Family wins terrorist attack compensation but cannot cash cheque
NEW DELHI // While people across the world have been remembering the victims of last November's Mumbai terrorist attack, a Pakistani family of victims of the Samjhauta Express train blasts in 2007 is still struggling to get compensation money from the Indian government.
Fifty-year-old Rana Shaukat Ali, a shopkeeper from Samnabad in Faisalabad, is in New Delhi along with his wife, Ruksana, and their only surviving daughter trying to get the money that was awarded by an Indian court. The couple lost five of their six children in the twin blasts, which killed 68 people including 42 Pakistani nationals, onboard the "India-Pakistan friendship train" on February 18, 2007 near the Indian city of Panipat, 100km from New Delhi.
Mr Ali and his family had come to India to attend the wedding ceremony of their niece. The couple lost three sons and two daughters in the blast. One-year old Aqsa survived with minor injuries. In October, Indian Railways issued 10 cheques worth two million rupees (Dh157,000) to Mr Ali; however, his Pakistani nationality did not allow him to cash the cheques in India. He was forced to pursue the case through the labyrinth of Indian bureaucracy.
"We have been trailing the compensation case with the Indian Railways claims tribunal for more than two years now. Finally, the tribunal court gave a judgment and awarded compensation to us," Mr Ali said. "We came to know through my brother and a friend that the court has given a judgment in our favour. We came to India last month to collect the cheques, but being a Pakistani I cannot open an account in India and Pakistani banks will not accept this cheque. There is no way I can transfer the money to Pakistan."
The Indian Reserve Bank bars Pakistani and Bangladeshi nationals without special permission from opening bank accounts in India. Mr Ali, with the help of a voluntarily organisation, South Asian Forum for People Against Terror (Safpat) has petitioned the Indian external minister, S M Krishna, to intervene in the matter. "The cheques issued to us are valid until December 19. Unless the Indian government doesn't rethink, it will be impossible for us to use this money," he said.
Mr Ali said his chances of receiving the money are quite low during his current stay in India because his visa will expire this week. Although he has applied for an extension, he said he will probably not be allowed to continue his stay in India. "We want to give a secure future to our daughter. We cannot repair the loss by the compensation money, but it will secure her future. I never wanted to come to India and pursue the case as it snatched everything from me, but it was all for my daughter's sake," Mr Ali said.
"I cannot forget the sight when I saw the dead bodies of my children turned into a heap of charcoal. It took me hours to recognise their bodies. They were burnt beyond recognition." The Indian government had blamed Pakistan-based militant groups of carrying out the train attack. However, Indian police charged the former army Lt Col P S Purohit and several Hindu militants of carrying out the Samjhauta train explosions. The men, who are in custody, are also accused of carrying out a series of blasts in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
"I am dismayed over the pace of investigations into the attacks. The Indian government should speed up their investigations and bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice," Mr Ali said. Last year, the Mumbai police chief, Hemant Karkare, filed a charge sheet against Mr Purohit saying he had helped carry out the blasts. After Karkare's death in the Mumbai attacks, investigations have been stalled, Mr Ali claimed.
Ruksana Ali said she still dreads the thought of the explosions. "We lost everything in a moment; every time I pray, I seek Allah's mercy on the people who killed my children. It will be difficult to overcome with the thought of losing five children, but it was Allah's will and Aqsa's presence which helped me to survive," she said. Notwithstanding the political animosities between India and Pakistan, Mr Ali and his wife participated in the sit-in to commemorate the first anniversary of the Mumbai attacks on November 26 that was organised by Safpat in New Delhi.
"We are here to share our grief with the victims of the Mumbai attacks, Delhi blasts and all terror attacks happening in India and Pakistan. Terrorism has no borders, whether it is Mumbai or Karachi, innocents are killed," Mr Ali said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated: November 30, 2009 04:00 AM