Life was not the same post 9/11
For Mohammed Jawed Amzath who was termed as the boz cutter by the FBI post 9/11, life will never be the same. He was detained in the United States of America after the 9/11 attacks only to be freed as an innocent man 18 months later. What he underwent in detention is a sorry tale and the manner in which he has coped with life after that is something exceptional.
A narrow road leads up to his residence at the Doodh Gauli in Hyderabad. There is a huge gate which and when I knock on it an old lady comes out to tell me that Azmath is away at work. She refuses to give out a cell number and this obviously goes on to show that that the horror of ten years back still is very fresh in her mind and the entire family is not ready to trust anyone as yet.
A while later Azmath’s wife Tasleem Murad who has had her own share of her battle since she is a Pakistani national turns up and says that her husband will be home in a while. Bilal their son who was born when Azmath was in custody comes out to shake hands and it is obvious that he knows nothing about the trauma the family was facing when he was born.
Azmath lands up a while later. He appears to have come to terms with life and has his own business now. As we tell him that we journalists only come back ten years later to remind you of horrific memories, he just smiles and says, “ I don’t mind talking about it.”
Azmath has sharp features like an Arab and this according to him did him in. It was one day after the horrific attack when he and his friends were travelling from New Jersey to Texas by train when the nightmare occurred. A couple of people at the station informed the police about them and he along with several others was picked up in connection with the 9/11 attacks.
Azmath narrates his trauma while in custody and says that the 18 months in detention was a nightmare. We had no clue what was happening and for nearly 6 months we did not have access to a lawyer. The interrogators insisted that it was best that I confessed to my crime. According to them I was aware of the plot regarding 9/11 and I was concealing facts. They made me stand in freezing temperature for days together. In fact one of the officials even tried to strike a deal with me and said all I needed to do was to confess and he would ensure that I would be out in no time. In addition to this he also told me that there would incentives such as a good job and also lots of money if I confessed. I however knew that they were playing me into a trap and I did not find it necessary to confess to something that I had not done.
I took all the torture and I believed that God would atleast hear my prayers. They tortured me in detention hit me against the wall, but I was not ready to owe up to something since I was innocent. The whole issue was that we had with us box cutters which was being used to open bundles at a news stand and they thought we used it for something else. Finally I got justice from the court and was allowed to return to India to be with my family.
It was nothing but mental trauma. I was tortured but never charged. Today life appears to be settling down, but that trauma will never leave. When I returned to Hyderabad, the only source of support was my family. They were relieved that I was back and reassured me that everything will be fine. However I cannot say that about the general public and even till date sometimes I am referred to that man who was arrested for 9/11.
I have a small business and there are certain well wishers who have helped me get through with this. My family continues to be my biggest strength and I am very happy with them. I know I have to leave the past behind me since we as a family have to survive.
9/11 will be a date which will continue to sent tremors up my spine and the case is the same. His wife too echoes the same sentiment while stating that as that date approaches she starts to feel uneasy. Azmath goes on to add looking back at that day he feels that he was a victim of the political situation. Asian Muslims were under target and the US was only building up a ground to attack Iraq and Afghanistan. They wanted to show every Asian Muslim in poor light and depict them as terrorists and hence I too was one of the victims.
Frankly speaking when I went to the US, I never imagined that this would ever happen to me. I was just doing my work and unfortunately I became the victim. The people over there are very nice and generally there is no discrimination. However it was the government which had a different mind set at that point in time and even the people were paranoid. Today it will be very difficult for me to go back and moreover my family will not approve of it.
When asked whether he has shared any of these experiences with his son as yet, the answer is a no. He is too small and over the years I will tell him for sure. However whether he would like to go to the US or not is entirely his choice and I will not stop him if he does want to go.
What I have faced I would not want for anyone. It is very painful for a family when they get to know about a detention of their loved one through television. For 3 months I had no contact with my family and I can well imagine what they must have gone through. To make matters worse, my wife was expecting at that time and the police here decided to deport her since she was a Pakistani. All alone she had to battle that issue. His wife adds here that she did not want to go to Pakistan, but wanted to be here in India and wait for her husband. I however got a favourable order from the court before my son was born. Today I have applied for Indian citizenship and I am waiting for that.
I have a great deal of respect for the US judiciary. Thanks to them after I came back I have not been harassed by the local police over here. The judge told me that there would be no harassment for me once back in India and she also added that the US media was watching me and in case there was harassment locally they would make a hue and cry about it.
The victimisation of Muslims is not just restricted to the US. I saw before my own eyes what happened to several innocent youth here after the Mecca Masjid attack. I do feel at times that we should all get together and put up a system where by we are protected. However at the moment I am really not confident since the system here is really very bad.
This is an incident that I would like to forget and want to move past it. The scars are too deep and I know it is difficult. Sometimes I get angry with the system, but then I do realise there is no point. The US officials have not even bothered to tender an apology and that did anger me. Today I have sought compensation and that battle is still on.
I am just happy and content that I have my family with me today and my son and daughter will be my biggest strengths. I hope they are not traumatised uncessarily for what I have gone through.