By UMME MARYAM
The death of a 25-year-old in police custody in a famous city jail has reminded me of a recent seminar held at Jamia Millia Islamia. The programme was organised by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) to highlight the brutal treatment and atrocities faced by prisoners in police custody. JTSA published a booklet, “The Case That Never Was: The ‘SIMI’ trial of Jaipur”. The booklet is an eye-opener. It reveals the torture and trauma faced by people behind the closed doors of prison and in police custody.
The ban on Students Islamic Movement of India made it an excuse for the police to pick, question and detain Muslim youth. Sections 3, 10, 13 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 have been invoked and made a pretext to arrest many across the country. The facts were conveniently overlooked or ignored. Most of the arrested were members or relatives of members of SIMI before its ban and had possessed some literature of the movement. All rules and laws dealing with under-trials and accused were discarded. Some detainees were acquitted for want of evidence while others were found guilty despite lack of any solid evidence.
The JTSA booklet highlights one such case known as the Jaipur blasts case. Fourteen people were arrested or made to surrender on the charges of being former SIMI members; no charges of either conspiracy or execution of bomb blasts were applied on them. The story unfolds into a sad and tragic tale of protectors turning predators. The police played the role of cooking up false tales rather than nabbing the real culprits.
Jaipur witnessed serial blasts on May 13, 2008. Within three months the police arrested or made to surrender 12 or 13 persons from Kota and its neighbouring areas. Most of the arrested or surrendered were confined for three days to a week before being presented before a magistrate. This period was spent in the custody of SOG which turned into an evil torture chamber, violating the guidelines of the Supreme Court. They were ruthlessly beaten up and assaulted, their legs stretched so much that it formed a T shape. They were unaware of their crime and were in misery over the charges of treason levelled against them.
The local media too played its part and without investigation went ahead in branding the arrested as terrorists. The detainees were shocked as they led ordinary lives and never even went near any criminal activity. They were threatened not to disclose anything to the outside world of their torture.
After being produced before a magistrate, 11 of them were sent to the local jail while three were taken away by the Gujarat police. It is here that their real nightmare began. They were confined in dark tiny chamber-like rooms without any toilet facilities. A single dirty pot of water was provided for their daily requirements and drinking as well. They were called betrayers and were mercilessly beaten up night and day. Numberdaars (hardened criminals serving life sentences) were sent to each chamber. They behaved like beasts and made all hell loose on the accused. The accused faced both mental and physical torture. They were not allowed to bathe, wash or clean themselves. The jail authorities worked hand in glove with the numberdaars to diminish humaneness from the under-trials. They started living animal lives.
When the time to be produced before a magistrate came, the police arranged it to be through video conferencing. The under-trails were threatened into keeping mum about the brutalities they faced. The men were hooded (always done outside their cells) and kept in a small open space for many hours. They were beaten up even for slight movement of limbs or stretching. One of them fainted. The first hearing went ahead without any hope for them.
Subsequently the second hearing too turned out to be the same. However the men were produced this time in the court but with hoods and under very strict police scrutiny. Here some of them gained enough courage and peeled off their hoods and showed the magistrate their inhuman conditions. The magistrate, seeing their scarred faces, hair and foul smelling clothes, ordered the jail authorities to look after their hygiene and cleanliness. Here too they could not utter the real tale of torture faced by them due to fear and stressed out mental condition. After this incident their conditions eased a bit. They were again beaten up after 26/11. On the occasion of their second Eid in jail, they were not allowed to offer the Eid Salat; they refused sweets as a protest which angered the authorities greatly. They were locked inside their cells and brutally tortured. The police and namberdaars went ahead and even desecrated the holy Qur’ān before their eyes.
The police could not gather any substantial evidence against them and thus they were charged under Sections 153A, 295A, 120B of CRPC and Sections 3, 10, 13, 17, 18, 19 of UAPA (1967). They were not accused of execution or planning to carry out bomb blasts.
The witnesses turned hostile. The difference in the recorded police statement and the actual statement of the witnesses is for all to see. One such statement is here:
Police record of the statement of Giriraj Painter, in December 2007: “The caretaker of Nanta Road masjid came to my home and engaged me to paint the mosque. I reached there at about 10a.m. and whitewashed the outer walls of the mosque the whole day.The same day about 20-25 men came to the mosque and talked about SIMI. I was busy with my work and did not pay attention to them and returned in evening. The caretaker of the mosque Zafarbhai gave me Rs130 for my work, he was present with me the whole day.”
The real statement of Giriraj painter: “I am a painter by profession. I executed a whitewashing job for the Nanta road masjid. Zafarbhai (caretaker of mosque) had sent for me. No meeting of 20-25 people took place there. No one was talking about SIMI there.”
Neither the evidence nor witnesses was of any help to the police. The case fell apart like nine pins and finally with the help of Allah 11 of them were released while three unfortunate ones were taken in the custody of the Gujarat government under Section 268 of CRPC.
I would also like to make a special mention of a recent incident that took place in Jamia Nagar on Thursday (Feb. 16) night. The residents of the locality in a daring show of strength and bravery foiled an attempt of covert operation by special cell of Police belonging to another state. The local Jamia Nagar police was not informed of the operation which was carried out in the death of night. On receiving the news of the silent prowl, the locals gathered in full force and did not let the police take away the innocent youth targeted by the Police team. If all Muslims living in India show similar strength and unity then we can stop the arrest of innocent persons and help nab the real criminals.