Mumbai, Aug 26. (PTI): Residents of the Memon Colony here were relieved today after the return of six men detained for two days in Amsterdam after a security alert on a US airliner, but a sense of fear appeared to pervade the community.
At the homes of the six men — who were among 12 people arrested and questioned by Dutch authorities before being freed yesterday — there are muted celebrations. And while their kin were happy that their loved ones are back, there was a marked hesitation to talk to the media about the ordeal they went through.
"We did feel humiliated, but what is the use of anger now? It is behind us. We are happy that we are back home. We were treated well, the Embassy officials were very helpful in Amsterdam," said Yusuf Khoslawala, one of the detainees.
All the men were wary of the media, and careful about what they said to reporters, to whom they spoke only after consulting community elders.
As television crews prowled around his house, trying to talk to his family, one of the men was heard telling his wife, "Do not say anything without asking me. Just say that you do not know anything."
Munnavar Khan, a social activist and resident of the Memon Colony, explained the sense of fear in the community. "On the global level, at the local level they are looked at with suspicion, they have to explain every action. They are all businessmen, how can they expect to survive if they are continued to be looked at as stereotypes?" Khan said.
India lodged a strong protest over the detention of the 12 men, who were arrested after the crew of the Northwest Airlines said they had acted in a suspicious manner.
Anger at the detentions among residents of the colony too was evident. Some said they might approach the minorities commission or the human rights commission.
"The men were harassed for over 40 hours in an unknown country for no palpable reason. They have a right to complain," said a man who did not want to be identified.
Sajid Chapalwala, another detainee, said, "We did not do anything, we just exchanged seats with another passenger. But just because of the way we were dressed — in pathan suits and caps — we were looked at with suspicion. I have been defamed because of my garb and that is not fair."
Their families, however, were all thanks for the media, which they said had brought the matter to the notice of everyone. "The Government has not done anything, it is the media which helped us," said a woman.
A small prison cell, very little food or water, no access to lawyers and no contact with the outside world — in spite of the hardships they endured during their detention by the Dutch authorities, the 12 men said the worst feeling was that of being looked at with suspicion merely because of the way they dressed.
"All we did was to exchange seats because we wanted to sleep in the back. Just on the basis of this, we were arrested," said Chapalwala.
"It is only because we were dressed in a particular way that we were looked at with suspicion. This is a stereotype that is there in the West ever since the arrests related to the July 11 terror plot in London."
Describing the ordeal, Chapalwala said the men were not even told why they were being detained at Amsterdam's Schipol airport.
"We were handcuffed and questioned in the airport for almost three hours. Then we were taken to a jail, kept in a two by two cubicle and not allowed to speak to each other. Language was also a problem, because we could not understand Dutch and so were unable to explain to them that we meant no harm."
Another detainee, Ayub, said the men were not allowed to make any calls. He was all praise for Indian embassy officials in Amsterdam, saying they made all efforts to help the men.
"Initially, the Dutch authorities did not allow the embassy officials to meet us, saying we were not Indian citizens. But the officials were adamant. They gave us confidence that we would soon be out of there. Otherwise, we were not allowed to make any calls, not even to our families in India," Chapalwala said.
"Once we were freed from the jail after the Dutch were convinced that we were innocent, the embassy officials personally took us to a five-star hotel in the city," said Yusuf Khoslawala.
"They made sure we were comfortable and personally came to see us off on the plane. We are grateful that we made it back safely, but it hurts that we were targeted for no particular reason."
The men were on their way back to Mumbai after a fortnight-long trip to Trinidad, where they had gone to participate in a trade fair.
"We keep travelling for business purposes. I have been doing this for the past 10 years, and never have I been looked at with suspicion. This is the first time," said Chapalwala.
All the men offered prayers at the mosque in Memon Colony this afternoon, shaking hands and hugging each other as children clamoured around them, happy that their fathers were back home.