After a journey filled with heartbreak and reunion, smuggling and ‘villains’, and a nine-year court battle, the story of Mumbai’s Veer-Zaara finally came to a fitting filmy end yesterday, when a city court acquitted them of all charges.
Hidayat Khan with his wife Banwa and their kids
Reporting their case in July, mid-day had noted how the couple’s story had all the ingredients of a Bollywood movie and, sure enough, filmmakers have been lining up to meet them and be able to tell their tale on the silver screen.
On July 4, this newspaper had reported (‘Real life Veer-Zaara from Mumbai wait for a happy ending’) about Hidayat Khan, 37, a contractor from Navi Mumbai, who had fallen in love with Banwa, a Saudi Arabian national, while working in the country.
mid-day’s reports on July 4 and August 13
He had smuggled Banwa into India in 2005 and the couple was arrested soon after, based on a complaint by Banwa’s family to the Saudi Arabian authorities. While the couple was released on bail and had four children Reenal (8), Riyam (6), Ridan (4) and Khulund, who is 15 months old in India, the fate of Banwa’s nationality was to be decided by the Indian judiciary.
This, despite the current Saudi Consul General, Abdullah Saliman Al Eisa, writing to the Mumbai police on June 23 to rescind the case and let Banwa live in India. The couple’s story had headed for climax last month, when they had their case heard for the first time at the 37th metropolitan magistrate court. On Wednesday, in a big relief for the couple, the court acquitted them of all charges.
“This is the happiest moment of my life. I had sold everything to witness this day and it is time for celebrations. I thank the media, especially mid-day, for making this happen,” Khan said yesterday. Khan added, “Nine years is too long a time. I spent lakhs in legal fees, sold all my belongings and spent all the money that I had earned from my job in Saudi Arabia. I saw the worst days of my life between 2005 and 2008.
Thankfully, my wife was very supportive and stood by me through thick and thin. She survived on daal and roti to gather our legal expenses,” A visibly relieved Banwa said, “I have seen so many tough days in this court battle. I was arrested while I was pregnant and, in that condition, I had to climb the stairs of the court and stand with criminals.
My husband was also behind bars during my pregnancy. Allah ka karam hai (with God’s grace), we are finally done with the legal battle. My children will finally be able to meet their grand parents.” “After reading reports on us, some filmmakers approached me and showed interest in telling our story on the big screen.
But we have not been able to meet them,” Khan said. The couple was represented by advocates R F Lambay and Ashok Shahani. Speaking to mid-day Shahani said, “The court has rightly passed an order. This alleged offence took place beyond Indian territories.
At the time of the incident, the couple hardly knew what they were doing was a crime. The main accused in the case, Nooral, who had helped the couple make fake documents, is absconding. If he is arrested, a supplementary chargesheet will be filed.”
The love story
In 2004, Hidayat Khan was working as a cashier at Himayani Super Market in Tayaf, Saudi Arabia, which is owned by Banwa’s uncle. He met Banwa, who was 25 years old at the time, there, and it was almost love at first sight. After their affair went on for some time, the duo decided to marry and spend their life together.
Every tragic love story needs a ‘villain’, and in their case, the person who was against their marriage turned out to be Banwa’s brother and caretaker, Ayad Subai. He forced the couple to stop talking to each other, and Hidayat had to return to India the same year, as his visa had expired.
The distraught couple kept in touch over the phone and, soon, a plan to smuggle Banwa out of Saudi Arabia, and into Hidayat’s loving arms, began to take shape. According to the FIR filed against the couple at Azad Maidan police station, Hidayat was referred to one Nooral, who had contacts in the Indian embassy. Nooral made a fake passport in the name of Noor Amin Habib-ullah Shaikh and travelled to Saudi Arabia on a Hajj visa in December 2004.
“With the help of the Indian Consulate in Jeddah, a fake passport was made for Banwa in the name of Abida Habibullah Shaikh. Using the fake passport, Banwa reached India with Nooral on March 22, 2005. After she reached Mumbai, Hidayat took Banwa to Kolkata and they got married there,” said a police officer. Investigations later revealed that Khan had paid a hefty amount to Nooral for smuggling Banwa to India. Nooral disappeared soon after, and the police haven’t been able to locate him till date.
Just when Hidayat and Banwa began to settle down, their marital bliss was shattered when Banwa’s family informed the Saudi consulate about her escape and the forged papers. The Azad Maidan police registered an FIR in 2005, and arrested the couple under sections 467 (dishonestly breaking open receptacle containing property), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) 471 (using as genuine a forged document) and 420 (cheating) of the Indian Penal Code, read with Section 14 of the Foreigners Act and Section 12 of the Passport Act. One of their friends paid surety for them and the legal battle began.