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Report exposes how the police botched up the Jaipur serial blast probe

January 25, 2012 14:35 IST

The Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association's report into the 2008 Jaipur blasts, titled 'The Case That Wasn't', makes for chilling reading. Vicky Nanjappa reports

Dr Ishaq's medical practice is ruined and so is Dr Yunus's. Dr Yunus's family, which includes his wife and four children, survive accepting support and charity.

Taufeeq, Dr Ishaq's son and an accused in the Jaipur blast case, was halfway through his Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery course when he was illegally incarcerated.   

Nadeem's small grocery shop has collapsed, while Nazakat was the sole breadwinner of the family after his father passed away -- barely a month before his arrest. His shop that sold tractor parts lies desolate today.

Amanullah's mobile phone business could not recover after his release from prison.

Torture and confinement led many of them to the brink of mental illness. These are some of the men who were arrested and put behind bars for their alleged role in the 2008 Jaipur blasts. 

Amanullah and Munawwar suffered severe depression and insomnia. Amanullah broke down several times, recalling the horrors of torture. Munawwar, as a result of severe anxiety and stress, suffered partial paralysis.

Eleven men spent three-and-a-half years of their lives behind bars, in tiny airless cells where humiliation and torture became the order of the day and despair turned them into depressives. Outside, their families were stigmatised and their businesses destroyed as they struggled to make ends meet.

A report by the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Association titled, 'The Case that never was' on the Students Islamic Movement of India trial of the Jaipur blasts raises important questions on how the police botched up the investigation and the torture of the 11 accused.

Interestingly, the accused were not charged with either conspiracy or execution of bomb blasts in the Jaipur blasts of 2008. According to the FIR and chargesheet, they were responsible for carrying out activities of the banned SIMI.

Jaipur witnessed serial blasts on May 13, 2008. Three months later, Kota and the neighbouring district of Bara saw hectic police activity, with Muslim mohallas in the city witnessing increased police surveillance. In August, around the time of the Shab-e-baraat, police started visiting homes of Muslim youngsters, asking them to come to the Maqbara Chowk police station for poochh taachh (enquiry).

The first to be picked up were Dr Ishaq and his son, Md Taufeeq, who was pursuing a BUMS course in Jaipur and was visiting home. They were picked up from their home in the dead of the night of August 16. Another young man Nazakat Husain was also apprehended around the same time. The following day saw the arrest of three young men, Imran, Mehdi Hasan and Dr Yunus.

Police action forced those on the wanted list to surrender for questioning. On August 18, Amaanullah, Nadeem Akhtar and Atiqur Rehman surrendered at the Maqbara Chowk police station. These men and their families were confident at that time that they would be released soon. Their confidence was premised on two things: first, their innocence, and second, the police, especially Nasimullah, the deputy superintendent of police, Kota (at that time). He insisted that they were wanted only for questioning in connection with the Jaipur blasts and that there was no case against them.

These arrests and surrenders in Kota were public knowledge, with many of these men being accompanied by their relatives to the police station, and one, even in the presence of the media.

Amaanullah used to run a mobile repairing shop in 2008. The police started visiting his house since the Shab-e-baraat and he went to the Maqbara police station on the night of the August 18 around 11 O'clock. He met Nasimullah, who told him that he would be released after a few rounds of questioning. However, no enquiries were made till 4 O' clock  in the morning when he was taken to Jaipur by a team of Special Operations Group personnel that had come from Jaipur SOG headquarters.

It was in Jaipur where he was subjected to sustained, relentless, and as the evidence shows, very brutal questioning.

Munawwar, a tailor, was similarly called to the Patanpol police station. He consulted the city qazi, who advised him to surrender. When he went to surrender on the night of August 21, he saw that the media had converged at the police station to relay the surrender 'live'. The DSP was furious and telephoned Munawwar saying he would not accept his surrender in full media view and ordered him to return.

Munawwar returned to the city qazi's house in the narrow lane. However, DSP Nasimullah arrived in his police jeep and whisked Munawwar away. On the way to the police station, Nasimullah called up some reporters requesting them to ignore the surrender story.

Md Ilyas, a 36-year-old teacher, a post-graduate in English literature from Kota University and resident of Talabpara in Bara, was similarly visited by the Bara police several times between August 20 and 25. His family was threatened and his father briefly taken away when the police could not find Ilyas. On August 25, Ilyas finally surrendered before the Bara police, who took him to the SOG HQ in Jaipur.

Two people from Jodhpur, namely Azam Ghazdhar and Md Sohail Modi, were also taken into custody for questioning in connection with the Jaipur blasts, taking the total number of arrests to 13.

What is common in all these cases is that all the accused had surrendered themselves. However, they were shown as arrested in Jaipur, the HQ of the SOG. There was typically a difference of six to seven days between the date of surrender and the date of 'arrest', and production before the magistrate, which allowed for illegal detention of almost a week for every accused. This was the period the accused spent in the custody of the SOG, where they were tortured.

Even though these people had been called to the local police stations on the pretext of questioning, no one was interrogated there. It was only when they were transported to the SOG HQ in Jaipur that the questioning began.

They were repeatedly asked the name of the mosque where they routinely offered namaz, names and contacts of friends and relatives and their links with the banned organisation SIMI. Questioning was accompanied with torture, both physical and mental. They were continuously beaten with leather straps and belts which were 4 inches wide. These men were deprived of sleep and humiliated by threats that their wives and sisters would be also be picked up by the police.

Amanullah, for example, begged the commando guarding his cell to speak to the senior officers, to ask why he was being held like this.

Following their production before the magistrate, the SOG secured police custody for 14 days, ostensibly for questioning, following which 11 of them were handed over to judicial custody. The Gujarat police got the custody of three -- Imran, Mehdi Hasan and Atiqur Rehman and took them away to Ahmedabad. By the time they were finally handed over to the Central Jail, Jaipur, their spirit had been crushed by the abuse and violation they had suffered at the hands of the SOG.

The first shock they received was that the SOG, while handing them over the jail superintendent, declared that the accused in the Jaipur blasts were being handed over. Upon their arrival in the jail, a board was hung at the main gate in full public view, which proclaimed that 'dreaded terrorists of SIMI are housed in this jail'. Each of the accused was lodged in a solitary cell. This comprised of a kothi, a kind of an antechamber of 8x10, with two doors: the outer door was made up of metal bars and the inner door was a solid metal door.

During the period in which they were subjected to extreme torture, a production before the magistrate was due. This was arranged from within the jail premises through video conferencing. The men were lined up, hooded always, and assembled in a little cleared patch within the jail. Here, they waited for hours, and even a little restlessness, movement or stretching of limbs, was rewarded with kicks and beatings. One of the men even fainted as a result. They were threatened not to reveal anything about their torture inside the jail.

The second production was in the court where they were produced hooded. The court did not ask for their hoods to be removed. Just before their charges were to be read out the hoods were taken off and their faces shown to the magistrate. Noticing their shabby hair, the terrible stench from their unwashed bodies and their foul smelling clothes, the magistrate asked the public prosecutor and jailor to ensure the hygiene and cleanliness of the undertrials.       

However, the accused could not bring themselves to admit to the magistrate the violations and violence they were being subjected to.

In November 2008, the accused moved a writ in the court seeking to be treated as ordinary prisoners, pleading that they be allowed, as per the jail manual; to move freely outside their cells within stipulated times. When the court sought a response from the prison authorities, the reply was that these prisoners were not being subjected to any discriminatory rules, a reply that was taken at face value by the court, adding to their despair.

They were finally let out from the inner cell into the kothi through whose latticed ceiling they could at least see the sun. To their great misfortune, however, the same day, terrorists carried out the 26/11 attack. They were pushed back into their dingy cells as though somehow they were responsible for what was happening in another city.

For a long time these men were kept in the dark about the crimes they were going to be charged with. Notwithstanding the hype of bomb blasts surrounding their surrender, these men were not charged with the conspiracy or execution of the serial blasts. The sections under which they were charged were: 153 A, 295 A, 120 B of CRPC and sections 3.10,13, 17, 18, 19 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (1967).

They were accused of carrying out the activities of the banned organisation SIMI, rather than any precise activity leading to terrorist acts. The main charge against the accused was of spreading communal venom against Hindu gods and goddesses, talking against national unity, integrity and secularism, of involving Muslim youth in anti-national activities, of carrying on activities of SIMI despite the ban on the organisation, and of providing protection and refuge to those indulging in similar activities.

Though neither the chargesheets nor the FIR is able to make any direct links between them and any specific terror act, there are deliberate obfuscations and repeated allusions to Jaipur blasts and Ahmedabad blasts, in order to make their alleged crimes appear suitably grave.

FIR summary:

SIMI was banned through a government notification on September 27, 2001. The Gujarat police made several arrests in connection with the serial blasts in Ahmedabad on July 26, 2008. The SIT of Rajasthan was investigating the serial blasts of Jaipur on May 13, 2008 and in its interrogation of those arrested by the Gujarat police and its research found that one Sajid Mansuri, leader of SIMI was conducting meetings in Surat after the ban in 2001.

The FIR claims that Sajid relocated to Kota and assumed the name Salim. In Kota, he organised a cell of SIMI and involved the accused (Munawwar, Imran, Pintoo, Atique, Mehdi Hasan, Ishaq, Nazakat, Amanullah, Dr Yunus, Nadeem -- all residents of Kota) in his activities who supported him knowing fully well that SIMI was a banned organisation.

Munawar was the chief of this core group, Atique was the secretary and Imran the treasurer. Dr Ishaq provided a house to Sajid Mansuri (alias Salim). Ishaq's son Taufiq was also well aware of Sajid Mansuri's activities and supported him. They held several meetings at the homes of Munawwar and Ishaq and enlisted other members as well.

In 2006, Sajid alias Salim left Kota for Baroda, handing over the charge to Munawwar. He, however, continued to come back to Kota and other towns of Rajasthan. It was found that funds were mobilised for carrying on the activities of SIMI.

Several meetings were held and addressed by SIMI leaders such as Abu Bashar, Subhan alias Tauqeer, Amil Parvez and Inamur Rehman who travelled from outside Rajasthan. Three of these activists – Imran, Atiqur Rehman and Mehdi Hasan –travelled to Gujarat to received arms training between January 12 and 14, 2008.

Further, the secret meetings of the banned organisation were said to be held at a dargah at Nanta, Andha Hafiz Mosque, at Kewal Nagar, and under the railway track puliya on Alaniya river. These spots were identified by the accused under Section 27 of the Evidence Act. Elaborate maps of the sites were then prepared by the police in the presence of independent witnesses.

Banned literature was key evidence to demonstrate that the accused were continuing the activities of an unlawful organisation. This was seized from the tailoring shop of Munawwar, the alleged kingpin of the Kota cell of SIMI.

First, senior officers who supposedly provided information to Mahendra Singh Chaudhury are not mentioned by name. No official communication is cited. Not even interrogation reports of those arrested in Gujarat -- on the basis of which the accused were arrested -- are mentioned or quoted.

Second, it inverts the process of policing. FIR is filed, accused rounded up, with not even preliminary investigation being conducted to ascertain the veracity of any of these allegations emanating from the 'seniors'. The vagueness of allegations is only matched by the infirmity of evidences.

A total of 48 witnesses were listed by the prosecution, of which 43 were examined, the remaining five either dead or dropped by the court. By the end of the trial, almost all -- 38 to be precise -- except the police witnesses, had turned hostile. The police witnesses proved themselves to be unreliable.

The recovery of banned material in the form of magazines, pamphlets and CDs also fell flat in court. Naval Kishore Purohit, additional SP in SOG, who was the investigating officer of the case stated the following in the court in cross examination:

"It is true that I never got a translation of the magazines (articles 8, 9, 10) in Urdu, neither did I write any correspondence for the same, nor can it be stated what is written in these articles. It is true that SIMI was a legal organisation prior to the September 2001, and that it was declared unlawful only after 2001. It is true that the articles 6-10 [copies of Islamic Movement] predate the ban. It is also true that they were not sealed upon seizure at the site. It is also true that article 13 (yellow envelope) has not been sealed. There are no signatures on it: neither mine, nor of the witnesses, nor of the accused. Neither is there a date on the article."

So the whole case had been bolstered by the recovery of magazines, which were published prior to the ban on SIMI in September 2001, and it was perfectly legal to possess them.

The Jamia Teachers Solidary Association's report states that there can be no closure, either morally, ethically or legally, till such time as those guilty of carrying out, ordering and supervising the torture of these men in police and judicial custody are not prosecuted. The acquitted men recognize those who tortured them.

Indeed, one of their tormentors, IG A Ponnucahmi, is currently in Jaipur Jail, for a fake encounter case, while another, DIG A K Jain is a declared absconder in the same crime. Nonetheless, even those in jail must be tried separately for the brutality they wreaked in the SOG HQs, as indeed must criminal charges be filed against those who framed these men in a false case.

Jail Superintendent Preeta Bhargava, currently suspended from her position as the Ajmer Jail superintendent for granting parole to a murder convict despite the court rejecting his application, must also be made to pay for brazen violation of the jail manual.

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru