This is a Guest post by NASARUDHEEN MANNARKKAD
In a democracy, it is beyond argument that court procedures should be accountable and transparent. If the courts start to give its verdicts relying upon the false made up stories of police and the media influenced by its own make-believe ‘public opinion’, that spells disaster for democracy. There is nothing more dangerous than a manipulated and biased court verdict and that can be fatal to the public trust in the judiciary, which is the only claim for an unelected body to be credible before the nation.
The so-called Panayikulam case in Kerala exhibits the harm done to the accused, and to public debate in general, when the judiciary and the press twist and manipulate stories. The mainstream Malayalam media retold it through the whimsical imagination of their respective reporters. And those unreal stories were published without second thought or cross-verification. The Mangalam newspaper even claimed that the police received information about a big explosive materials cache while investigating the case, but offering little evidence. The ‘Panayikulam case’ referred to an event organized by some people on 15th of August 2006, on the occasion of Independence Day, on “The Role of Indian Muslims in the Freedom Struggle”. The venue was Happy Auditorium in Panayikulam town near Aluva, Ernamkulam. They even distributed publicly the pamphlets of the programme well in time. However, this very public meeting became the ” regrouping of SIMI conspiring to launch a subversive plan against nation” when it was recast by the police and the media. Indeed, a meeting in which two policemen were present throughout (who did not object in any way to any of the proceedings or statements) was dubbed a “secret meeting” of anti-national elements by the NIA.
The police version of what followed differs very significantly from what others have offered. Members of the audience say that after the meeting had begun, some policemen from the near-by Binanipuram police station came to the venue and asked the people who were present in the auditorium to go to the police station. They were told that they could return without delay, apparently. However, the police records tell another story. The police claims that a sub-inspector of police who was doing routine patrolling had information about a SIMI camp, and that he heard the speech hiding behind the auditorium. He apparently then arrested all 18 people who were present inside the auditorium. But the accused have repeatedly told many representatives of human rights organisations that the SI reached the police station only after they had been taken to the police station. The case sheet was manipulated and the presence of SI was inserted later in the FIR. This police narrative hints that the organizers were ‘Muslim extremists’ who were allegedly burning the midnight oil to destabilize the nation.
Thirteen people were allowed to leave that day itself after the initial questioning. The police charged a case against 5 youths under UAPA according to the complaint of one Rasheed Maulavi.He had participated in the programme and was one among the accused. His name was also there on the speakers’ list . It was in 2010, when the NIA took up the case, that the Moulavi started singing a different tune. In a jiffy, the accused became the complainer and then the prosecution witness. In 2006, the same Moulavi had stated in an interview given to Madhyamam newspaper that there was nothing anti-national about the programme which was just a local Independence Day gathering.
The programme was conducted under the banner of Islamic Youth Movement, a local organization in Panayikulam. When it happened, the secretary of the Islamic Youth Movement was a PDP supporter. Rasheed Maulavi, however, was the Imam of a Salafi Masjid – which surely means that the audience belonged to different organizations. But the NIA claimed that the programme was a secret SIMI camp. An extremely pliant media played its part beautifully, swallowing the police version, desisting from examining it critically, and even connecting the accused with international terrorist organizations. The price was paid by the accused whose lives have been disrupted since the past ten whole years spent in mental agony and torture.
And finally when the court delivered its judgment, it became one of the ‘rarest of rare’ cases for other reasons. For the first time in Kerala history the court has sentenced the five accused to rigorous imprisonment for 12-14 years under UAPA and IPC. The NIA court said that the 5 accused had entered into a criminal conspiracy for convening the meeting of SIMI for the purposes of indulging for acts of sedition and unlawful activity. The court also made it clear in no uncertain terms that the two accused had to undergo rigorous imprisonment consecutively. Translation: they will be behind jail for 14 years for holding an open meeting and expressing their views.
It is a cliché that the courts should be neutral and bipartisan and should not be influenced by external elements. We have great legal luminaries who say that the judicial system always makes sure that not even a single innocent is punished.
And here we go. In the land of loquacious progressives and liberals some youths are sent to jail with out a whimper under much maligned UAPA and sedition laws, not for making bombs or taking up arms against the state but simply for making speeches.
[Nasarudheen is from Mannarkkad ,Kerala, and is the founder administrator of Right Thinkers Forum]