Adambhai Suleiman Ajameri, Muslim
- Accused of involvement in the Akshardham Temple case: 2002
- Acquitted in May 2014
The day the Lok Sabha election results were declared and the BJP under Narendra Modi won a historic victory—May 16, 2014—the SC delivered its judgement in the Akshardham Temple attack case, acquitting all the six accused, including three who had spent eight years on the death row, a total of 11 years in prison. Among the three was Adambhai Suleiman Ajameri, an autorickshaw driver.
Adambhai (then 41) had been arrested 11 months after the September 2002 shootout at the temple in Gandhinagar. The charges against him included picking up two Pakistan-based ‘fidayeen’—who killed 33 in the attack—from the railway station, sheltering them, taking them for recces around potential targets and receiving Rs 3,500 through hawala.
In 2006, he was convicted on eight counts and sentenced to death and fined Rs 25,000. In his 500-page order, the judge described it as one of the ‘rarest of rare cases’, as defined by the Supreme Court.
When we first met Adambhai at the Sabarmati Central Jail in February 2014, we found a man who had given up hope for justice and freedom.
Adambhai had persistently pleaded innocence, but was convinced that nobody wanted to listen. His hopes revived only when the case reached the SC. While acquitting all the accused, the apex court was scathing in its criticism of the incompetent investigation and sharply admonished the police and the then Gujarat home minister, CM Narendra Modi.
Could the state ever compensate him by giving back him and his family those lost, tortured years?
When I met him again in July 2014 at his home, he opened up and spoke of his ordeal. He described how, after being held for long hours among hundreds of inmates at the crime branch office, he was finally presented before the then DCP, D.G. Vanzara, who subjected him to intense questioning.
When Adambhai declared that he was clueless, he was reportedly asked by Vanzara to choose between three cases—the Godhra train carnage, Haren Pandya’s murder or the attack on Akshardham. Recalling his disbelief, he exclaimed, “Aisa laga jaise DCP sahib sabji-bhaji ki laari leke nikala ho aur logon se pooch raha ho ki kaunsi sabzi chahiye, kitne bhav mein chahiye” (It was as if he was selling vegetables and asking us what we wanted, how much and the price we were ready to pay).
Adambhai’s consistent denials were met with torture. The horrific details of custodial violence made my blood run cold. When physical torture didn’t elicit the desired response, investigators would resort to emotional torture by threatening physical and sexual violence on his family.
Eleven years of his life cruelly snatched away from him and his family has left Adambhai a broken man. A free man for six months, he was still struggling to rehabilitate himself to many things new. Years passed like a blink, Ahmedabad itself has changed with widespread ‘development’ and old acquaintances had moved on. Adambhai is struggling to make sense of these changes. He had forgotten places, routes and directions in the city he had once lived in. Could the state ever compensate him, give back his children and wife those tortured years? The unspoken question hung in the air as I took his leave.
On my way out, I saw flags and banners of the BJP stacked outside the house, waiting for distribution across the city. Adambhai Suleiman Ajameri, who saw me off, whispered, “Karna padta hai, pet ke liye karna padta hai” (We have to do it for our survival).
(Kanojia is a student at the National Law University, Delhi, and was part of the project team that interviewed nearly 400 death row convicts.)