Human Rights

Detention of Muslims in India - a brief report

There are hundreds of innocent Muslims in jails, without any crime. It is an accepted practice that the police arrests innocent Muslims and brands them as terrorists. After blasts like Mecca Masjid, Prabhani, Jalna, Mumbai local trains and Malegaon 06 blasts, hundreds of Muslims were arrested in the name of counter terrorism, locked in jails, tortured and majority of them are still behind bars. Arrested and tortured Muslims do not receive the opportunity to prove their innocence. Later the true face of terrorism with the arrest of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Sameer Kulkarni, Lt colonel Purohit, major (Retd) Ramesh Upadhyay, Ajay Eknath Rahirkar and Rakesh Dhawade among others, came to light when the involvement of Hindu extremists was established in Malegaon '08 blasts. My regret is that when the true face of terrorism especially in pre-Malegaon '08 blasts had been exposed, why in the same cases, Muslims are kept behind bars?

Most of the police officials and personnel of IB are pro-RSS Hindus; they do not want to arrest the real Hindu terrorists. In spite of the revelations in Parliament by Shivraj Patel the former Home Minister that the bombs set off in Nanded were made by Bajrang Dal, no proper investigations and arrests of the culprits have taken place. However, it is a general feeling that the anti-terror legislations are proving to be more harmful to the innocent people, belonging to different religions, than helping in curbing terrorism.

It is a fact, bitter fact, that the steps taken in the name of terrorism have created big problems and became a matter of great concern not only for the human rights activists and other people but the Government of India itself. The reports appearing in the media of unsubstantiated claims by police and intelligence about the involvement of Muslim organizations or persons in each and every act of terror even before an enquiry begins further enhance the fear factor and perturb the minds of all right the thinking people, irrespective of religion, caste, colour and race in the country. This has been going on for years even though such claims turn out to be false in most of the cases.

Around 72,000out of 77,000 detained under TADA were released without having been charged or tried. Most of them were tortured with a view to extract confessions from them. Thirteen years after the TADA lapsed, 147 persons are still under detention, for offences under that Act. Similarly, around 3,500 persons in 18 states of India were held under POTA in three years of its existence. Gujarat is the state with the highest number of detentions and all but one of the 287 people initially held under the act were Muslims. As many as 234 Muslims belonging to various groups are currently lodged in different jails in Assam.

The Andhra Pradesh Minority Commission had appointed Ravi Chander as Advocate commissioner to submit factual report on the illegal detention and torture of Muslim youth. Advocate Ravi Chander, in his interim report submitted in November 2007, had clearly mentioned that the Muslim youths were illegally arrested, detained by the police and they were inhumanly tortured, and implicated in false cases.

Similarly, according to the Gujarat Government data, presently the official numbers of post-2002 violence Muslim prisoners in different prisons of Gujarat are 923: 369 in Ahmedabad; 162 in Surat; 63 in Rajkot; 83 in Vadodara; 78 in Jamnagar, 59 in Mawali; 40 in Bhavnagar; 39 in Nadiad and 30 in Bharuch.

Notably, the Sunday Express (October 29, 2006) through its report of Seema Chishti had in a scoop before the submission of the Report on November 17, 2006 by the seven-member High Level Committee (HLC) headed by Justice Rajinder Sachar that the "prison is the only place where Muslims are over-represented". However, it was most surprising when the Sachar Report came out; this startling and revealing portion was missing.

In Maharashtra, the percentage of Muslim jail inmates in all categories (|see chart) is way above their share in the population (Muslim share in population is 10.6%, share in the total prison inmates is 32.4%.

  • When it comes to those in prison for less than a year, Muslims contribute 40.6% of all prisoners in Maharashtra.
  • In Gujarat, the percentage of Muslims in the state is just 9.06% but they make up over a quarter of all jail inmates.
  • Assam, the second highest Muslim populated state in the country, after J&K, has 30.9% Muslims, and here, the percentage of Muslim jail inmates is 28.1.
  • Even Karnataka, which did relatively better than other states in providing jobs to Muslims, shows the same trend: 17.5% of its jail inmates are Muslim as compared with 12.23% of its population..."

It is irony that all this is happening at a time when Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi have already made it clear that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism, and therefore, it should not be seen linked with a particular community. Besides, the government has also given a clean chit to Muslim religious seminaries.

In April (2006), Bajrang Dal activists Naresh Raj Kondwar and Himanshu Phanse were killed while attempting to fabricate an improvised explosive device along with their fellow extremists Maruti Wagh, Rahul Pande and Ramraj Guptewar. Investigators later recovered a second bomb from the Nanded home where the bomb-making exercise was under way, an evidence that the extremists had struck before.

Maharashtra police found that Kondwar and Phanse were the key figures in the April 2006 bombing of a mosque at Parbhani, in which 25 persons were injured. Bajrang Dal operatives linked to the Nanded terror cell, investigators believe, also carried out the bombing of mosques at Purna and Jama in April 2003. Eighteen persons had sustained injuries in these twin attacks.

There is a dire need to pay more attention towards this important aspect too. According to the Hyderabad-based NGO, Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee, there are 3,50,000 prisoners in the 1300 jails of the country out of which 70 per cent are under trial. Conditions in these prisons for under-trials or inmates do not meet the bare human rights standards.

The government is requested to drop all the false cases and immediately release all individuals held without charge under those cases. The time spent in detention should be counted towards time served. The trial, conviction and sentences imposed in cases already completed must be reviewed in light of the provisions and requirements of ordinary criminal laws and of international standards of justice and fairness. The same principles should apply to those still detained or imprisoned under the earlier Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 (TADA).    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2009 on page no. 11

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