By Jyoti Punwani
January 4, 2017
Imagine the feelings of the two ex-informers of the Intelligence Bureau on being acquitted last month of terror charges — eight years after the CBI itself had exonerated them. Those eight years were spent fighting appeals, right up to the Supreme Court, by the Delhi special cell which had arrested them. Finally, despite the clean chit by the country’s premier investigative agency, Irshad Ali and Mauruf Qamar had to face a full trial.
In Maharashtra, the government, backing its Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), appealed against the discharge of eight men framed for a crime committed by others who owned up to it. The eight Muslims discharged in April from the offence of perpetrating the 2006 Malegaon blasts must again undergo the trauma of appearing in court as terror-accused.
In both cases, severe injustice has been done to innocents. Arrested in 2005, ex-IB informer Irshad Ali had, in a detailed letter to the PM written in 2007, outlined how the IB traps young Muslims by planting fake “maulanas” in their ghettoes. No one contradicted his letter. The CBI confirmed that he and Qamar were framed only because they refused to obey the IB.
Malegaon’s Muslim accused were cleared only after Swami Aseemanand, in widely-reported confessions made voluntarily, revealed that his team of Hindus had apparently carried out the 2006 Malegaon blasts. The blasts were investigated first by Maharashtra’s ATS, then the CBI, finally the NIA, which gave a clean chit to the Muslim accused, based on Aseemanand’s confessions, arresting four Hindus.
But it was only six years after the Swami’s confessions that the Muslim accused were discharged. They had to spend a decade branded as terrorists, before a special court dismissed the ATS story that they had bombed a Muslim cemetery to cause riots. It seemed “highly impossible that they would have decided to kill their own people,” said Judge V.V. Patil. The accused had been “made scapegoats,” he said.
Their discharge conforms to the pattern; most persons arrested by Maharashtra’s ATS since its formation in 2004 walk free. But this case took a curious turn after the BJP came to power in the Centre and Maharashtra. The NIA, despite having given the accused a clean chit, began opposing their discharge. But the special judge found no “prima facie evidence of commission of the alleged offence.” Even the CBI admitted in court, three years after it took over the investigation, that it had found no evidence. It wasn’t just Swami Aseemanand’s confession that exonerated the accused. Even the families of the 37 Muslims killed in the blasts, and Malegaon’s Shiv Sena leader, vouched for their innocence. At least two had strong alibis — one was in police custody, another at a wedding 500 km away.
Recently, another set of accused arrested by the Maharashtra ATS were acquitted. Four Hindus charged with throwing bombs in 2003 on a mosque in Parbhani, which killed one, injured 35 and sparked off a riot, were acquitted in August for lack of evidence.
But, in this case, the government did not appeal. Its unusual decision is explained when one reads the orders passed by the court over the trial. They criticise the prosecution for “dragging its feet; making a mockery of the court proceedings; either deliberately attempting to derail the conduct of the trial in this very old matter or (not being) interested in going ahead.” Now, the original complainant, the imam of the bombed mosque, has appealed against their acquittal. Will he succeed? Not likely, going by previous experience.
Anti-terror outfits have repeatedly framed innocents. Despite that, governments, whether Congress or BJP, keep backing these outfits — but only when those framed are Muslim, not Hindu. Irshad Ali and Mauruf Qamar, please note.
Jyoti Punwani is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist