, by SYYED MANSOOR AGHA
SYYED MANSOOR AGHA paints graphic details of a chilling story showing how brazenly the police weaves a web of lies to implicate a Muslim youth, especially when he happens to be a Kashmiri, and how the latter is left to carry the stigma for life even after having been exonerated of all the charges.
It was the evening of November 21, 2006, and winter was settling down when Delhi Police called the media to share a chilling news story. Press room was all live when officials of Delhi Police Special Cell emerged with broad smiles on their faces and body language stating some rare accomplishment. Journalists were eager to listen and ready to note, camera-men trying to take prime position ready to click and table adorned of microphones and mini tape recorders. Two young Kashmiris, aeronautical engineer Imran Kirmani and one Ghulam Rasool Bafanda were brought in with their faces covered. Both, unaware of their ‘crime’, were shocked beyond their imagination when they heard that the police had framed them as ‘terrorists’. Suddenly the world became dark and future bleak for them.
The police claimed that they were ‘LeT operatives’ and part of conspiracy to make 9/11-like terror attack in the country. They were arrested ‘red-handed’ from a shopping area in Sector 6 of Dwarka, when Kirmani was ‘delivering’ a consignment of RDX to Bafanda. The officer alleged that Kirmani was facilitating money transfer through Hawala transactions and that police recovered Rs. 4.5 lakh from his possession which he had received for funding the terror activities.
Kirmani could not believe his ears because neither was he arrested from the shopping complex, nor had he ever seen RDX consignment. The police had taken him in custody and confiscated his money five days earlier from his rented flat in Dwarka Residential Area. The money was arranged by his father after selling some property in Kashmir to purchase a one-room flat. He had never seen a Hawala man. Bafanda was stranger to him. He could not imagine what he heard was from the custodians of law.
All cameras were focused on Kirmani and Bafanda and all questions were directed towards police officials, no media person showed interest to know the other side of the story and the duo could not muster courage to contradict as they were shocked and dazed. Telling his story after his release, Kirmani revealed that during illegal custody they reportedly tortured him brutally to demoralise and terrorise and that he was not in a position to intervene and deny police allegations.
The dreaded day came after a year Kirmani had completed a three-year diploma course in aircraft maintenance at Rajiv Gandhi Memorial College of Aeronautics, Jaipur. He had a call to join a reputed airline from 21st November but suddenly his dream was shattered without any mistake of his when he found himself in the cruel clutches of the police.
Hailing from Nelipora, a hamlet of Handwara, about 70 km from Srinagar, Kirmani had left his place at an early age and after Class V, joined Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Kupwara. He completed his schooling from Chandigarh. To become an aeronautical engineer he joined the Rajiv Gandhi Memorial College of Aeronautics in Jaipur in January 2000.After completing his three-year course, he took six-month training at Amritsar Flying Club. In 2005, he found a job with Star Aviation Academy in Delhi.
Things were falling into place till that cruel knock at the door of his Dwarka house in the afternoon of November 16, 2006. Kirmani said after his release from the jail, “When I opened the door to respond theknock, a group of men in civvies walked in. They introduced themselves as officers of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell. They placed their pistols on the table and told me they needed my help to solve a case.” Kirmani recalls, “I was scared and confused. But before I could say anything, they asked me to accompany them. They told me that they didn’t want to create a scene and harm my reputation among the neighbours.” The policemen also took the money he has kept to buy the flat. Unaware of what was in his store, he followed their instructions and accompanied them.
For next five days he was kept in custody at some unknown place and tortured.
In the evening of November 21 the police took him to a shopping complex in Sector 6, where they enacted a different scene. Kirmani recalls, “After some time, the police brought another person. I didn’t know him then. He was Ghulam Rasool Bafanda. I saw the policemen gave a bag to him (Bafanda) and ask him to leave. But as he walked a few meters, they ran after him and caught him, shouting ‘pakdo, pakdo (catch him)’.” He added, “It was a drama to show that they had arrested him from the shopping complex.”
Next day they were produced before a court and the Magistrate, without taking pains to delve deep into the police story, remanded them to jail. Next four years five months and 21 days in jail was another story of agony, suffering and mental torture for the boys and their families. In jail they were kept with dreaded criminals, adding more suffering to them.
Despite what the family members of Kirmani believe was “overwhelming evidence” pointing to his innocence, the wheels of justice rotated so slowly that it destroyed his much-cherished goal of working for a top airline. Along with the psychological torture, the Kirmanis had to liquidate all resources, including their house and two kanal (approximately 10,880 sq ft) of prime agricultural land to meet the expenses of litigation.
CHARGES AGAINST ACCUSED
They were charged under unlawful activities act, waging war against India under Sections 121,122,123 of IPC and 120B (criminal conspiracy), etc. At one point Kirmani felt that his lawyer was not pleading his case properly; so he decided to argue himself.
“During this long period, seven judges heard the case. But Justice Surinder S Rathi was the only one who took the matter seriously,” said Kirmani’s father. Justice Rathi issued orders to release the duo after dropping all charges. The sun again rose for the Kirmanis on April 30, 2011, but there was no TV camera, no press reporter to cover the news. The event went unnoticed in the national media till the Indian Express flashed a report from Srinagar, filed by Muzammil Jalil with detailed account of the plight on the front page on October 2, five months after the court had issued the orders.
What a sorry state of our journalism! When an innocent is implicated by the police, he gets full blown coverage and when the court of law tears apart the prosecution story, they show no interest. Corporate media, laced with saffron ideology, has a tendency to be proactive when a member of the minority community or a Kashmiri is implicated; and when exonerated of allegations, the event is not worth covering! Kirmani, a ruined youth, returned home in the first week of May when some local media published brief reports.
A local paper on May 20 reported him saying, “I am happy to be free at last, but have nightmares when I think about my job prospects. I won’t get a job in this field (aeronautics), at least not in India,” said the young man. “Who will give me a job when they learn that I have spent five years in jail although I have been acquitted of all the charges?”
Kirmani is one more addition to a growing list of Kashmiris arrested on terror charges outside the Valley and shown as big catches by the police before being acquitted. He was locked up with ‘hardcore criminals’. “That was the worst part,” he said. “But gradually I learnt to live there.”
His father Ghulam Rasool Kirmani, a retired government school teacher, and other members of his family, tried everything to get the innocent youth released. The elder Kirmani petitioned then President A.P.J. Abul Kalam and also his successor President Pratibha Patil. “But our ordeal continued until he was released. It has been a long fight and it has drained us financially and emotionally,” he said. “My family invested all their resources in my release. My sister’s marriage had to be postponed every year but I am hopeful it will be solemnised now,” he said.
DISTORTIONS IN POLICE STORY
The ‘distortions’ began with the charge sheet filed in the case. The police before the media had alleged a 9/11-like plot. In charge sheet, the Special Cell claimed a tip-off from a central intelligence agency that a LeT militant had set up base in Delhi and was funding terror through hawala and Kirmani, a resident of Dwarka and his brother. And that Kirmani also collected and transferred terror funds.
The police claimed to have recovered “around 1.5 kilogram of RDX, two automatic timers and 4.5 lakh rupees hawala money” from Kirmani and his ‘accomplice’. While releasing Kirmani, the court ordered that the money be returned to him because his family had produced substantial proof that they had sold a piece of land in Sopore to help Kirmani buy a flat in Delhi.
Along with Kirmani, Ghulam Rasool Bafanda was also falsely implicated. It later turned out that he was picked up from the exit gate of the domestic airport.
At one stage, Kirmani felt that certain steps taken by his lawyer may go against him, he argued himself before Justice SS Rathi, who did not take time to unearth the truth and find holes in the police chargesheet. “They (Special Cell) couldn’t manage to hide their lies,” the court said.
THE CASE AND THE VERDICT
* The Special Cell claimed that “on 16.11.2006, specific information was received at 3:30 pm from a secret informer saying Imran would be coming to Shopping Complex, Sector 6, Dwarka and will hand over a consignment of funds for the purpose of terrorism to one GhulamRasool at 6:30 pm”.
* Dismissing the “callous and inferior quality of investigation”, the Additional Sessions Judge said, “Even though it is claimed that secret input was received from Central Intelligence Agency (IB) in October 2006”, this was never put in writing.
The court noted, “The situation is further aggravated because there is no consensus amongst the witnesses on as to who received the information. As per SI R S Sherawat, it was he who received the secret information. As per SI Ramesh Lamba, he received the secret information. According to SI Ravinder Tyagi, he already had information in this regard. Most importantly as per ACP S K Yadav, it was he who received the information.”
* The judgment pointed out that the FSL report contradicted the description of the ‘RDX’ allegedly seized from Kirmani. In fact, it negated the substance even being an explosive. Moreover, there was nothing in the records about the arms allegedly seized from Kirmani and Bafanda.
* “In his deposition, (Head Constable) Manoj stated that the ruqqa (a police note which is prepared at the time of arrest and recoveries prepared on the spot) which was handed over to him at the spot consisted of only two pages, but ruqqa which is appended with chargesheet... is found to be containing seven pages. This smacks of antedating & fudging of record and documents,” the court said.
* The order also asked why a public witness was not arranged to join the raid.
* Questioning the post-arrest “investigations”, the judgment asked that if the “intelligence input was that Imran had set up a base at Dwarka, why absolutely no attempt whatsoever was made to ascertain or visit his house”. “It is quite improbable that when police claim to have arrested two terrorists who are said to be members of LeT, no raid is conducted at their claimed Delhi hideout... No attempt was made to verify his (Kirmani’s) old Delhi address or his conduct with his aviation employer.”
* “There is nothing on record to show that accused Imran and Ghulam were acquaintances... prior to their arrest. Also there is nothing on record to show that accused Imran is brother of accused Altaf, who has not been charge-sheeted in the matter,” the judgment said.
Naturally Kirmani and Bafanda have taken a huge sigh of relief after having been proved innocent and being out of custody, but fears of bleak future will continue to hound. Imran, as reported by Jalil, said, “Life itself has become a big jail for me.” After such injustice, the government didn’t even say sorry, he adds. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story.”
PUNISH THE GUILTY
It is general complaint that the Kashmiris are not being treated fairly but as aliens in the country. Intelligence agencies and the police are at liberty to target them. Colleges refuse them admissions and to get a shelter or a job out of Kashmir has become next to impossible. Government needs to change this atmosphere and tendency of targeting and implicating them falsely by law enforcing agencies. Unsubstantiated inputs from intelligence agencies and their instructions for action to local police without an iota of evidence had further deteriorated the condition. In such cases officials found guilty of deliberately falsely implicating innocent citizens, must be punished and the wronged be fully compensated and reinstated. Media must also be made responsible for reckless reporting.
PROBE SOURCE OF MISINFORMATION
In this case more than one police official has claimed that he was given the “information” by some official in “central intelligence agency”. Authenticity of this claim must be probed. Until the ill-intended officials who acted without dependable evidence and cooked a false story, justice may not be said to have been done with the accused and chances of recurrence of such cases will remain open. Will the UPA government awake to achieve the target of winning the confidence of Kashmiris?
[The writer is Gen. Sec. Forum for Civil Rights; email- firstname.lastname@example.org]