India’s Dreyfus in the time of war on terror

In quite a number of chargesheets framing innocent Muslim youths in fabricated cases of terrorism across the country the anti-terrorist senior officer’s leitmotif is: jihadi terrorism is behind 9/11, hence it is also behind terrorism in India. Invariably Muslims are terrorists, hence Students Islamic Movement of India must be banned and POTA and other harsher and draconian laws should be promulgated to punish Muslims. This anti-Muslim bias permeated from the highest ranking police officers to the lowest policeman with some exceptions here and there. This went so far that the superintendent of police in Dhule observed after the 2008 communal flare up that “the Muslims are by nature the masterminds behind all terrorism”.  A month later, he made the observation, “Hemant Karkare surprised everyone by his empirical investigation on seizing Sadhvi Pragyasingh Thakur’s motorcycle in Bhiku Chowk on 29 September 2008 after the blast”.

Since then more and more cases have, albeit belatedly, shown the involvement of  Hindutva terrorists in the past incidents of terror and even those that followed on the heels of the assassination of Karkare. One such revelation in July 2013 was by the Gujarat police officer Satish Verma inquiring into the fake encounter of Ishrat Jahan and others, that Intelligence Bureau was behind the Parliament attack on 13 December 2001 and also 26th November 2008 attacks in Mumbai. But what struck many was that Verma said the motive behind the attacks was to enact harsher stringent laws against terrorism. This also crystallizes the issue that harsher laws are of course meant for applying against Muslims accused in terrorism. The terrorists behind the first serial bomb blasts on 12 March 1993 in Mumbai (Bombay, then) were Muslims. But the extremists among Hindus who slaughtered the Muslims in the city including Shiv Sena leader Madhukar Saroptdar who distributed arms and the Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray who exhorted Hindus to teach the Muslims a lesson and his followers went scot-free. One day after the tenth anniversary of the Bombay serial blasts, terror struck the cosmopolitan city again. The police bias against Muslims had deepened and there was government policy of medals, monetary awards and out-of-turn promotion for police and the police wanted quick results for that inducement and incentive. The arrest of Malegaon’s Muzammil Akhtar fits in this recurrent pattern or common design. Another dimension of the common design was that Muslims take revenge of 1992 demolition of Babri mosque and mark the anniversary with violent revenge. Hence the Mulund train attack of 13th March 2003 in Mumbai must be seen as revenge of Muslims. The possibility of Hindutva camouflaging this pretext to attack was thrown to the winds.

Of all the innocent Muslims having wasted their youth in Indian prisons for having committed no crime, let alone an act of terrorism, the case of stripling youth Muzammil Akhtar stands out as the most glaring instance of justice delayed is justice denied. And quite agonizing is that the world has allowed him to remain in anonymity as a nonentity.

A youth working as a mechanical engineer in an office of Vashi, Mumbai, he had yet to dream of having a family and how to settle down with a host of expectations and dreams for the future conjugal life. The police atrophied all that in him which other youths of India are bristling with when in new jobs.

Instead of that bright optimism of the youths contemporaneous to him, Muzammil’s youth was snuffed out with police slamming  charges against him in four terror attacks and courts denying him bail five times when the other fifteen accused in the same four attacks were given bail and discharged.

In his absence behind jail walls, life of his family suffered heavy toll. His younger sister died but he was not allowed to attend the last rites let alone have a last glimpse when she was seriously and terminally ill. Shahenaz Akhtar, proficient in English, was a trained teacher with D. Ed. Degree and was preparing for a job. But the tension of her brother in jail on false charges took her life in November 2006. For three years since his arrest, she took it to her heart and wailed. She would always bemoan that her father had given them education but it could not help her brother to get justice. As if that was not enough, mounting costs of fighting his legal case forced the family to sell off their residential house in a middle class neighbourhood in 2009 and move to a wasteland of a quadrilateral of buildings with powerlooms with few workers within and no humans outside, deserted barrack-like walls and tin roofs filled with only iron machines devoid of any family except his living in a corner. From the middle class area teeming with human sound and activity, they were now in a Sargasso Sea of monotonous and ceaseless noise  machines that made their situation like what Prof Abdul Shaban of Tata Institute of Social Sciences called in his study of Malegaon a “living hell”, more a space fit for dying than for living. Or what T. S. Eliot describes:

What branches grow

Out of this stony rubbish?

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief

And the dry stone no sound of water.     

From the proceeds of the sale of their ancestral house, they paid the legal fees to the lawyers. As Alfred Dreyfus, the Jew, was accused of passing secret information to Germany and thus betraying France at the time of war, Muzammil was also charged with acts of terrorism and exploding bombs at the behest of Lashkar-e-Toiba. Dreyfus was falsely accused in 1894 and imprisoned for ten years pending trial and ultimately exonerated in 1906 so is the case of Muzammil. But till today there is no sign of light at the end of the tunnel, ten years on.

There were four bomb attacks between 2 December 2002 and 13 March 2003:
1) Bomb explosion in a bus outside the railway station at Ghatkoper on 2 December
2) Bomb explosion at McDonald joint on 6 December
3)  Bomb explosion at the market place in Vile Parle on 28 January 2003
4) Bomb explosion in a first class compartment of a local train at Mulund on 13 January, 2003

There are basic structural faults in the police version of the four blasts. The blast of 13 March took place on a day that also saw the police arresting Dawood Ibrahim’s brother Iqbal Kaskar under MCOCA. Was the bomb exploded to protest against the arrest and warn of serious consequences? If so, it cannot be to mark the 10th anniversary of 12 March 1993 serial bomb attacks. Those behind it wanted to give a signal and not take revenge. The 6 December attack synchronized with the Ayodhya mosque demolition. But ascribing revenge of Muslim is untenable because life in the country had become normal as far as protest against the Babri mosque demolition is concerned.

Another reason for involvement in terror was that Muzammil who, lived in Kurla, had been collecting relief fund for the Muslims affected by the pogroms in Gujarat in 2002. He would collect donations and deposit in the local relief committee centre there. Such donations are regularly collected and sent to affected members of the community after floods, riots or the pogroms in Gujarat.

There are many reasons why the Mulund case investigation has gone haywire. One, that the four blasts of 2002 and 2003 were clubbed together and common accused were blamed for all the blasts. The fact is that Muzammil had not earlier met or talked to any of the other accused. There is no corroborative evidence that they were all engaged in any conspiracy, especially in the case of Muzammil. The investigation officers have used almost identical language in writing their chargesheets. Muzammil was not a member of SIMI. Khwaja Yunus and Dr Mateen Ansari of Aurangabad and the rest were innocent. Mateen had heard Yunus cry in pain and vomit blood when the police tortured him. This led to the discovery that he was taken from Mumbai to Aurangabad and on the way, ATS officer Sachin Vaze killed him and disposed off the body. Vaze alleged that the car in which he was taking Yunus to Aurangabad had overturned and Yunus had escaped. Mateen was accused of partially making the bomb in his clinic but the police failed to prove this and he was discharged.

As Muzammil did not know any of them, the question of conspiracy does not arise. The man who accused Muzammil of planting the bomb in the train said he recognized Muzammil’s voice who he alleges had a quarrel with another passenger according to him. Muzammil’s voice is so weak and low that the witness could not have heard him from his seat in the farthest end the compartment. So if he is in jail for more than ten years and the flimsy charge has not been proved, how long can Muzammil wait for justice?

Three of the accused Dr Mateen, Noor Abdul Malik and Kamil Ansari were given bail after eight years in jail, then why Muzammil can’t be given bail now that he has spent more than ten years and the case has not come up for trial. This inordinate delay is nothing but denying him justice.

The police had botched up the four cases in an unseemly hurry to prove what was not there. The police tortured Mateen and got his confession that all the bombs were made in his clinic. Actually, in the confessional statement Mateen had written in Urdu “ghalat hai” (it is incorrect) instead of putting his signature. The police took this writing in Urdu as his signature. Later, it could not stand in the court.1  Muzammil’s confession is a result of sheer blackmail as the threat of undressing of his mother or sister in his presence drove him to utter grief after his father was already undressed and forced to sit naked before him. With such tactics, Muzammil was forced to sign what was put before him.

Even Saquib Nachan was given bail although far more serious charges were leveled against him including his being the leader of the module that included Muzammil in the Mulund blast and also possessing AK56 rifles.

Noor Sikander, also from Malegaon, was claimed to be the leader of another module entrusted with the job of blowing up the seat of Maharashtra government, the Mantralaya. He too was given bail. All the three major accused  — Mateen, Nachan and Sikander — could get bail but not Muzammil. Sikandar called off the strike  when three terrorists were gunned down in Jogeshewari on 29 March. It is bizarre that one of the killed was the southern commander Abu Sultan from whom the police said it had recovered a CD which led to the arrest of Anwar Ali, a lecturer at Khadakwasla Defense Academy. But Anwar Ali too was discharged. 2

Saquib Nachin was the prime accused in the Mulund case but he was granted bail after seven years in jail because he was in pre-trial detention and the trial had not started yet. This also applies to Muzammil but then why he continues to be denied bail?

Furthermore, it flies in the face of reason that Muzammil should be exploding bombs in four different places within three months time and still be normally attending his office in Vashi as if nothing  had happened.

There was a combined chargesheet of the bomb blasts at Mulund, Vile Parle and Bombay Central McDonald. The 16 were charged under POTA and the Explosive Substance Act and also for waging war against the nation and hatching a criminal conspiracy. When Muzammil was not known to the others, how could he be a part of a conspiracy?

When Ghulam Akbar Khotal was granted bail after five years in detention, his lawyer Shahid Azmi had argued: “There was no evidence to keep him behind the bars and the police have not been able to prove the case in its totality. So he should be granted bail.” Does not the same argument hold true in the case of Muzammil ten years after his detention? 3

Another accused, Dr Wahid Abdul Shaikh, was given bail and then the court suddenly cancelled his bail because court found prima facie evidence against him!

So shoddy was the investigation and the draft charges filed in the court as early as 2004 that ultimately when Khan Wajhul Qamar was released only four months after his arrest, although it was claimed that  Qamar is the most dreaded of all the 16. As compared to him, Muzammil has spent more than a decade in prison and yet he remains within the walls of the prison with no hope of an early release on bail.


This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 August 2013 on page no. 1

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