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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

SAR Geelani: questions galore

By AP Muhammed Afsal

The Milli Gazette Online

An honourably acquitted accused in the sensational Parliament attack case, SAR Geelani is still fighting for justice in the thick of deafening silence of the Indian political establishment. He is recovering from the bullet injuries he suffered on February 8 at the hands of an unidentified assailant. Except some human rights activists, nobody has come to the fore to voice concern over the incident. Neither leaders of the ruling coalition nor the supporting secular brigade did utter a word that matters. On their part, BJP criticised those who spoke for Geelani and their spokesman, The Pioneer, unashamedly continued to find fault with Geelani. 

Home Minister Shivraj Patil continues to refuse to hand over the case to CBI from the Delhi Police. So far, instead of inquiring into the role of its own Special Cell, which Geelani suspects to be behind the attack, Delhi Police is still busy floating theories to confuse the media and public. According to reports, the matter did come up before the prime minister. Still 'nobody' knows who is behind the attack while media trial continues.

Geelani is an Arabic scholar and the first Kashmiri Muslim to get a permanent teaching job in Delhi University. During the college days he was a human rights activist and a member of Jammu & Kashmir Council for Human Rights. He had expressed his views at various public forums. His views on Kashmir are not the one that are commonly held. He came to Delhi to complete his studies and stayed on after getting a job in Zakir Hussain College. The bitter experience he had as a detainee in Tihar jail after his arrest in Parliament attack case prompted him to float an organisation, "Society for Protection of Detainees and Prisoners’ Right." 

When Delhi Police arrested him on December 15, 2001,the only piece of evidence of his involvement in the Parliament attack case was a two minute 16 second telephone conversation he had with his younger brother while travelling in a bus from his home to the nearby mosque for Friday prayer on December 14. Eighteen-year old Shah Faisal was asking Geelani to send him a prospectus and syllabus. Faisal had called the previous evening also and was now reminding him. He could not have guessed that this brief call would be produced as the main evidence against his brother. When Faisal asked Geelani "what had happened," he was innocently referring to Geelani’s decision not to go to Kashmir for Eid since there were very few holidays and it would cost too much. Geelani’s wife was insisting on going home. The elder brother would not answer, laughing away the query. Policemen of the Special Branch who were tapping his mobile phone felt that the laugh showed Geelani’s complicity in the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. The police were never able to explain why they had not arrested the younger brother; after all, if he asked the question he must have knowledge of the conspiracy. The police officer in charge of the investigation testified in court that Faisal was innocent. The police also never explained why they never put a transcript of the telephone conversation on record. Geelani produced two independent witnesses who put the transcript of the taped conversation on record and testified that the conversation could not be remotely linked to the conspiracy to attack the Parliament. The trial court judge held that the two independent defence witnesses were in fact "interested witnesses." He did not explain how a trade union leader and a documentary film maker, both Kashmiri Pandits, who appeared in court at the request of senior civil liberties activists known for their integrity could be called "interested." The Judge stated in his order that he himself had taken lessons in the Kashmiri language and was thus competent to decide on the truth of the police version. Geelani was condemned to death on the basis of this flimsy evidence on December 18, 2002. The specially constituted POTA court for hearing the cases finished the trial procedure and judgment in record time. Geelani spent one year on death row before being acquitted by the High Court on October 29, 2003. The police have since filed an appeal in the Supreme Court and are hoping to get Geelani back in his cell in Tihar jail. They have given public statements expressing the hope that he will be hanged. 

From the time of his arrest, media had parroted the investigating agencies’ version designed to portray Geelani as the mastermind of the conspiracy and unnecessarily doubted the credentials of those who formed the defence committee for his fair trial. Even conservative dailies carried tabloid-style headings and sensational 'confessions' by Geelani. The Delhi High Court, when delivering judgment acquitting Geelani had noted the arguments of the Defence Counsel that media trials are an antithesis to the rule of law and pre-trial publicity is sufficient to cause prejudice and hatred against the accused, but it did not pass any strictures against the police for using the media to mobilize hatred and prejudice, though it is a specific crime under the Indian Penal Code. 
Geelani’s life has never been easy even after his acquittal. When he resumed his work after acquittal, he found it difficult to get even an auto rikshaw to go back home. "The danger is not over and I fear for my life. Attempts were made on my life. While I was in prison, even though I was kept in a high security cell, they (Police) ried to kill me," Geelani had said in his first ever media interaction on October 30, 2003. The attacks continued. "His masters across the border must have been delighted to see TV pictures of some demented Indian citizens dancing in joy on hearing the news of his acquittal. No wonder Pakistani soldiers are repeatedly told by their commanders that Indians have no stomach for a fight, that as a people Indians are pot-bellied, indolent and seeped in a pacific Hindu culture…,” Chandan Mitra of The Pioneer wrote in an article titled “Go home, Geelani and Friends,” on November 2, 2004. Geelani was forced to buy a car as he felt several intelligence agencies were keeping a watch over him. Not alone he, whomsoever was in touch with him or met him even once was subjected to intimidation and questioning by security agencies.

This time, too, a careful perusal of news stories after the attacks on Geelani will reveal the high stakes involved in the case, an activist working with Geelani Defence Committee told MG. These were obviously aimed at both intimidating Geelani's friends and as part of a PR exercise. On February 11, The Pioneer, the only daily supporting the police blatantly from day one, carried a N-E angle story on Geelani's attack suggesting the involvement of a North East militant group! The newspaper even referred to the possible involvement of Sebastian Hongray, husband of lawyer Nandita Haksar, and the very man who took the injured Geelani to the AIIMS hospital. After describing his full name as “Sebastian San Muviah Hongray”, the daily went into his background as Thankul Naga and an activist of Nationalist Council of Nagaland (Issac Muviah)!. A day later the paper wrote that Police was also watching Mr Sebastian's movements. According to the police, Geelani should have fallen on the spot, rather than staggering over 60 yards to the doorstep of Haksar family. Police could not find the empty cartridges during the preliminary search. But at 2 am, the five emptied cartridges were “found at a distance” by the crime branch. Police has again come up with a stunning revelation on the fourth day of attack that they found the blood-stained sweater which Geelani was wearing when he was shot. Police carefully uses the phraseology like “seized”. The word suggests that his family was trying to hide evidence. The sweater was there in AIIMS for a full day before Geelani's relatives took it away. The police has not explained why they took four days to even start looking for the clothes. Soon after Haksar expressed her doubts over the police involvement, police tried to indirectly threaten her saying that they could file cases against her and her husband for tampering with evidence. And one of the reasons for police to ask AIIMS authorities to set up a two-member committee was that Police was wary of Dr Anup Saraya, a gastroenterologist with AIIMS. The paper went on to say without citing any source, that Nandita Haksar had called the doctor even before informing the Police after Geelani was shot at. 

Even after his acquittal, intelligence agencies believe Geelani is the mastermind of the Parliament attack. While Geelani was accused and also when he was acquitted, the BJP was in power. People had reason to believe that the government had found in him a perfect candidate for being a Kashmiri, a Muslim and an Arabic teacher. 

With the UPA 'secular' government in power, many liberal minds think that rogue elements in the Special Cell of the Delhi police or security agencies cannot take law in their own hands. Speaking to MG, Nandita Haksar said, "It is not a problem with Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh. When Geelani was in jail, authorities allowed hate mail to reach him but they did not allow him to offer Namaz. He was allowed only one Iftar. There is no evidence to show that it all changed, so there is no use talking about cahnge of guard." Moreover, government proudly proclaims that there should be a continuation of policies vis-a-vis 'security' which has become a holy cow which can be used to justify excesses of any kind.

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