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Serial bomb blast story
By M H Lakdawala

As prosecution and defence gear up to submit arguments six years after the marathon bomb blast trial reached its fag end, a ray of hope has emerged among the 124 accused, including film star Sanjay Dutt, for an early verdict. On August 9,last month CBI commenced arguments based on the evidence tendered before designated Judge P D Kode. The defence team also appeared set to submit their contentions, according to lawyer Subhash Kanse.

The trial is a grim reminder of serial explosions, which rocked the metropolis on March 12, 1993, killing 257 persons and maiming 713 others besides damaging property worth Rs 30 crores. The blasts were caused at prestigious and important buildings like Mumbai Stock Exchange, Air-India Building, Hotel Sea Rock, Hotel Juhu Centaur, Hotel Airport Centaur and busy commercial areas like Zaveri Bazar, Century Bazar and Katha Bazar.

A record number of 13,000 pages have been recorded as evidence by 684 witnesses examined by CBI. Altogether 38,070 questions were put to the accused to record their statements.

Twenty-seven criminal cases were registered in connection with the blasts in different Police Stations of Bombay city, Thane Distt. and Raigad Distt. of Maharashtra. The Govt. of India entrusted the further investigation and trial of the case to CBI. The case was, thus, taken over by CBI on 19.11.1993.

Out of 124 accused who are facing trial, which commenced on June 30, 1995, thirty-one accused are in custody while the rest, including Sanjay Dutt, are on bail. Of them, Abu Asim Azmi and Amjad Mehr Baksh were discharged by the Supreme Court while co- accused Riaz Khatri jumped bail. Two others, Hamid Dafedar and Harba Hari Khopatkar passed away.

Seven accused -- Salim Kurla, Majeed Khan, Shakil Ahmed, Mohamed Jindran, Hanif Kadawala, Akbar Abu Sama Khan, Mohamed Jabir Abdul Latif-- were killed either by rival gangsters or in police encounters.

A special court was set up in 1994 under the TADA (P) Act to conduct the trial. It was headed by J N Patel who was elevated to the Mumbai high court in 1996. He was replaced by designated judge P D Kode, who is now presiding over the court housed in the high security central prison

The prosecution story is that the blasts had been masterminded by Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon in the aftermath of demolition of Babri Masjid. Blasts mastermind Tiger Memon is suspected to be in Pakistan.

Two of the accused persons, who turned approver, were examined in the beginning of the trial. According to the Police both the approvers disclosed threadbare how the conspiracy was hatched and revealed that some accused were taken to Pakistan via Dubai for arms training. The prosecution also led evidence to show that RDX was used for the first time in India in this case. It was stuffed in cars and scooters in the godowns of Tiger Memon's building at Mahim in central Mumbai.

The Memons escaped to Dubai a day prior to the blasts. They went to Pakistan from Dubai. While Tiger and his brother Ayub stayed there, other family members returned to India via Dubai. They claimed to have surrendered before CBI but the agency alleged that the Memon family was arrested when they landed at Delhi airport from a Dubai flight.

After prolonged arguments, charges were framed against accused persons on 10.4.1995 and examination of witnesses commenced on 30.6.1995. Trial is proceeding on day-to-day basis. So far 683 Prosecution witnesses have been examined. They include eye-witnesses to the planting of vehicle and suit-case bombs, Panchas to the recoveries of arms, ammunitions and RDX explosives, Special Executive Magistrates, who conducted Test Identification Parades, police officers, who recorded confessions of accused persons and investigating officers.

Yakub Memon, younger brother of prime absconding accused Tiger Memon,denied before the bomb blasts trial court that he was involved in any manner in the conspiracy of planning the blasts which rocked the metropolis on March 12, 1993.

Yakub, a chartered accountant by profession, told the designated TADA Judge P D Kode during the course of hearing, that it was false that on February 11, 1993 Tiger called a meeting of Muslim youth at his residence at Al Husseni building at Mahim in north-central Mumbai.

Yakub said it was also false that the Muslim youth had taken an oath during the said meeting at Tiger's residence that they will take revenge for the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992 as the Central Government was a mere spectator and because the minority community had suffered greatly during the December 1992 and January 1993 riots in Mumbai.

The anti-Muslim violence till early 90s, which started with the 1962 Jabalpur riots, went on becoming worse and resulted in the loss of people and property, the 65% of riot victims being Muslims (though their population is 12% or so only, in Mumbai riots the Muslim victims were 80% of the total riot victims) and most of the property destroyed again belonged to this minority community. The worst of these riots took place in the 80s and they peaked in 1990 to 93. During 1990-92 there were 4300 incidents killing 3350 people, scattered all over India, while in 1992-93 the focus was Mumbai, Ayodhya and Surat with number of incidents being 2371 and those loosing their lives were 1030 if not more.

The anti-Muslim violence till the early 90s was riding on the myths around medieval history and the demographic manipulations. Now the major and subtle thrust is to identify Muslims with Pakistan's nefarious designs and the ISI.

The riots of December 1992-January 1993 marked a turning point in the history of this once peaceful archipelago of marshy lands bound together by commercial interests as much as by reclaimed tracts. Never was the chasm between two communities so apparent as during this dark period when Mumbai seemed on the verge of total disintegration.

The Shiv Sena aggressiveness is quite evident from the statement of the Sena Chief - Bal Thackeray addressing an Indian Merchants Chamber gathering on June 13, 1997. ‘Let the fear (of the Shiv Sena) prevail. It is for the people’s own good. I do not wish to hurt anyone's sentiments, but if we had not been around in 1992-1993, Hindus would have all been massacred.''

Were Muslims the aggressors?
Even Shreekant Bapat, Police Commissioner during the riots, admitted that the first incident of the first phase of the riots was a stone thrown on namazis at Kadaria Masjid in Dharavi, by a 'victory' cycle rally taken out by the Shiv Sena on the evening of December 6.

At that time, not a single Muslim in Mumbai, let alone Dharavi, had come out on the streets to protest against the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which had taken place hours earlier.

Even on the following days, what was the extent of Muslim aggression? Police statistics produced before the Commission shows that Muslims lost more lives and property in mob violence, stabbings and arson even in December, when they were supposed to be on the rampage.

To show that the second phase of rioting was also started by the Muslims, the police and the Sena cite three incidents: the killing of three mathadi workers in Dongri on December 26 and January 5; the stabbing of Hindu passers-by in Pydhonie, Dongri and Nagpada all through the first week of January; and burning alive of six Hindus in Jogeshwari on January 7-8.

These are said to have provoked the 'Hindu backlash', or, as Thackeray puts it, the 'saving' of Hindus by Shiv Sainiks. But in many police stations, evidence of serious attacks by Hindus (including the burning alive of Muslims), or violence between the two communities, between December 12 and January 5, has been brought on record. This violence reached a pitch on January 6.

Even Former Defence minister Sharad Pawar who is often said to be soft on the Hindutva forces, while deposing before the Srikrishna Commission in 1997, told the Commission that the Hindutva parties, an insensitive police force and an ignorant and inefficient Chief Minister were to blame for both phases of the riots. The Muslims in both phases were merely victims.

Though he claimed that Pakistan's Inter Sevice Intelligence (ISI) was behind the riots, the then Police Commisisoner Shreekant Bapat. conceded that he had no ‘direct evidence'' for this claim. ‘Just because nobody was arrested and no arms seized, does not mean that the conspiracy did not exist,'' he said. He agreed that none of the riot-accused had pointed to the ISI hand. Yet he could not rule out the possibility that the ISI's hidden hand could have brought the riots to a flashpoint, that the ‘leaderless Muslim mobs'' out on December 6 and 7, 1992, didn't even know they were being ‘pushed by this hand''.

‘One common link between the riots ... and bomb blasts of 12th March 1993 appears to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. ... The serial bomb blasts were a reaction to the totality of events at Ayodhya and Bombay in December 1992 and January 1993.’

The brief given to the Commission regarding the bomb blasts was specific: to examine the circumstances and immediate cause of the bomb blasts, whether any common link existed between the riots and the blasts and whether the two were part of a common design.

Srikrishna commission has concluded that
1. The resentment against the government and the police among a large body of Muslim youth was exploited by Pakistan-aided anti-national elements. They were brainwashed into taking revenge and a conspiracy was hatched and implemented at the instance of Dawood Ibrahim to train Muslims on how to explode bombs near vital installations and in Hindu areas to engineer a fresh round of riots. ``There is no doubt that all the accused, except two or three, are Muslims and there is doubt tat the major role in the conspiracy, at the Indian as well as foreign end, was played by Muslims,’ says the report.
2. The common link between the riots and the blasts was that of cause and effect. There were also three or four common accused in the riots and blasts.
3. The Commission concludes, ‘There is no material placed before it to indicate that the riots and the blasts were part of a common design.’ This situation, adds the report, has been accepted by M N Singh, chief of the investigating team into the blasts.

The other factor is the communalisation of crime. Chhota Rajan is considered a Hindu don, while the others are Muslim dons. (Hindu don is a phrase popularized by the Shiv Sena.) The media has played a distinct role in playing up these images. The Hindu dons are also described as patriots! They, of course, make this claim for themselves. The media too in some ways plays up this assertion.

The Babri Masjid demolition divides the Mumbai underworld along religious lines. In 1993 Chhota Rajan charges Dawood with communalism and leaves him. The war begins. Rajan vows to kill bomb blast guilty. Goes after them. Today, of the 17 murder charges he faces, 12 are of bomb blast conspirators.

The killings of the blast accused first began in 1998 when Salim Kurla, a gangster associated with the Dawood Ibrahim gang was shot dead. In June that year, Mirza Dilshad Beg, a minister in the Nepalese government, was shot dead in Kathmandu. The killing of three other persons in Mumbai followed this.

On April 2 this year, two unidentified persons gunned down Akbar Khan Abu Sama, another accused in the 1993 Mumbai blast case in south Mumbai. Sama was charged with helping Tiger Memon, the prime accused, in carrying out his plans to execute the blasts. He allegedly participated in the operations involving landing of arms and ammunition at the Shekhadi coast in Maharashtra's Raigad district in early 1993.

The matter becomes serious with the fact that Dawood Ibrahim based in Pakistan, is reportedly closely linked to the ISI and is one of the prime accused in serial bomb blasts (Mumbai 1993) case. Further Chhota Rajan has killed many of the accused in the bomb blast case who had obtained bail from the courts. The rivalry between the two gang-lords dates back to the communal riots and bomb blasts of 1992-93.

The remarks by the Shiv Sena can be overlooked as part of its usual tactic of extreme and provocative statements. The media reports too can be ignored since some newspapers will always sensationalize such issues. The real worry is that there have been open insinuations in the press that Chhota Rajan was a collaborator of Indian security agencies. It has been alleged that the Indian agencies were in regular touch with him and patronized him. Official sources have vociferously denied the accusations. The press however also quotes anonymous authoritative sources that admit that such a relationship did exist. They also justify the truck on the ground that the agencies needed persons to act against the ISI. The killing of the bomb blast accused is often cited as an example.

These allegations and admissions should disturb every citizen of India. That the official agencies of a democratic country would like to have any dealings with a ruthless criminal is a shocking realization. Vague slogans of patriotism do not justify such unscrupulous behavior in any way. The age of economic reforms it seems is leading to a privatization of repression. The criminal gangs it seems are now being considered contracted gendarmes of the system who can carry out illegal and illicit actions!

There is an even more sinister aspect to the matter. The bomb blasts have been investigated by the official agencies, charge sheets have been filed, and the cases are in progress. The actions of Chhota Rajan have subverted the judicial process, the due legal procedures, and the rule of law. He has rejected all democratic norms and institutions and abrogated to himself the right to mete out retributive, barbaric, uncivilized punishments. If the security agencies share such a philosophy it would be a horrible thing indeed. It would also raise questions about what security these agencies can provide and to whom?

Police harassment of the Muslim youth is clear in the cases. The arrested boys who happened to be Muslims were subjected to intense humiliation by the police for being Muslims. Among the worst examples of delayed justice, is the serial bomb blasts. The trials involve multiple issues, which ought to have been separated and sequenced to ensure a meaningful trial. Instead the litigation continues at a snail’s pace.

The Bomb blast trial has implicated a large number of very ordinary people; many of them are guilty of nothing more than negligence or innocent. Yet, justice is nowhere in sight, their careers have been ruined and they have been bankrupted by the sheer cost of defending themselves. In terms of human suffering the bomb blast case is far worse then any other trial in India — several wrongly implicated persons are languishing in jail for seven years along with hardened criminals.

Many have suffered total nervous break down. For instance One of the accused Yusuf is suffering from schizophrenia since 1991 and has been undergoing treatment since then. After the serial blasts he had left with his family for Pakistan via Dubai. On his return, he was arrested with relatives at Delhi airport.

The court released him on interim bail in 1998 after the jailor informed that Yusuf could not be treated in prison and had to be taken periodically to government hospital. Since then judge P D Kode extended his bail from time to time.

The ruling BJP's affiliates have been conducting an aggressive propaganda against the Muslims. The attitude of the state administration, which tars whole community in the same brush, will further worsen the problem rather than solving it. Again dealing with the Mumbai 92-93 riots and the bomb blast are a good example about the differential attitude. While the suspects involved in the blasts were and are being tried in the special TADA court and have been put behind the bar, the culprits of the riots as pointed out by the Shrikrishna Commission, are moving with great amount of assertion and confidence about their patriotism. The Shiv Sena-BJP government initially rejected this report. Even current DF Govt. rather then implementing its findings seems to be more interested in making a political capital of it.

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