Thrissur’s Rahim Kolliyil, declared a “terrorist” and with police officers of two states hunting for him, is now no longer one
“Rahim has been cleared of all suspicion,” said a high ranking official on condition of anonymity. “The alert had come from the Military Intelligence,” he added when asked about the status of the terror suspect from Kerala who had surrendered in court on 23 August.
The alert he referred to was about the entry of six armed terrorists to Tamil Nadu from Sri Lanka, one of whom was a Pakistani while others were all Sri Lankans.
The alert had been issued at a time when heightened tensions over the recently introduced changes in Kashmir had been brewing. And a terror alert at those times seemed plausible more than ever.
One of those said to be a terrorist initially and later an accomplice was Rahim Kolliyil, 38, a workshop mechanic from Kodungalloor in Kerala. His photo was widely circulated by the media in Tamil Nadu having been passed on by “police sources.”
Rahim had gone to Dubai on a visiting visa a month and a half ago and returned on 22 August.
Unaware to him, many channels in Tamil Nadu were flashing his image as that belonging to one of the six terrorists who had come to India by sea.
“They have camouflaged themselves by wearing vibhuti to merge in with the crowd,” the media reports quoted police sources. “Tamil Nadu was chosen as it had minimal security measures in place some,” reports claimed.
Widespread checks were employed across Tamil Nadu and with news that one of the suspects was a Malayali, Kerala was also put on alert.
“That they hadn’t even done an immigration search is what I don’t understand,” says Rahim, still trying to understand the advent of his life-shattering incident. “Else they could have easily known that I had arrived here and was in Kerala at least.”
While the police and agencies arrived at Rahim’s house for enquiries, his parents and relatives were left shell-shocked upon learning about the accusations.
They had not known that Rahim had reached Kerala, although he had told them a few days back that he will be “coming home in three days and was packing the parts meant for the workshop.”
Rahim had already been facing financial troubles and even the modest house without road access, that they lived in, had been mortgaged to arrange money for him to start a workshop in Bahrain, an enterprise which had failed. It had eventually led to his return back home almost a year back.
“We still owe the loan we took,” says Rahim’s father, Abdul Khader, now relieved and lighting a half burnt beedi.
Rahim is his youngest son.
“We haven’t paid back anything. They don’t ask as they know us,” he says, looking towards his son who looks away.
Abdul Khader had slumped back on his chair when he was told about the reason behind the police enquiry a week ago. “Have they got him?” was the only thing he had asked.
He had then paced around in the cemented front yard and went on an abuse-laden outburst at how his son had only brought him shame, before falling down onto the easy chair.
“Rahim won’t do anything of that sort,” his mother had sworn her faith in him after recovering from the initial shock.
Abdul Khader had been frothing and often gasped for breath when his rants overtook his health. He had to be given water to drink and told to think of something else by acquaintances. While fathers are naturally sceptical of their sons and mothers unquestioning in their trust, uncertainty as to what the truth was had remained for others.
“I finally ate a piece of banana after hearing his voice when he called from the station,” says Abdul Khader. This was two days after the news broke and the search and enquiries were done at his house. “I just couldn’t eat.”
“We are both high BP patients,” says Rahim’s mother looking at his father. “When the police searched, all they found were our prescriptions and nothing else.”
“We don’t read any literatures or magazines as they had searched for. Nor do we send the kids to any special religious education,” she reasons. “Even the newspapers are only rarely read. Most have only studied up to 8th or 9th standard.”
“They were very well behaved though,” she says about the officers who had done the search and enquiry at their house.
“They even recharged my phone when I told them I have no balance to try and call Rahim,” agrees his father. “Nobody as much as even raised their voice when talking to us. We are thankful for that.”
“They took our passbooks, one of which had zero balance and the other had some money from when he used to send money earlier,” says his mother. Rahim withdraws at the talk of his financial troubles.
“He and one of our relatives had started a workshop together,” she continues. “He was cheated and now the workshop is in that fellow’s name,” she says.
Later, Rahim took a flood damaged workshop on rent near Aluva.
“Here work is very hard to come by. It is also difficult to get workers. And most importantly most of the work is of diesel vehicles while I have mostly worked on petrol vehicles there, the American cars like Ford and GM,” he explains.
He had brought with him spare parts for Land Cruiser from Dubai.
“I had gone to the workshop from the airport and was setting things up there,” says Rahim.
After landing in the Kochi International Airport, Rahim went to his garage in nearby Aluva with the auto spare parts weighing 90 kgs that he had brought with him.
“It was then that one of my friends from there told me that a photo of someone looking like me was doing rounds as that belonging to a terrorist.”
“I checked and realised it was my old photo of many years back,” he says. The photo proved vital in Rahim being able convince the police of his innocence.
“I took a bus from the workshop and then an auto and went to see an advocate whom I had once gone and seen with my friend,” Rahim narrates. “It was with some difficulty that I could locate his place. He told me the best thing to do would be to surrender. So I surrendered.”
“That is what everyone who is wrongly accused should do,” says Rahim’s mother. “And since media was there we saw him on TV. The story couldn’t be changed later by them.”
Rahim had figured out the source of the photograph, the only place he says it was accessible - Bahrain.
LMRA or Labour Market Regulatory Authority is a government body with a corporate identity under the Minister of Labour of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Through the express services that the website of LMRA provides, expatriate employees check the work permit application status, legal status and validity of their work permits.
For this they have to enter their personal number, work permit number, application ID number or the passport number.
“Personal number is the number given by the government there to identify expatriate employees,” says Rahim. “Some people who had a miff with me may have had this number and they might have used it,” he says.
Rahim enters his now expired personal number and with a simple search the yellow photo of him pops up. It shows his name as Abdul Kader Rahim Kolliyil, the name which had been circulated initially, s/o Abdul Kader Kolliyil.
Employer: Hawar Gate Car Services
Legal Status: Employment Visa not valid!
Monthly Fees: Not paid
Flexible work Permit: Not eligible to apply for flexible work permit
“This was the only place which had this old yellow photo of mine,” says Rahim.
“They asked me about the others. I said I don’t know about any others. They asked me about Sri Lanka. I said I had never been to Sri Lanka.”
“Unlike many others returning from the Gulf to Kerala, I had never come through Sri Lanka. So I was lucky that way. Then they mockingly asked whether I had not even dreamt of Sri Lanka,” Rahim recalls with a slight smile. “But they believed me,” he says recollecting his stroke of luck with a deep sigh.
“I have my doubts,” says Rahim. “I have given all the information to the police. They have promised me that they will take it to its end. Those who put my name into this should be punished. Only then will I get peace.”
“How much money was wasted on this by the government!” remarks Abdul Kader. “Officers told us that they had not slept for three days,” he says more relieved than angry.
“They said nobody has ever been let off like this,” adds his mother, “By the grace of God he is here.”
“All I can say is I had helped a person from trafficking,” says Rahim. “This had irked a group of Malayalees who are running a bar cum restaurant there. The Kingdom had imposed fine on them and licenses were revoked. They had told me then itself that they will make me suffer. I cannot be sure obviously. But that is my doubt,” he says.
Asked whether he knew any of the other fellow “terrorists” he says - “Illyas is an immigration officer working in the Bahrain government who is in charge of a deportation centre holding more than 4500 people and his name was also in the list of six suspected terrorists.”
“Illyas is a common Pakistani name. He was known to me and he had helped out Indian embassy with many cases of Indians put under arrest. But he was a Bahraini citizen. My doubt is whether someone thought he was one of those Pakistani policemen in service and added him as a Pakistani.
But this Illyas I knew was Illyas Abu, the name these people have is an Illyas Anwar. That is the only name out of all those that I know anything of,” says Rahim trying to figure out the puzzle as to how his name popped up in the mess.
“I can’t sleep,” he says when asked to smile a bit for a photo. “That tension is still not going away.”
But his family is relaxed. “By a whisker,” says his mother. “All by the grace of God,” she repeats.
“Yesterday I called the police in the night and asked if everything was in fact okay as I was too tensed,” says Rahim. “They said if you want, you can come sit and talk with us till you feel alright. I kept watching the channels all night to know more.”
While Rahim and his family are relieved that an unforeseen disaster which would have destroyed their lives has now gone away, questions remain as to those who put his name out there. Will they be brought to justice?
While it is within the powers of the authorities to enquire and check on Rahim based on inputs, to put his name and photo out there in the public when the input had been as inadequately scrutinised as Rahim’s raises serious questions as to the professional capabilities of the agencies involved.
“I cannot comment on the credibility of the report,” is how Commissioner of Police of Coimbatore, Sumit Saran responded.
What if Rahim had been identified by a crowd? “They wouldn’t have been kind,” is how Rahim put it with a sigh.
The alert raised a level of alarm which was unforeseen. At a time when changes in Kashmir had put the country in unease, the timing of the alert might seem questionable.
It is for the authorities to clarify. In any well-functioning democracy the questions will be answered suo moto. Or else, the state stands to be looked upon with suspicion or disdain every time such an alert is sounded in the future. Either of these are not favourable outcomes.
Authorities cannot hide behind anonymous statements saying - “He has been cleared of all suspicion.” Especially when they worked up an entire state apparatus into a frenzy.
As for the alert, apparently - “There is no procedure to withdraw an alert.” An apology is due. If not to the people of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, at least to Rahim. Neither seems forthcoming.