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TADA, a ghost best forgotten
By S Ubaidur Rahman

Report card of the magic law

Total arrests under TADA :

77000

total people tried under TADA :

8000

People convicted:

725

Percentage of people convicted under TADA:

0.81 %

People still believed to be in jails under TADA:

3000


Six years after it lapsed TADA still causes shiver under the spines of those who suffered under this draconian act. Thousands are still languishing under this act in numerous jails across the country. Most of them without appearing before the court even once.

Their pathetic stories will probably not be able to soften our hearts, who fail to sympathize with heart rending shrieks of their waiting wives whose suffering along with their children will leave the whole world crying.
The stories of those who suffered under TADA can never be erased from the collective memory of the nation. It was the undoing of the very nature of our democratic set up where every law was put on back burner in targeting the innocent civilians who were even denied the very basic right of seeking legal assistance. Forsaken by life and untouched by death, their life is wretched. Their hopes are crushed by arrogance of our lawmakers and antipathy of our executive, who in their smugness forget to visualize the pathetic condition of the godforsaken sufferers.

TADA was grossly misused and abused by the authorities as well as security agencies around the country. It was a law that could waive of any iota of responsibility and reason from the closed minds of the men in Khaki. It was grossly misused and abused. Examples are aplenty to be seen by anyone. A 68-year old widow from Baroda who dared to complain against police harassment is charged under TADA. A fifteen year-old disabled boy is charged under TADA. From Udaigiri in Assam, a 12-year old boy is detained as terrorist and charged under TADA and an Adivasi in Bastar district is forced to trek tens of miles to reach a court where he appears for every hearing before a designated court dealing with TADA cases.

If any further example of misuse of TADA were needed, it is available in the national Human Rights Commission statistics. According a NHRC report, Gujarat with no militant activity at all once accounted for as many as 19000 of a total of 65000 TADA cases alone. In other states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Kashmir and Andhra Pradesh, tens of thousands of people were lying without even once appearing before the court of law.

A high level inquiry committee appointed by Maharashtra government to review TADA cases observed that out of 20 cases involving 150 accused reviewed by it so far, the act was wrongly applied in at least 16 cases. Rajesh Pilot, the then internal security minister himself presented figures that out of 67000 odd persons booked under TADA between 1985 and 1994, 53000 were bailed out and 8000 people were tried and only 725 people were convicted. In Delhi, a review panel for TADA detenus found that three in every four cases of arrest under TADA was unnecessary. Hence the Delhi government ordered its director of prosecution to withdraw all TADA charges in 145 of the 200 TADA cases. Similarly a study conducted by PUDR showed that of the 53000 TADA cases all over the country only one percent has been convicted by the court.

Six months after Mumbai bomb blasts the union home ministry revealed the figure of total number of detentions under TADA was 52000. The conviction rate of those tried by the designated courts under it was merely 0.81 per cent ever since the law was enacted in 1985. The sweeping powers the act gave to the police was evident from a statement by Gujarat chief minister C D Patel. The state chief minister whose government is accused of having used the Act selectively unwittingly revealed on 24 August 1994 that, when the additional chief secretary (home) takes the decision on applying TADA, the only document he has before him for consideration is the FIR by the police. That makes it more than clear that the government acts on bare words of police unquestioningly. It was the only cause that Late Rajesh Pilot himself admitted that because of sweeping provisions, rampant misuse and low conviction rate, TADA was serving no purpose. He added, there are enough laws in the country to punish terrorists. Pilot admitted that one serious aspect of the misuse of TADA was the fact that in states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, 80 percent of TADA detenus belonged to minority communities( read Muslims).

Minorities particularly Muslims have been the main target of the selective use or abuse of TADA freely. TADA acquired a high degree of notoriety due to its rampant misuse by the authorities in early 90s after the Babri Masjid demolition and subsequent riots around the country. This infamous act was selectively put to use against a large number of Muslims. The late minister of internal security in Narasimha Rao government at the centre went on record to admit that the Muslim community had suffered disproportionately from the police arbitrariness under TADA. The killers who rampaged through the burning streets of India’s business capital Bombay in late 1992 and early 1993 targetting innocent people from the community for their fury were still at large. But scores of innocent Muslims had been picked up and charged for complicity in the riots and reactionary serial bombings of March 1993, in highly indiscriminate application of the Act. It is now a common knowledge that people from the community with no trace of any relations with the Mumbai bomb blasts were arrested by police and charged under TADA. It was also applied against a large number of Muslims even in the wake of riots that followed and caused unaccountable damage to the community in Maharashtra. Though Muslims make only ten percent of the population in Maharashtra and they were the major sufferers in riots in Mumbai, more Muslims were arrested under TADA than the people of the majority community. In 1993 only 229 Hindus were arrested under TADA compared to 248 Muslims. The official figures pertain only to recorded arrests. They leave out the large number of people who were reported to have been detained in Mumbai at the criminal investigation department office and at Worli police stations during the blast investigations.

An Amnesty International report said after its delegation visited Mumbai that ‘particularly disturbing were the allegations that the police use ‘hostages’ to force the surrender of suspects in the wake of bombing which took place on March 12 1993...the police resorted to taking away...family members of suspects they could not find.’ A frustrated Abdur Rahman Antulay, a former Maharashtra chief minister and senior Congress leader once complained to the NHRC detailing the specific instances of an entire Muslim family that was falsely accused of complicity in the Bombay blasts detained and tortured. He asked the NHRC of an impartial inquiry into the matter and said that in the interest of justice it was imperative at the minimum that Pawar, the then chief minister should resign. CK Jaffer Sharif another senior Congress leader and the then Railway Minister pressed for the same issue in a session of the AICC and said,’ that the minorities in Gujarat and Maharashtra and several other parts of country continue to suffer even after the recent holocausts in which they lost hundreds of lives’. He added that, ’a large number of innocent victims belonging to minority communities continue to languish behind bars often without knowing what was the nature of the charge against them.’

It was not Maharashtra and Gujarat alone where Muslims were targeted under TADA. In Andhra Pradesh too they were put under immense hardship and TADA was selectively used against them. Police went berserk against family and friends of one Laeeq Ahmad who was alleged to have killed an ASP and his body guard. The police then arrested his mother, two sisters and booked them under TADA. They remained in jail despite the fact that the police failed to link them with their brother’s offence. Police vehemently rejected dozens of bail applications saying the investigation were not complete. Ironically, the main accused Laeeq Ahmad was shot dead within a week of the incident and Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) claimed he was killed in a fake encounter.

The widespread and liberal use of TADA came to light in the state in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition. The police booked 72 persons most of them 15 to 20 years old, under TADA. Their only fault was that they offered namaz on a busy road as a token of protest against demolition.

Three boys were killed by the police in a blatant misuse of law in Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh. Two out of three were post graduates from the AMU. While the police claimed that the three were wanted in five murder cases including those of BJP and a VHP worker, and were killed in an encounter. But the circumstantial evidence suggests otherwise.

At least one Rafiuddin was picked up by the police from his home in Nalgonda district in AP. The police failed to issue the inquest and postmortem reports. It is said that the postmortem reports would have been crucial as one of the boys had died during interrogation itself. Shujauddin, brother of one of the youths killed, Rafiuddin was tortured by the police for 38 days when he went to police station to inquire about his brother’s whereabouts. Shujauddin later recalled, ‘They kept on beating me with a piece of tyre. One hefty officer would stand on my shoulders and the others used to hit my body. They would hang me upside down and hit on my legs. There was a machine in which both my hands would be pressed till my blood stopped flowing. I will never forget these 38 days which were like 38 years to me. Before releasing me and my father they threatened me and father with dire consequences if we were to talk to any body. His 70-year-old father, a Congressman and sarpanch of his village for 15 years was kept in illegal custody for 15 days.

These are merely a few examples. A large number of families in Mumbai and elsewhere have similar or more horrific stories to recount. Though a large number of people booked under it have been released since, thousands still continue to languish in prisons across the country, notwithstanding the fact that the law has been dismantled long ago. No justice seems to be in sight for them.
q

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