'Life has become very difficult'
December 13, 2011, marks 10 years of the dastardly attack on Parliament, when five terrorists barged into the premises of India's legislature and gunned down eight security personnel and one gardener before being gunned down themselves .
India may have forgotten the terror strike and moved on. But Professor Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani doesn't have the luxury to do so. Geelani was accused of being the mastermind of the attack and charged under the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act and had to spend 20 months in jail. He was later acquitted by the Supreme Court.
On the 10th anniversary of the attack on Indian Parliament, Vicky Nanjappa talks to Professor SAR Geelani about the trauma of being wrongfully accused in the case, the investigation and Afzal Guru's conviction.
How has your life changed after that incident?
Life has become very difficult after the incident. I was a common man who could roam everywhere. Today I feel restricted and I am constantly watched. Despite my name being cleared, I am identified each time this subject comes up. This image has been fixed in the minds of the people and I have to live with it everyday.
Image: Professor Syed Abdul Rehman Geelani
'I was branded as the mastermind of the Parliament attack'
Why do you think this is the case?
Unfortunately, in this country if someone is accused of a crime, things are blown out to such a proportion that it becomes difficult for the person to have a normal life again. Even an acquittal is not enough and the media continues to depict that person as an accused each time the incident is spoken about.
When a person is acquitted, the media does not give that enough coverage to ensure that the person's name is cleared. The acquittal comes after several years and the people too are not told what the truth is. The earlier image sticks in their mind and this is applicable in my case as well.
How did you cope with the situation?
It was not easy at all. I was branded as the mastermind of the Parliament attack. I had various questions to answer and the burden of several charges. I really thank my family and friends who stood by me as they knew I was innocent.
I would specially thank (advocate) Ram Jethmalani for all the help he gave me in this case. All these people put a lot at stake while supporting me. They have lost out a lot but they never gave up on me.
Image: The Indian Parliament
'They found me an easy target'
Why do you think you were charged in the first place?
After the incident, the police were groping in the dark. They had to show results but did not know who the real culprit was. They were desperate to link this attack with Kashmir and needed some names desperately.
So they projected me as the mastermind. I was a known face in Delhi, I was a human rights defender and had organised many meetings regarding Kashmir. I was well placed in Delhi University. They found me an easy target and hence made me the mastermind in this attack.
What is your opinion about the case that was put together after the attack?
This attack was an embarrassment. About the investigation, I would say nothing is clear. The essence of democracy is missing and the people are not asking any questions. Till date, no one really knows who was behind this attack.
We have prepared white papers, raised questions and even questioned the government. But they do not have the answers. Nobody knows who really attacked Parliament. It is said that the people who were killed were Pakistanis.
The court says these were Pakistanis as no one has claimed their bodies. There are many such photographs of people in police stations whose bodies have not been claimed. Can you just jump to a conclusion on the basis of that?
Image: A file photograph of BJP leader L K Advani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paying homage to those killed in the Parliament attack
'Afzal Guru could not afford a good lawyer'
Are you saying there was some Indian connection?
There is no harm in exploring that angle. India had already stationed heavy troops across the border, giving the impression that the country would go to war. That gave the impression that maybe something was known much in advance.
What are your thoughts about the case of Afzal Guru (who was convicted in the Parliament attack case and is currently on death row)?
Go through the judgment on Afzal Guru and you will realise that there has been a miscarriage of justice. For him, the case started off on a very bad note. He could not afford a good lawyer and he had written to the court about the same.
But a junior lawyer was appointed and despite him protesting, he never got proper legal help. Afzal had said he felt that the lawyer being allotted to him was biased. The court said that this lawyer would only assist the court. Afzal was finally handed out a death sentence on the basis of his so-called confessional statement.
Signatures from him were obtained by force and the police wrote what they wanted. Even the judgment says that the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence. It is also said he had identified the bodies of the slain terrorists. He protested that this was untrue and the confession was forced. The court then told him that he could cross-examine the witnesses. Do you think that someone like Afzal, with no expertise whatsoever, can conduct a cross-examination in such a high-profile case?
Image: Afzal Guru
'We never addressed the root cause of terrorism'
Do you think Kashmir will burn if he is hanged?
It surely will and peace will be derailed. The people of Kashmir know that injustice has been meted out to him. Hanging him would create a big problem.
Do you think that the lack of stringent anti-terror laws is the reason behind terror strikes continuing unabated?
No. In a democratic system, these laws have no place. We never addressed the root cause of the problem of terrorism. The investigation agencies have never probed these cases seriously. They always do a hotch-potch job. Look at cases like the Mecca Masjid blasts, Samjhauta Express blasts among others.
The police have always dealt with these cases with a closed mind and hence the problem has never been solved. Laws such as POTA and TADA have never been the answer to the problem. We have had such laws and look at the way in which they have been misused.
The manner in which cases of terror are investigated has to be reconsidered. The manner in which blasts are taking place and investigations are being conducted, it makes me suspect that there is something fishy.
What about the 26/11 terror strike?
I have condemned the attack and the people who carried it out have no place in society. But this cannot be a justification for police to pick up innocents in every case that occurs in our country.
Image: A file photo of a policeman standing outside a burnt carriage of Samjhauta Express
'Status quo is not the solution in Kashmir'
Is there a solution to the Kashmir issue?
There has to be a solution to the Kashmir problem. If they maintain status quo as they would prefer to, then the people will continue to suffer. Unfortunately, the government has lied to the people and kept them in the dark. They don't allow others also to tell them the truth. Status quo is not the solution. Look at the kind of money that is being spent on this issue. Is it worth it?
Which according to you is a better government -- the United Progressive Alliance or the National Democratic Alliance?
Both according to me have failed to address the problems. It is not about a change of guard at the Centre. Change in policies are needed and in the case of both these governments, the policies have remained the same. Look at the manner in which the Intelligence Bureau is functioning. I have faced IB officials and they have been communal in nature.
Image: An anti-India protest in Kashmir