12 Years After Being Arrested Under False Terrorism Charges, Two Young Kashmiris Return Home
On 16 February, a Delhi court acquitted two of three men accused of involvement in the 2005 Delhi serial blasts, which were the worst terrorist attack to ever hit the capital. The third man was convicted and sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
The 2005 Delhi blasts
On 29 October 2005, days before Diwali, three explosions ripped through the crowded streets of Delhi. The blast left 67 people dead and was the deadliest terrorist attack to ever hit the city. The Pakistan-based terrorist group Islamic Inquilab Mahaz claimed responsibility for the attacks.
- The first blast took place at 5.38 PM in front of the Chhah Tooti Chowk in Paharganj’s Nehru Market.
- 14 minutes later, at 5.52 PM, a bus conductor noticed a bag lying under a seat with 50 passengers. The driver, Kuldeep Singh, picked up the bag but the bomb went off as he was disposing of it. The passengers were unscarred, but Kuldeep suffered severe burns and lost his eyesight.
- The deadliest of the bombs went off at 5.56 PM at Sarojini Nagar, a shopping hotspot. This bomb claimed the lives of 37 people.
There were a total of five accused in the case. Two of them had pleaded guilty to the charges and were convicted by the court in 2014.
The three people (all from Jammu and Kashmir) the Delhi court dealt with last Thursday were
- Tariq Ahmad Dar,
- Mohammed Rafiq Shah and
- Mohammed Hussain Fazili.
In 2005, the Delhi police charged the three with
- collecting arms and
- waging war against the state.
On 16 February, the Delhi court observed that the Delhi Police had “miserably failed” to prove the charges.
Dar was the only one convicted – albeit for different and minor charges. He was sentenced to ten months in prison. The court said, “In the absence of any evidence regarding Dar being involved in the conspiracy behind these blasts, none of the charges framed against him are made out,” before convicting him on charges not initially framed by police. Dar was charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for being part of a terrorist organisation and providing support to such a group.
Shah and Fazili were acquitted. Many pieces of evidence provided by the police turned out to be duds or were rejected by the court.
Some families of the victims were enraged by the acquittal, saying they would appeal the decision. Kuldeep Singh, the bus driver who lost his eyesight from the second bomb blast, told Hindustan Times, “Either the police picked the wrong men or they failed to gather the necessary evidence.”
Others were enraged over the fact that two innocent men were imprisoned for 12 years.
“Punished for a sin I never committed”
“I was punished for a sin I had never committed. Why have I been punished, when I did nothing? All those who made me suffer should be asked why have they done this to me. That will be the real justice,” said Mr. Fazili, as reported by NDTV.
The police personnel who arrested him from his home had told his parents that he would be released in a matter of a few minutes. Mr. Fazili would not meet his parents for over a decade. His parents never visited him when he was in Tihar Jail because they could not afford a trip to Delhi.
When the Kashmir Observer asked him about his incarceration, Fazili asked, “Who will return me my last 12 long years?” Fazili said that on November 21 that year, a police party arrived at his home and searched for him. “I was there and when they saw me they took me to another room and began interrogation. Their questions shocked me. As I couldn’t answer their queries they started beating me. Thereafter they took me to some unknown spot where I was kept for two days. Then I was flown to Delhi.” He would not return for 12 years.
In the judgement copy, it is revealed that Rafiq Shah disclosed his physical and mental abuse by the authorities in his court testimony. Shah said, “I was the regular student with Department of Islamic Studies in Kashmir University where I was pursuing my studies of Master Degree. I was picked by the joint team of Delhi Police Special Cell and Special Task Force of Kashmir Police from my home at midnight. After beating all my family member, I was bundled into the police vehicle and then brought to Delhi where I was tortured brutally, forced to drink urine instead of water, kept naked and forced to suck private parts of body of other co-accused. Rats were poured into my trousers. Police officials were laughing and taking my naked photographs with their mobile phones. To shake my religious sentiments, small pig was brought in and got my whole body touched with it. After that I was locked along with the small pig in a single cell. When I was crying for help, they used to tell that every Kashmiri is a terrorist.”
The judgement copy can be accessed here.
The problem of fake cases
The fact that two innocent citizens were in jail for 12 years of their lives – that they lost 12 prime years of their lives – is truly appalling. It is testimony to the flawed nature of our justice and policing systems.
The religious divide in such cases cannot be ignored. Replying to a question in the Rajya Sabha last year, the government said that the share of Muslims in total convicted and undertrial prisoners at the end of 2014 was 16.38% and 21.05% respectively. Both of these are higher than the share of Muslims in India’s total population (14.23% as per the 2011 census).
Furthermore, reports by the National Crime Records Bureau found that among the 234 Muslim undertrial prisoners in its sample, only 19 had been released on bail. Charges had been framed, the trail started, or the case reached the stage of judgement for 74 others. This means that over 60% of Muslim undertrial prisoners were languishing in jail without trial even starting. Moreover, according to 2014 NCRB data, Muslims have the highest non-convict to convict prisoner ratio in the country and in most states.
Then Law & Justice Minister Sadananda Gowda highlighted this issue in May 2016 when he said, “Cases of arrest of Muslim youths on false terror charges are a matter of concern. We are thinking of bringing in changes. The law commission is working on a report in this matter to bring about reforms in criminal procedure, bail, prosecution lapses, etc. A Supreme Court judge is the chairperson of a panel preparing the report, and there are other legal experts who are helping in preparing this report, and it is being worked upon.”
Police sensitisation in India
There have been many official programmes conducted to sensitize police authorities. The most prominent sensitisation issues have been regarding gender issues and discrimination against Indians from the North-east.
Back in 2013, then Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde raised concerns over the deficiencies in the training and sensitisation of police in dealing with crimes against women. On December 2016, Supreme Court Justice A K Sikri pitched for sensitising police officers at jails towards prisoners. Likewise, in November of the same year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that the Delhi Police is being sensitised to the security needs of people from the northeastern states living in the national capital.
Law enforcement is tasked with the duty of maintaining law and order in the country. When the police arrest and detain citizens despite lack of evidence, it decrease public faith in police personnel. There is a need to sensitise policemen and policewomen. Discrimination against women, Indians from the North-east, disabled people etc. is not something concentrated among the police. However, due to the degree of power and responsibilities borne by police personnel, it becomes more important to sensitise them so that they react calmly and logically.