Yes while terror attacks will continue to haunt the society at large for different reasons, an unjust system only makes it easier for the perpetrators.
Take the Akshardam case for instance. The Swaminarayan Akshardharm temple in Gujarat is a magnificent edifice and is often compared to Taj Mahal in tourist brochures. The horrendous attack on it in September 2002 claimed 33 lives. Eighty five others were injured. Both the gunmen involved in the attack were in turn gunned down by the National Security Guards after a prolonged siege.
Since the terror attack came a few months after the Godhra riots, many thought the jehadi retaliation had begun and no end now to the spiral. And so when the police announced the arrest of six persons subsequently, none evinced much of an interest.
Of the six arrested Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri, Abdul Qaiyum Muftisaab Mohmed Bhai and Chand Khan were sentenced to death in July 2006 by the special POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) court set up to try the terror case.
Mohammed Salim Shaikh was sentenced to life imprisonment (entire life), and Abdulmiyan Qadri was given a 10-year term and Altaf Hussain five year imprisonment.
And now the Supreme Court has acquitted all the six convicted and has slammed the Gujarat Police for its incompetence. A bench comprising Judstice A.K.Patnaik and Justice V. Gopala Gowda, in their judgment, said: “We intend to express our anguish about the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the nation.”
“Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing,” Justice Gowda said speaking for the bench.
Mohammad Saleem, 45 one of the convicted to be acquitted, sporting a forlorn look, later recounted his ordeals. He had just returned from Saudi Arabia in August 2003 when sleuths from the Ahmedabad Crime Branch picked him up, alleging he had furnished ‘fake’ details in his passport application. He was then allegedly asked to choose which terror case he would be implicated in.
I was told to choose between Godhra (train burning case), Haren Pandya (murder) case or the Akshardham case. I pleaded to them that I had been out of India for 13 years, why should I own up to something that I was not involved in,” he recalled.
While his mother fell ill right after his arrest, his 15-year-old son had to drop out of the English medium school he was studying in and join a municipal school.
“My children got punished for no fault of theirs,” rues Saleem.
His brother Irfan was on the verge of completing his graduation. With the family’s only breadwinner behind bars, he was forced to give up his studies and drive an auto-rickshaw to earn a living.
“I have spent most of my life in courtrooms, police stations and jail,” lamented Irfan.
The police official who led the investigation in the Akshardam was none other than Vanzara who is now behind bars for over seven years for his alleged involvement in a spate of encounter killings including the Sohrabuddin case.
Modi himself was crowing during the 2007 Assembly election campaign that Sohrabuddin got what he “deserved.”
He asked his audience as to what should have been done to a man who dealt with illegal arms and ammunition, to which it shouted back “Kill him.”
“Then if I have done anything wrong, let the government of Sonia Gandhi hang me,” Modi declared righteously.
A brazen Modi apologist Francois Gautier wrote: It is no good being a Hindu in Sonia Gandhi’s India. It is better to be a Quattrocchi, who was exonerated by the CBI. Or a terrorist like Sohrabuddin from whose house in Madhya Pradesh 40 AK-47 rifles, and a number of live hand grenades and bullets were confiscated, who was declared “Wanted” in five states with 40 cases registered against him. Then you stand a chance to be protected by the government of India, while those who have at heart their country’s integrity go to jail.
But it was Modi’s own government that admitted in Supreme Court that Sohrabuddin was killed in a fake encounter. Three IPS officers, including DIG border range D G Vanzara, who was formerly heading the Anti-Terrorist Squad of the Gujarat police, were arrested in the case.
So also in the Bengaluru Malleswaram BJP office blast case of 2013, three of the 14 accused were subsequently released for lack of evidence. A furious Karnataka State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) registered a suo motu case against the Bangalore city police and issued a notice to the Chief Secretary to recommend to the State government an interim compensation of Rs. 2 lakh to each of the three. Of the three thus set free, Pir Mohideen was indeed the first accused. So much for the meticulousness of the police investigation. (Eighteen persons were injured in the incident. )
Even in the Godhra train burning case Maulvi Saeed Umarji, who was named the prime conspirator, was acquitted along with 62 other accused for lack of evidence. (Eleven were sentenced to death and twenty others to a life-term. The case is pending in the Gujarat High Court.
Thus in case after case relating to terror attacks, grandiloquent announcements of investigation breakthrough are made, but the accused are set free by the courts. Almost the same story everywhere..
It might be noted here that under the so-called anti-terrorism legislations like the POTA (since repealed) and the present Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, anyone arrested on suspicion can be held in police custody for 60 days at a stretch. More important, confessions before a police official in such cases are admissible as evidence. Such provisions come in handy for ruthless cops.
But then it should also be noted that it is not as if the innocent are framed purely out of perversity. On the contrary, whenever any terror strike occurs, the police are under enormous pressure. They have to be seen to deliver to save their face, with the result even the vaguest of suspicions can lead to one’s prosecution.
In Tamil Nadu too hostility towards Muslims has gone up since the 1998 Coimbatore blasts, and jehadis keep making their point once in a while, still it is nowhere near Gujarat-like situation. At the ground level there is a semblance of normalcy, and political parties do seek to woo Muslims, who constitute six to seven per cent of the total population. Many Muslim intellectuals have shared the platform with Periyar EVR. In a way the legacy continues, though the police area law unto themselves here too.
At the same time our inquiries reveal the state police are not necessarily in the habit of routinely implicating the innocent in every anti-terror case, but what seems to be happening is that even those who might have had totally innocuous transactions with the main accused in a case are picked up for inquiries. At some stage, for various reasons, those so picked up find themselves charge-sheeted too, and so it is left to the courts to decide on their fate.
(To be concluded)