, from Hyderabad.
R: What did he ask?
D: He said he would call again
at 11 tomorrow.
D: He was asking for the office and room address.
D: He was asking if I could meet
R: You must tell him everything truthfully.
R: So what did you tell?
D: I told them that I had gone to Mumbai…
D: Then he took the details of both the offices I have worked in…
R: Why just two offices? What about the first one?
D: I don’t have any proof of that. But I have given the address of that office also.
D: He had promised to pay me salary after 3 months.
D: He used to pay everyone by cheque.
R: Did he ever give you any salary?
D: He was asking me how my name came up. With father’s name.
R: Good you explained to
D: I told him I stayed with Danish for three months, in connection to
D: He showed me a paper, where father’s name was mentioned also.
D: I told him that about 4 months ago some people had come for investigation after my name first appeared in the papers. The neighbours must have given father’s name to them.
D: Then he understood everything.
D: He only wanted to know where I was in December 2007.
R: OK. Then?
D: I told him I was in Ranchi and I have proof for that. He told me to leave then. He said come with your certificate when I call you.
D: Then he photographed me from 3-4 angles and recorded my voice
D: Then he told his assistant to take me out for tea-coffee.
This conversation, above all, tells us two things: first, the belief of the brothers that telling the truth would protect them. In the end though their faith proved to be misplaced. Barely two weeks after Danish visited the NIA office in Hyderabad to offer himself for questioning, he was shown arrested from the Vadodara railway station by Gujarat ATS for involvement in the Gujarat blasts of 2008.
And second, it tells us how these imaginings of terror accused being cosmopolitan IT prodigals are quite hollow. Here is a young man who worked months without an appointment letter, without a salary slip — and without a salary — now worrying how the free labour extracted by an exploitative market has obliterated his legal existence, leaving him with no proof about his activities in those months. “But at least he [the former employer] can give witness that he employed you,” asks the elder brother tentatively. But they both know the answer to that.
It is an irony — surely an unintended one, that while these suspects are expected to recall their lives, as though in a flashback, with precise proof, no less, of every single day, the rest of the public which consumes the stories of their arrests is hoped to be in possession of very short memories.
Excerpted with permission from the publisher.