Guest post by IMRAN KHAN
More and more concerns are being expressed by human rights activists in India today on the question of fabricated and false charges on innocent people. When Dr. Binayak Sen spent his time in jail on such charges, activist groups all over the country and abroad came out and protested. For the first time in the history of human rights movement in India, around two dozen Nobel Prize Winners came out to defend him. It should also be noted that there were even protests against such fabrication in front of Indian embassies in different parts of the world.
However, with the arrest of Binayak Sen, the contemporary history of `fabricating false cases’ by the Indian state took a new turn. The arrest took place while Dr. Sen was a national leader of India’s pioneering human rights organization, People’s Union for Civil liberties (PUCL). The activists felt that the message was loud and clear: That even human rights defenders can be imprisoned for no reason under repressive laws of the post-independent India.
Dr. Sen was released due to public pressure. But thousands are still languishing behind bars, waiting for justice. The nameless adivasis who were arrested like Sen from different parts of Chhattisgarh, speak of an unknown territory even to the best of our human rights activists. And new messages are given. Even journalists can be grilled. Thus, K.K. Shahina, Azmi, Seema Azad, Advocate Naushad Kasimji and others have become victims of attacks on freedom of expression. Fabricating false cases has become a norm today rather than an exception, according to human rights groups. Minorities, dalits, adivasis, people’s movements and self determination movements become an easy prey to false charges.Recent events illustrate some of the above concerns of the activists. Hundreds of people took out a protest March in Darbhanga village in Bihar recently, protesting the detention of local youth for alleged involvement in the Bangalore Chinnaswamy stadium blasts. Karnataka police arrested Kafil Akthar (26), earlier in the month on what Muslims living in the area see as unconvincing evidence, sparking protests even by local politicians. Now the Karnataka police has also named Fasih Mehmood, a young engineer from Darbhanga who works in Saudi Arabia, apparently based on statements made by Akthar in police custody.
Mehmood’s wife Nikhat Parveen, says Mehmood has been arrested by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on May 14 and has moved a habeas corpus petition before the Supreme Court. The Home Minister P Chidambaram in a press statement denied that Indian Security agencies have arrested Mehmood and said that the Karnataka and Delhi police will approach Interpol to issue a red notice against the missing Mehmood.
It is not merely the Muslims of Darbhanga who are up in arms against what they believe is a witch-hunt. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar too had difficulty controlling his rage when the team of Karnataka police arrested Kafil Akhtar, who is a teacher of Urdu at Al Azhar School Darbhanga, citing involvement in the Chinnaswamy stadium blasts. The police team from Bangalore not only violated jurisdictional authority by keeping the Bihar police in the dark about the arrest; they hauled Akhtar off to the neighbouring state of Jharkhand and remanded him in a court in Ranchi. Nitish’s ire is natural given that he has come to power in Bihar by turning the Muslim votes away from the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and has to be sensitive to the increasing sense of victimization among the minority community. But his unease about the arrest could go beyond the dubious manner in which it was executed.
Ever since 17th April 2010, when two bombs exploded in front of Chinnaswamy stadium during an IPL clash between Royal challengers Bangalore and Mumbai, the Bangalore police has done more flip-flops on who was responsible for the attack than a circus acrobat. Everyone from the Pakistan-based LeT to PDP leader Abdul Nasser Madani to the betting mafia in Mumbai, has been assigned the villain role in the Bangalore police’s ever shifting narrative.
On that day, an hour before the IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians, two light intensity explosions were heard going off at the packed MA Chinnaswamy stadium. Initially, the police thought that a nearby transformer had blown up. But as details emerged that 15 people have been injured including five security personnel, it was finally confirmed that two light explosions had occurred at the venue. The news created panic and sent the thundering crowd at the Chinnaswamy Stadium into deafening silence. The crowd which had gathered to watch the charged IPL match between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians till then had not realised that there were five more bombs planted around the premise of the stadium which failed to explode that day.
The then city police commissioner Shankar Bidari who reached the venue a few minutes after the explosions accused Indian Mujahideen for the blasts. Contradicting him, DIG and IGP of the state Ajai Kumar Singh claimed that it was the handiwork of Pakistan- based terror outfit Lashkar E Toiba. Contradicting both of them, the then (Late) home minister VS Acharya had said that the betting mafia was behind the blast as they wanted to shift the venue from Bangalore to Mumbai. Talking to reporters Acharya had then said, “Underworld normally has links with betting lobby. Some elements wanted to scare away people and shift the two IPL semi-finals from the city to Mumbai”. The match however was later allowed to continue. ” As suspension of the match would have triggered panic and even stampede while evacuating the 30,000 spectators”, Acharya had said. But eventually, the main semi-final matches scheduled in Bangalore were shifted to Mumbai.
Interestingly during the same time, IPL had come under the scanner of the union government. On April 22 Union Sports and Youth Affairs minister MS Gill had demanded that Board of Cricket Control of India (BCCI) should be brought under the sports ministry and held accountable. The tax exemptions granted to one of the richest sports body in the world prompted Jayanthi Natrajan (the current union environment and forests) minister to call it a classic case of “crony capitalism and worst corporate governance” in the Parliament. During the question hour, several members of parliament had questioned how the union government was handing out tax sops to a board which lacked accountability, transparency and responsibility.
The competing theories as to who was really behind the MA Chinnaswamy stadium blasts case was settled; On August 24 home minister (late) VS Acharya contradicting his earlier statement announced that jailed People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader and Muslim cleric Abdul Nasir Maudany has confessed his involvement in the stadium blasts case during his interrogation. Maudany who was acquitted after nine and half years as an under trail for his alleged role in the Coimbatore blasts case, was again arrested on 17th August 2010 by the Karnataka police for his alleged role in the 2008 serial bomb blasts case which rocked the Bangalore city. Handicapped with only one foot, Maudany has several health problems. Three months back, the former Kerala Chief Minister demanded proper medical care to him. But the recent reports indicate that Maudany is turning blind due to lack of proper treatment for his sugar levels in blood.
Since then, according to the official claims of the police, six persons have been arrested from Bihar in connection with the stadium blasts case; giving Bihar the distinction of the next terror hub of India after Azamgarh. In a press handout issued to the media on 8th May this year, the police claims Mohd Qateel Siddique (31years), Afthab Alam (24years), Muhammed Tarique Anjum Hassan (31 years), Gayoor Ahmad Jamali bin Narsulla Jamad Jamali (21years), Gohar Aziz Komini bin Muhammad Luqman Komini (31years) and Kamal Hassan (24years) all part of the Indian Mujahideen cell headed by Bhatkal brothers (Yasin, Riyaz and Iqbal) were all part of a sinister plan to carry out subversive activities all over India (including the Chinnaswamy stadium blasts) from Delhi and Darbhanga.
The Karnataka police claim (press handout of 8th May) that, the arrest was made in Bihar (at 1.30 pm on 6th May-2012) and that the accused were produced in Ranchi district court, Jharkhand to secure police custody. (They claim that, Akhtar was inciting Muslim youths for Jihad and, was an accomplice of the larger plan of the IM to plant bombs in several prominent places in India).
Kafeel’s brother Aqeel Akhtar (39) who has lodged a complaint with the local police told this reporter that his brother was arrested at 6 in the morning, while he was sleeping. Around 12 people forcefully barged into our house and arrested Kafeel when he was sleeping. When his wife protested and asked them why they were arresting him, they didn’t say anything. My brother has never been out of Darbhanga, and there is no record of his involvement in any illegal activity. Karnataka police has made a mistake in arresting him’, says Aqeel.
While Bihar’s Mohammed Kafeel Akhtar’s case has received media attention due to the statement of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, the case of Syed Abdul Rehman a resident of Chamrajpet, Bangalore arrested during the same time has escaped attention.
Karnataka police who arrested Syed Abdul Rehman (24years) on 7thMay, claim that, Rehman, a petty thief who was arrested in an attempt to murder case in 2010 came in contact with the Pakistan based Al badr group. During his time in Bangalore’s high security Parappana Agrahara prison he was given jihadi motivational training by Pakistan national Fahad. He was given jihadi material and videos inside the high security central prison, and was later introduced to Pakistan based Lashkar E Toiba handlers.
Rehman received bail five months ago and was in constant touch with Pak based LET handlers, police say. Money was supplied to him to incite Muslim youth to wage war against India, and Rehman was planning even to break Fahd out of prison and fly him out of the country claims the police.
” We agree that Rehman was a petty thief, and in fact when the juvenile justice act came into force in 2000, he was one of the first people to get relief from it. But to say that he was an LET handler and was planning to carry out subversive activities is little far fetched” says his lawyer Deepak.
When questioned why he had avoided attending the court when out on bail, leading to summons being issued against him, his mother Noor Jan (54) said, “he was afraid that he would be arrested again. He was all the while with us hiding in our relative’s home. But as the police say he wasn’t planning to go to Pakistan”.
Rehman is the youngest of a 10 member joint family. His father 76 year old Syed Ibrahim, a mutawali (caretaker) of Tippu masjid for the past 50 years lost his left leg seven years ago due to an accident in Saudi Arabia. In a heavy voice, he said, `My son was arrested 15 days ago when he was coming from his afternoon prayers. The police however show that he was arrested just three days ago. They also weaved lies saying that, a huge cache of arms was recovered from our home”.
A red faced Nitish has drafted a letter protesting the manner of arrest to Karnataka Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda accused the Karnataka police of not trusting and informing the Bihar police prior to the arrest (Not even the SP of the area was aware of it). He said, “The Karnataka police has brazenly violated an established law about giving prior information to the local police about arrest of a person from its jurisdiction.” The issue of the arrest has turned into a full blown political controversy in Bihar with opposition parties taking a shot at the government in the assembly. Joint Commissioner of Crime (EAST) B Dayanand who oversaw the arrest however denied that there was any violation on the part of Karnataka police.
At the outset, it may be difficult for a common man to judge who is innocent and who is guilty. But suspicions are being placed on the way most of these arrests take place.
The ultimate question is: ‘who wins and who loses?’
The author is a senior journalist based in Bangalore