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Lies masquerading as truth

Nov 28, 2008

Delhi-based human rights organisations claim that police in the name of investigating the serial blasts of September 13 in the national capital of India are only engaging in vilification campaign and harassment of Muslims. OneWorld South Asia correspondent analyses the main contents of their findings.

New Delhi: A house that was like any other, a colony that was like many others, and a district that was like every other existed for years without attracting much attention. Then one day in true Marquezian style – more tragic than comic – ‘the winds of misfortune’ started blowing in their quiet lives, forcing them out of their oblivion to name and fame, something they would have preferred to live without.

In little over less than two months an ordinary house was turned into an ‘epicenter of terror plots’, a colony shaped into a ‘den of terrorists’, and a whole district metamorphosed into a ‘nursery of terrorism’.

Flat number 108 in L-18 Batla House; a colony in southeast Delhi known as Jamia Nagar; and, a backward district in eastern Uttar Pradesh called Azamgarh – have all earned these sobriquets, thanks to our prejudiced and unscrupulous police and intelligence agencies, our largely uncritical and irresponsible media, and our publicity hungry and rabid politicians.

It all began with that infamous ‘encounter’ in which two young Muslim boys were killed – while two others mysteriously slipped out and one arrested – in broad daylight by members of Delhi Police’s Special Cell. It was alleged they were dreaded terrorists and masterminds of Delhi serial blasts of September 13 (To read more, please click here). The two dead boys were incidentally from Azamgarh.

Since then a spate of terror has been unleashed in the name of investigating the crime and bursting the terror network.

In doing so, it does not matter whether the rule of law is becoming a casualty; whether the guidelines and rulings of National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court are flouted with impunity; whether a particular religious community is feeling alienated, ostracised and persecuted; and whether the secular fabric of the country is being torn apart by poisoning the minds of an entire generation with hatred for that community.

Before and after the ‘encounter’

After the September 13 serial blasts in Delhi, the police had started targeting the residents of Jamia Nagar. Between September 14 and 18, many young Muslims from the area were picked up and illegally detained for interrogation for varied length of time. Some of them were even brutally tortured and others were subjected to intimidation, humiliation and harassment, says a report released jointly by Delhi-based human rights organisations People’s Union for Democratic Right (PUDR) and Janhastakshep.

The two organisations were joined by others in Azamgarh. The team found out that a large number of people, mostly Muslims, were being arrested, tortured, harassed, intimidated and interrogated particularly from Delhi’s Jamia Nagar and Azamgarh district in UP by the Delhi Police Special Cell and the Anti Terrorist Squads (ATS) of several states.

The report is critical of the fact that more than two months after the ‘encounter’ no independent enquiry has been instituted to ascertain what actually happened on September 19. There is only a Crime Branch enquiry, not even a CBI one, that has been ordered and the government has categorically rejected the need for a judicial enquiry.

The first arrest after September 19 encounter was of Mohammad Saif from L-18 Batla House. The next was Zeeshan Ahmed on the same evening as he came out of a TV channel office where he spoke about his innocence; followed by Zia ur Rahman, son of Abdur Rahman, caretaker of the building. The others were Saquib Nisar, a third semester MBA student of Sikkim Manipal University and Mohammad Shakeel, final year student of MA (Economics) from Jamia Milia University.

Custodial confessions

The arrested people were not allowed by the police to meet either their family members or their lawyers for many days. It was only on October 3 after Delhi High Court’s intervention that they were finally allowed.

While in custody they were made to make supervised phone calls to their family members in which they typically ‘confessed’ to their crimes and kept assuring them of their well-being and that how well the police were treating them. The police even stage-managed an interview with three of the arrestees for a journalist of India Today, a prominent weekly magazine, in which they have again ‘confessed’ to their crimes.

Harish Dhawan, secretary of PUDR, termed the investigations as “biased, wrongful and inept,” pointing out that by leaking the information to media the police were prejudicing the cases of the accused even though the confessions in custody had no evidentiary value.

Adding that in almost all the cases of detention no arrest memo was signed and the arresting officials were not wearing uniforms or carrying identifications. Even the family members of the arrestees were not informed. All this was in contravention of the Supreme Court guidelines on arrest, he added.

Cases in the court

Five separate cases have been filed in the court by the police. The PUDR also filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in Delhi High Court and demanded an independent judicial enquiry, charging the Special Cell with contempt of court for violating Supreme Court guidelines on arrest.

Another petition filed jointly by anti-communalism organisation called Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (Anhad) and PUDR has questioned the role of the police in leaking custodial confessions to the press citing particularly the case of the story carried in India Today in which the court has served the notices to the police and the magazine.

Discrediting Azamgarh

The place known for its luminaries like Muslim scholar and reformer Shibli Nomani, Hindi poet Ayodhya Singh Hariaudh, scholar and communist Rahul Sankrityayan, Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi and many others, Azamgarh, a backward district in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is getting all the wrong publicity.

Ish Mishra, one of the members of the joint fact-finding team said: “Azamgarh is today being projected in the media as bigoted and ghettoised place of the Muslim community despite the fact that the place had remained almost untouched by communal violence even at the time of Partition and up until the Rath Yatra and later demolition of Babri Masjid.”

It was only recently that the Hindu communal forces had succeeded in creating the schism and “contaminate the atmosphere in the city by attacking the communal peace, the culture of tolerance and in particular its symbol, the Shibli National College,” notes the report.

Of the five arrested in connection of Delhi blasts, three – Saif, Zeeshan and Saquib – are from Azamgarh. In addition the two – Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid – who died in the encounter also hailed from the same district. This has led the Delhi Police Special Cell and the police of other states turn to the area for further leads.

Not just the police raids but also the media attention and incessant beaming of pictures from villages of these accused caused a panic among the Muslim population in the area. The residents protested and tried stopping TV crews asking them to leave. Some even were arrested by the police.

Post Jamia Nagar encounter the report says police raids have been carried out not just in the houses of the arrested people but also in the houses of those who happened to know the accused and the dead. Young boys are especially being targeted.

The team met many of those whose houses were raided. They all claimed that the police had least regard for the procedure like preparing a seizure memo or identifying themselves. The police were at times even communal in their questioning.

Shahana Bhattacharya, a team member, said the fear of impending raids and arrests was so palpable among the people that it was forcing many young boys to disappear to evade being falsely implicated in some case.

“There is a need for a more meticulous adherence to procedures designed to prevent wrongful indictment and a careful appreciation of evidence to prevent lies from masquerading as the truth,” she said.

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