It was rather an unusual type of protest on the streets of Malegaon. But hardly anyone outside the town could even know about it. Protesters donned same kind of hoods which police places on the heads of arrested criminals. They also wore black bands around their arms in a show of protest against official attempts to portray the victims as terrorists. But neither any of those ‘breaking news channels’ nor any of those citizen journos, deemed it necessary to at least report the incident.
The venue for the sit-ins were those very spots which had witnessed bomb blasts on 8 th September – namely Bara Kabristan and Hamidia mosque- where around forty innocent people breathed their last and hundreds of people got injured. (Ref : The Milli Gazette, 1-15 December 2006)
Of course, the unique sit-in was part of the ongoing protest campaign by the townspeople. In fact, the city observed a complete bandh on the 14 th November as part of its protest against the attitude of the police and authorities. It was a day when Chief Minister of Maharashtra Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh, came to visit the town to lay the foundation stone of a hospital. People very well knew that if the hospital would have come up as scheduled, many innocent lives could have been saved on that fateful day.
If the aftermath of the bomb blasts on Shab-e-Barat the town had witnessed many communal harmony rallies, today one notices perceptible change in the ambiance.If earlier the anger of the Muslim community was directed against the unknown terrorists who had conspired to kill innocents, today the communalised police machinery has also become an important target of the people’s ire.
Any neutral observer can see that Malegaon – a predominantly a Muslim populated town – which had once carved out a niche for itself because of its powerloom industry, is today seething with anger. A town and its people which had decisively defeated the gameplan of the fanatics – who had planned that bomb blasts on the day of the Shab-e-Barat would definitely provoke a communal conflagaration – are today finding that they have been cheated by the ruling elite. People are posing a question which is not easy to answer. What happened to the promise of an impartial enquiry into the bomb blasts which saw deaths of around 40 innocents and injuries to hundreds ? People narrate instances where one finds that the partisan police machinery in connivance with a section of the bureaucracy is engaged in making ‘dreaded terrorists’ out of ‘innocents’ and going soft on the communal organisations from the majority Hindu community.
The sit-in on 10 th November had placed its charter of demands in the public domain :
a) the blasts must be investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI), b) human rights organisations must accompany police during enquiries, c) government must desist from putting the blame for blasts on Muslim youths, as this will only lead to deterioration of the situation in the town, d) Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) should be removed from the cases filed against the arrested youths, e) Report of the Patel Commission must be released and its recommendations put into action, and e) a financial package must be announced to develop Malegaon and its powerloom industry.
It need not be repeated that all the demands raised by the minority community with due help from human rights organisations have fallen on deaf ears.As of now, it is for everyone to see that tragedy of Malegaon continues unabated. Leave electronic media, which rather subsists on the immediate, the print media in the rest of the country has also largely forgotten that there was a bomb blast in Malegaon. And the outpouring of emotions for the victims sometime back has given way to stigmatisation of the minority community and extremists elements within the Hindutva formations receiving kid-glove treatment, thanks to the partisan police machinery in Maharashtra.
And as far as the state’s law and order machinery is concerned, it has hurriedly reached a conclusion that members of SIMI, a banned organisation of Muslim students, carried out the blasts with the intention to create religious animosity between Hindus and Muslims. Gone are the days when the needle of suspicion was pointed towards extremist Hindutva organisations like Bajrang Dal by the Prime Minister himself. Gone are the days when enough RDX was recovered from many Hindutva sympathisers from the adjoining areas and the police just decided to gloss over such clues.
One cannot fail to notice the glee on the face of the police supposedly for solving the Malegaon blasts case in such a short time. Claiming that it has ultimately solved the case. (www.rediff.com,November 27, 2006 17:09 IST
Last Updated: November 27, 2006 20:23 IST) a report on one of the websites says :
The police on Monday claimed to have successfully solved the September 8 Malegaon serial blasts case and said that two Pakistani nationals were involved in the explosions carried out allegedly by the banned Students Islamic Movement of India.
..The Anti-Terrorism Squad probing into the case has already arrested eight suspects, including two booked in the July 11 Mumbai serial blasts, in connection of four explosions that rocked the town killing 31 people and injuring more than 200…To a specific query regarding the involvement of Pakistani intelligence agency ISI, Pasricha said: “I have spoken about the country where he received the training. There may have been some help.”..
“Ali (one of the accuesed) had sent 15 kg of RDX but only two kg was used to trigger the explosions. We are on the lookout for the remaining quantity,” Director General of Police P S Pasricha said.
Interestingly if one visits another website of a popular newspaper, it has rather a different take on the whole issue.
MUMBAI, NOVEMBER 27: In a move believed to be aimed at stalling the transfer of the September 8 Malegaon blasts case to the CBI, the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) today claimed it had cracked the case. Interestingly, on October 30, it had made the same claim and at today’s press conference, presided over by DGP Dr P S Pasricha, it had little more to offer by way of detail.
“We have successfully detected the Malegaon serial blasts case, and have arrested eight men, all of them former SIMI members. We are on the lookout for eight others,” said Pasricha. He, however, refused to confirm whether Pakistan, its intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba or any other terrorist outfit was behind the blasts. (CBI in mind, ATS claims it cracked Malegaon blasts (Indian Express : Posted online: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 at 0000 ))
Mr. Pasricha even added that the
‘ATS had an independent witness to the preparation of the bombs used in the blasts…“We have recorded his statement under Section 164 of the CrPC. But we cannot reveal his identity at this stage. There are also several other confessional statements which have been ratified by the court, and there is no question of retractions. We have also used scientific aides such as brain mapping, polygraph and chemical analysis reports from the forensic science laboratory. In addition to this, there is documentary proof like tickets, etc, details of which we cannot reveal now,”(-do-)
Question naturally arises why the Maharashtra police or the Anti Terrorism Squad of the state is worried over the fact that the case would be transferred to CBI if it is exuding so much confidence in its statements.
In fact, the Maharashtra police very well understands that if an outside agency which could be construed as impartial takes up the case, then the one sided role of the Maharashtra police can come under scanner and it will have to do lot of explaining.From day one, there have been allegations that the police has not remained even handed while dealing with the case. Apart from providing lax security at the time of the Shab-e-Barat celebrations, it is also alleged that it did not follow some vital clues. Human rights activists who had the opportunity to interact with the local senior police officials have also discovered how biased they have been towards the minority community.
And an added factor is the biased approach of the police vis-a-vis the Muslim community. As a recap it may be told that, everybody is aware of the way in which it targetted the whole Muslim community in the immediate aftermath of the recent blasts in local trains in B’bay. (July 2006) People also know the dilly-dallying tactics adopted by it in the the Nanded bomb blasts case involving RSS/Bajrang Dal activists which saw deaths of its two activists. ( April 2006) The partisan role played by the same police in the 1992-93 post Babri Mosque demolition riots has even been well documented by the Srikrishna Commission.
Looking at the nature of crime, where fanatics planted bombs in crowded areas in the city to see to it that people are killed in large numbers and communal flare-ups ensues, it was clear that meticulous planning had gone into it. Question naturally arose, who could have benefited from growing communal divide? A general answer could be a fanatic group which believes and propagates a religion-based ideology.
Forget the radical media, even a conservative newspaper like Times of India, instead of unleashing its usual tirade against the ‘omnipresent Jihadi terrorists’, carefully captioned its writeup ‘Bajrang Dal or Lashkar’ (9 th September, Updated at 12.311 jrs. IST) while discussing the blasts in Malegaon. In the particular write-up it specifically mentioned the modus operandi adopted by the Bajrang Dal in blasts at Parbhani’s Mohammadi Masjid and mosques at Purna and Jalna earlier this year. Of course it did not rule out the possibity of the involvement of Lashkar in this particular case.
The first official confirmation of sorts that the Sangh Parivar organizations could have a role in the blast came from the Prime Minister himself. Emphasising the need to investigate the functioning of the Hindu Rightwing formations he clearly stated that he could not confirm or rule out the possibility of the involvement of Bajrang Dal in the bloody act at Malegaon. He made this calibrated statement en route to Havana, while going for the NAM summit.
“ Bajrang Dal continues to be under the scanner. “There is no reason to rule them out. We still haven’t found anything to prove that Bajrang Dal is not involved,” a senior officer said. The Hindu fringe group is under investigation in Malegaon because of the role of its activists in various bomb blasts. “ (PM doesn’t rule out Bajrang role, Josy Joseph, Wednesday, September 13, 2006 00:50 IST, DNA India)
It was at this juncture that, when even the Prime Minister himself had clearly stated that he could not confirm or rule out the possibility of the involvement of Hindutva extremist formations in the bloody act at Malegaon, a concerted campaign was taken up for spreading unsubstantiated rumours. Quoting unnamed sources the police engaged in investigating the blasts were quick to rule out the possibility that the bombs might have been the handiwork of Bajrang Dal, which has been active in the Marathwada region.
A sample of the news which was carried by a leading newspaper showed how slowly and silently a process was unleashed to exonerate in the Hindutva formations and blaming the ‘Jehadi Terrorists’ for this inhuman act.
‘LeT Chief Raheel Planned Blasts with Aides: Police’ – “According to police, Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) commander Raheel Abdul Sheikh (also the alleged mastermind of the 11/7 blasts) could have taken the help of associates Abdul Latif Khan and Junaid Hussein to plan the Malegaon blasts. The duo are said to be members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Khan and Hussein, say officers, are absconding since May and may have ‘taken instructions’ from Raheel to execute the blasts. Raheel, said a senior officer, stayed in Malegaon for a few weeks before fleeing to Bangladesh in May…”.( Hindustan Times)
Stigmatising of Muslim groups and formations had already started despite the fact that “…[I]slamic militant groups in India from the days insurgency began in Kashmir in the 1990s have not attacked mosques or shops where religious books are sold’’ ( Indian Express, 18 th September 2006)
The speech by Mr. S. M. Mushrif, a retired IPS officer, in the a public meeting organised at the KC College Mumbai on October 10 to discuss “Malegaon Blasts: Who Is to be Blame ?” explains how this could have been done. (October 13, 2006, Malegaon Bomb Blasts: Who Is to Blame?,PRESS RELEASE, http://www.sabrang.com) He shared that the “..[I]B was one of the most powerful agencies that fed disinformation to the executive and according to him was also victim of deep-seated bias in recent years. The role of the IB, he said, must be to provide specific intelligence on events and not be a vehicle of general rumour-mongering against sections of the people. Instead he stated, the IB was often the source of spreading unsubstantiated rumours that led to these reports then being quoted in the media. The media too must not be an instrument of the police or the government disinformation but work to investigate and provide different perspectives and substantiated theories.”
People seating in the media sympathetic to the Hindutva cause were also cooking vacuous arguments to rationalise ‘clean chit’ to the Hindutva brigade. One of the logic used was the crudeness of bombs used by the Hindutva groups earlier and the technical expertise supposedly needed to make/use a RDX. It did not matter to them that English weekly magazine “Outlook’ did a cover story on the same theme making it clear how easy it is to get RDX. The famous lyricist Javed Akhtar in a meeting held in Bombay under the auspices of CJP rightly asked with indignation ‘Does RDX have a special stamp establishing its link to Muslims?’
The police version of the Malegaon bomb blast, tells us that ‘bombs used in the explosion were assembled at the garage of one Shabbir Ahmad Batterywalla who was the real kingpin.’ It need be noted that this said person was languishing in police custody since August 2 itself under the infamous ‘Unlawful Activites Prevention Act’ for some other offence, more than a month before the blasts. Two other accused also had also been languishing in jail in connection with the bomb hoax in Malegaon a few days later after the tragic incident. As of now eight accused have been apprehended under the infamous provisions of MCOCA and the police plans to arrest few more in the next few days.
The state administration also did not fail to show its anti-Muslim bias even in times of tragedy. While shading crocodile tears over their plight, it saw to it that victims in Malegaon blast, majority of whom were Muslims, receive less compensation (1/5 th) as compared to victims of Mumbai blast, majority of whom were Hindus. (Iqbal A. Ansari , The Milli Gazette online, 14 th Sept 2006)
The institutional discrimination against the Muslims was for everyone to see. Whereas the police had maintained high vigilance in patrolling the town during the Ganpati festival which ended on the 6 th September, but it failed to provide similar security on Shab-e-baraat, Friday, 8th September. On this tragic day there were no police patrolling or security measures in place.
Mubasshir Ahmed, a freelance journalist from Malegaon explains an important aspect of the lapse in the security of ordinary citizens which has largely gone unnoticed. ( Malegaon’s Date with Terror: 9/8, 06 November, 2006, http://www.countercurrents.org) :
”The security at the Muslim cemetery was specifically discussed in the local Peace Committee meeting just before Shab-e-Barat. So grave was the concern that the committee members in fact discussed whether the policemen should be posted in plain clothes or in khaki inside the premises of the cemetery. A proposal to restrict the influx of beggars was also discussed—they should be restricted till the Sulaimani Masjid which is located 250 metres away from the blast site. There was no implementation on these proposals.”
The post-blast investigations also proved to be far from impartial.After the blast apart from the extremist Muslim organisations the role and activities of the organisations associated with the RSS and other formations of the Hindutva brigade also came under scanner. The role of its activists in various bomb blasts cases earlier had already become a matter of concern. It was at this juncture that, when even the Prime Minister himself had clearly stated that he could not confirm or rule out the possibility of the involvement of Bajrang Dal in the bloody act at Malegaon, a concerted campaign was taken up for spreading unsubstantiated rumours. Quoting unnamed sources the police engaged in investigating the blasts were quick to rule out the possibility that the bombs might have been the handiwork of Bajrang Dal, which has been active in the Marathwada region.
A fact finding team consisting of Justice (retired) Hosbet Suresh, Prof. Shekhar Sonalkar, Jatin Desai, Suresh Khairnar and Nandini Chavan visited Malegaon on October 1-2, 2006 and met cross section of the people including top police officials. The said team was sent to Malegaon at the behest of Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society (CSSS) and Vikas Adhyan Kendra (VAK) to find out the details. Its enquiry report ‘Concerned Citizen’s Inquiry Report of Malegaon Bomb-blasts’ concludes with the obserevation
.The police appears quite sluggish, in its investigation as compared to its action role after Bombay bomb blast. After our discussion with police officer Shri Rajvardhan it appears that the police is convinced that Bomb blast was carried out by Muslims (with the involvement of SIMI). The police is not taking seriously the allegations by the Muslim leaders of Malegaon that some Hindu organizations could have been involved. Mr. Rajvardhan, said that more than 300 Hindus were interrogated but it is being done rather secretively, if it’s at all being done. He fears that if he actively pursues Hindu organizations in this respect there will be backlash by Hindus and Communal Harmony, which the police is trying hard to maintain, will be disturbed and again Muslims will suffer. We did not have hard evidence to interrogate Militant Hindu organizations. But when it comes to Muslims, it seems police has no such fear and they are detaining some Muslims for interrogation, specially those who have SIMI past. But those detained so far are poor Muslim powerloom workers. Muslim leaders alleged that why police is not arresting main brain behind it, why is it arresting poor unknown power loom workers. The police on the other hand says that how can we reach the main brain without interrogating those through whom this work was done.
In one of his perceptive writeups ‘MALEGAON BLASTS- PARTISAN APPROACH AND BIASED POLICE leading secular activist Asghar Ali Engineer tells us :
“..[I]n case of Malegaon it appeared, as the police is hardly interested in catching the culprits. Most of the human rights activists and Muslim leaders from Malegaon felt that the bombs could have been planted by some extremist Hindu organisations like the Bajrang Dal.
The Malegaon Muslim leaders maintain that in Nanded in the month of April 2006, before Malegaon blasts, there was explosion in the house of a RSS activist Laxman Rajkondwar in which two persons were killed, one of whom was Laxman Rajkondwar’s son Naresh Rajkondwar. Also, in Ahmednagar, some bomb shells and 195 Kgm. RDX was caught from one Shankar Shelke’s shop on 16th September. The shop owner committed suicide next day. Then more than 300 Kgms. Of ammonium nitrate, timers and fusers were caught from the house of a Sarpanch of a village few kms from Aurangabad.
Many activists and Muslim leaders urged upon the government and police authorities in Maharashtra to investigate the connection between Malegaon explosions and these incidents but the police and the ATS authorities turned deaf ear. The ATS and district police had prejudged the whole issue and was connecting these blasts to Mumbai train blasts and were looking for ISI connection.
There was no headway until recently when the police started arresting some labourers from Malegaon and then they arrested two Unani doctors alleging they have Pakistani connection. There is no doubt police is highly biased in investigating Malegaon bomb blasts and it has as if inbuilt bias against Muslims in investigation.”
Mr Engineer further adds :
“Malegaon Muslim leaders also say that though so much RDX, ammonium nitrate and fusers, timers etc. were caught from some Hindu shops and houses, police is not prepared to look into this aspect and interrogate these persons in connection with Malegaon blasts. I met the S.P. Rural of Nashik district who is in charge of bomb blast investigation in Malegaon and had detailed discussion with him. It was quite clear that he also had same approach that it is work of some Muslims and there is no possibility of any Hindu being involved.
His logic was that Malegaon city is a Muslim majority area and no Hindu will dare do it in Muslim majority area. It was strange logic indeed. It is just Malegaon that is Muslim majority area, not even district. Along with rural areas it is Hindus who are in majority and then what about the district, state and country? He also argued that if a Hindu had done it he would have tried to inflict maximum loss of life and would have planted bomb at night when many more people gather.
But the time bombs went off on 8th September (1-30 P.M.) was also a peak time as thousands of Muslims go for prayer on Friday specially on Shab-e-Barat and if loud speakers had not stopped for few minutes, thousands of Muslims would have come out of the mosque and damage would have been much greater. There was no explanation for this. The Muslim leaders also told us that bombs were kept on two cycles, which were bought from a shop in Malegaon and buyers’ sketches were prepared by the police.
However, Muslim leaders say, police has made no efforts so far to arrest those two persons whose sketches were prepared and instead arrested Nurul Huda and others. What happened to those two persons who bought cycles? Who were they? Can the police jump to the final conclusion as to who the culprits are without first tracing those whose sketches were prepared? Police has no answer.
The Malegaon Muslims are very perturbed that why police is not interrogating extremist Hindus and why is it after some Muslims from Malegaon? Has the police completely written off the possibility of some extremist Hindus being involved? Mr.Rajwardhan, S.P. Police told us that he has interrogated some Hindus but he is not prepared to disclose their names? Why? When the police interrogates Muslims their names are publicised through the media. Nurul Huda was detained and his name was publicised in the media. But so far no Hindu who was interrogated or detained has come out in the media. Why keep these names under wrap?
We feel that no Muslim, much less from Malegaon itself, would keep bombs in a mosque that too on Friday and a holy festival. When I asked Shri Rajwardhan why should a Muslim keep bombs to kill Muslims on such a day of festivity, his reply was that they intended to cause Hindu-Muslim riot. Again if Hindu-Muslim riot takes place, it is Muslims who will heavily suffer as the past riots in Malegaon clearly show. Why then Muslims from Malegaon itself should do something to cause Hindu-Muslim riots? Perhaps he was suggesting that ISI of Pakistan was interested in inciting Hindu-Muslim riots.”
In her writeup Jyoti Punwani, political commentator similarly raises questions about the one sided approach of the police .(The Times of India 22 November 2006, VICTIMS OF TERROR)
“..After the Malegaon arrests, astute Muslims are wondering whether the Indian government is trying the US tactic of pitting Muslim sects against one another. The Ahle-Hadees obey the Qur’an strictly; their women wear the much-maligned naqab.
Tearing it off, throwing it on the faces of male relatives who are the accused, trampling it under foot, and threatening that this would happen to all the women in the family what could be the consequences of such action by the police on the victims and the community?
A substantial number of SIMI and Ahle-Hadees followers are educated. At least five of those arrested, and many of those “picked up” (for questioning, often for days, with no record of their detention), are professio-nals.
First-timers at police stations, they initially felt incredulous and indignant, and finally helpless and bitter at the way they, their parents and their religion have been humiliated, for no ‘crime’ other than being related to a SIMI member, or being active members of a mainstream Muslim sect.
Have such tactics been used to investigate another blast in April, where two Bajrang Dal boys died while making bombs inside an RSS activist’s house in Nanded? How widespread were the links of that conspiracy, given that fake beards and moustaches were found at the site? The ATS has been uncharacteristically discreet here.
If having once been a member of SIMI makes you a terror suspect, what does that make members of the Bajrang Dal, which openly instigates violence against minority Indians? What is certainly suspect is the July 11 investigation.”
A newsitem appeared in a prominent Bombay daily in the second week of October. Captioned ‘Malegaon Muslim body gets threatening letter’ it informed
“A prominent Muslim organization of Malegaon, which was rocked by multiple blasts killing 31 persons more than a month ago, has received a threatening letter, police said here.The letter in Hindi, sent by ‘Sangh Parivar and Bhavadiya Bramhan Sangh’, has been addressed to Jamaitul Ulema and was posted from nearby Vajirkhede village, three km from Malegaon in Nasik district, they said.Police, however, did not reveal the content of the letter. A case was registered against unidentified persons on Tuesday night after the letter was handed over to police by the organisation which received it, police said. Police is investigating the origin of the letter.( PTI Wednesday, October 11, 2006 22:07 IST)
It is incomprehensible why till date secrecy has been maintained about the contents of the letter.
A cursory glance at the whole case makes it clear that contrary to the claims of the police there are still many unanswered questions.
Ofcourse as far as leaving vital clues is concerned none matches the allegations that a dead body with fake beard was unearthed at the blast site. It would be opportune to quote Radhika Koppikar of the ‘Outlook’ (13 September 2006, Web Only) at this juncture:
“That the investigators should so blatantly rule out involvement of any Hindutva outfit is cause for concern. …. the fact remains that the cops are not chasing some clues. Take the case of “fake beard” as it has come to be known here. A tailor Aqeel Ahmed Ansari who works near the Bada Kabristan told cops and bystanders that he had picked up a body from near one of the bicycles and handed it over to volunteers in the ambulance, that this body did not have the lower part of the torso and it’s beard had come off in the ambulance. The suggestion being that it was a fake beard and therefore the body of a perpetrator. Coincidentally, the two hospitals that conducted post-mortems said that they had together handled 30 bodies and none was without the lower half.“
People who are familiar with the recent communal situation in Maharahstra very well know the significance of a ‘fake beard’. It was in Nanded only, where the police had discovered fake beards as well as dresses and caps normally worn by Muslims, in a raid on a deceased Bajrang Dal-RSS activists house in the aftermath of the bomb blast in April.
We are also not yet clear about the whereabout of the two people who purchased the two cycles in Malegaon which were used in the bomb blast. In the initial stages of the investigation police had released sketches of the two persons who were from some Hindi speaking area. Even a layperson may tell that they would be able to shed more light on the conspiracy which went into making it.
The conspiracy of silence maintained by the police over the recovery of bomb shells and 195 kgm. RDX from some Shankar Shelke’s shop on 16 th September and the strange facts around this affair are baffling. This man who’s godown had stocked this was found dead the next day and an employee of his was absconding. Similarly the recovery of more than 300 Kgms. Of ammonium nitrate, timers and fusers from the house of a Sarpanch of a village few kms from Aurangabad has also also gone unnoticed. Even a layperson can vouch that the one-sided attitude of the police and administration itself was proof that the truth would be difficult to arrive at.
Definitely there is need to look afresh at the conspiracy where blood of innocents was once again shed. Definitely there is need that the whole investigation is handed over to some central agency like CBI so that we are able to reach the kernel of truth.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has of late been talking about the need to rectify the injustice which the polity has done towards the minority community. Perhaps ordering a fresh probe into the Malegaon bomb blast could be a starting point in that direction.