By Jyoti Punwani
Normally, Rehmatullah would sit patiently with his co-accused on the narrow bench in court. But at the nth hearing of his 13-year-old case, as he trooped out with his 20-odd co-accused, the normally stolid-looking silent man, looked worried. "Can I skip the next date?" he asked his lawyer. "I have to go to my village. My daughter's getting married."
This was the old man's second daughter's marriage. Like her elder sister, this one too was marrying a Hindu.
Rehmatullah is 60-something, has a red beard and always wears a namazi's cap. He was an accused in the infamous Hari Masjid case, where, says the Srikrishna Commission Report, policemen led by sub-inspector Nikhil Kapse barged into a small mosque in Wadala and shot at the namazi's, killing four, during the post-Babri Masjid Mumbai riots. It was a Sunday in January 1993. Rehmatullah, who stays close to the mosque, had gone there for the afternoon namaz. His most vivid memory of that bloody afternoon is a newly married young man being shot dead inside the masjid; Rehmatullah carried his body outside.
Along with 53 others, Rehmatullah was arrested from the mosque and charged under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and other offences. The Commission rejected Kapse's version, accused him of "callous and inhuman behaviour" towards innocent namazis, and recommended strict action against him. That never happened. The police officers of the Special Task Force set up to act on the Commission Report, overruled a sitting High Court judge's findings and gave Kapse a clean chit.
But there was no such respite for the namazis. They continued to do the rounds of courts, standing up when their names were called out, as onlookers whispered: "These are the 1992-'93 rioters." It took 13 long years for a court of law to prove Kapse's version to be exactly what Justice Srikrishna had described it as: "Wholly unbelievable".
In the initial stages, when the case was in the sessions court at Fort, Rehmatullah would often enter the court out of breath, having climbed up the old stone stairs as fast as he could, only to find that he was late anyway—the names of the accused had already been called out. Once, despite his belated appearance, the judge advised him to sit down to catch his breath.
So how come this old man who looks like a pucca miyabhai has daughters named Deepa and Suman who are now both married to Hindus? It's quite simple. Rehmatullah fell in love with a Hindu woman, Mutkamma, and took her as his second wife. Mutkamma became Saeeda Khan, and remained childless. When her sister Yenkamma's husband was dying, he requested Rehmatullah to look after his two little girls, knowing that his own wife was too poor to do so. It seemed natural, then, for Rehmatullah and Mutkamma to adopt the two.
Here, the story becomes complex. Deepa and Suman were brought up as both Hindu and Muslim. Their names were not changed, nor were they converted, but they were taught the Quran. The elder, Suman, studied in Mumbai till Std VIII; the younger, Deepa, didn't show much interest in studies. After some years, the family shifted back to their village in Karnataka, where they have some land. Their biological mother visits them regularly. Rehmatullah divides his time between his first wife and their six children in Mumbai, and his second wife and two 'daughters' in Karnataka.
When it was time for them to marry, it was taken for granted that the groom would have to be a Hindu. Rehmatullah, whom the girls call 'uncle', did everything a father does except for the kanyadaan. "The pandit came home to conduct the wedding. My wife, whom they call Amma, did the kanyadaan," he says.
Rehmatullah's Hindu sons-in-law know he was an accused in a riot case. "It makes no difference to them," he says, a little surprised that I should ask. He looks surprised again when I ask how the villagers reacted to a practising Muslim adopting Hindu girls and not converting them. "Why should they say anything? They thought it okay. There are a thousand jaatis in the world. What do I have to do with them? For me, there are only two categories of human beings: one male, one female."