Indian Secularism’s Litmus Test: Malegaon & Sadarpur

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Litmus test faced almost continuously by Indian secularism is far from over. From the legal, political and social perspective of Indian Muslims, the test shall continue till they are denied their due share politically and cease being subject to prejudice prevalent against them in the country’s law & order system. The judicial decisions pronounced recently, regarding Malegaon blasts of 2006 and Sadarpur riots (2002) give the impression that the Indian Muslims are finally being ensured a fair judicial trial. But a close analysis highlights the hard reality they have been subject to.

Seven Muslims were released on bail last month as there was lack of evidence for being responsible for Malegaon blasts. It may be recalled, these seven were among the ones picked up by Maharashtra Anti-Terror Squad (MTS) within a few days after the blast. Despite their being no constructive proof of their being the guilty party, legally they are still viewed as suspects. They have been released on bail, paid on their behalf by an organization. If the bail had not been paid and had certain secular Indians as well as organizations not been pursuing action on their behalf, they may still have remained arrested.

Ironically, it did not take long for MTS to pick the seven individuals along with several others as responsible for Malegaon (2006)-blasts. Equally perplexing is the fact that the legal procedure has taken several years to accept that they were arrested without substantial proof convicting them of having committed the crime. Now, does that imply that they were picked up, without any proof, but only because they happened to be Muslims? Also, if it became clear that there was practically no evidence against them, why were they kept in prisons for several years? Who and/or what should be held responsible for not paying due respect to law and order that is meant to take action against law breakers and not hold innocent persons as the guilty?

Incidentally, whenever blast incidents take place, usually Muslims are picked up almost instantly as suspect “terrorists.” Little importance is given to conducting appropriate investigation and collecting substantial evidence to arrest the actual culprits. In blast cases, unless the criminals are suicide bombers, there remains the strong possibility of there being little or no proof at the affected site. This also limits the prospects of almost immediately rounding up the suspect persons. In other words, the Indian secularism is still affected by a certain bias which instantly prompts concerned authorities to arrest Muslims, even if there is no evidence of their being responsible for the blast incidents.

Against the Malegaon-backdrop, Sadarpur-case presents a different picture from several aspects but one. The aggrieved party in this case too were the Muslims. Last month was witness to sentence given to 31 people for rioting in Sadarpur village, Gujarat in 2002. They have been held guilty for rioting in which 33 Muslims were burnt alive in Sadarpur, one of the many cases during which Muslims were brutally targeted in the Gujarat-carnage. Undeniably, the Sadarpur-sentence is hardly reflective of those guilty of rioting against Muslims during Gujarat-carnage being behind bars. It is an open secret that a significant percentage of rioters and those responsible for provoking the same may never even have any case filed against them. Regarding Sadarpur, it may also be noted that charges were framed in 2009, around seven years after the Gujarat-carnage, against 73 for murder, attempt to murder, rioting and arson. On these grounds, 21 persons were arrested. Besides, nearly a decade has passed since the Gujarat-carnage and also for a judicial decision announcing punishment against 31 held guilty of Sadarpur riots.

When riots take place, particularly if they are of the nature of Gujarat-carnage, with rioters present at the site, those responsible for security of the people and ensuring law and order are naturally expected not to spend too much time in picking up the guilty persons. In fact, if this action had been taken, brutal rioting could have been checked and Muslims may not have fallen victim to the Gujarat-carnage. But as is well known, due to certain political pressure, the concerned officers turned a blind eye to the carnage. In other words, they let the rioters target the Muslims. The hard fact that ten years have been spend in taking action against a few of the guilty is also reflective of a certain bias against Muslims being responsible for this delay.

Without doubt, whether it is the case of Malegaon or Sadarpur, Muslims have fallen victim to a bias entertained against them at certain levels. In Malegaon, it led to their being framed as suspect terrorists and in Sadarpur, it led the rioters target Muslims and remain free for several years till recently when a few of them received sentences. Undeniably, had secular organizations and activists not pursued these cases, neither Malegaon nor Sadarpur may have witnessed what seems to be “fair” and “just” trials. Certainly, the judicial decisions in both cases have led many people heave a sigh of relief that at least the judicial system has not displayed a bias against the Muslims. But this also indicates that till a bias prevails against Muslims at several levels, Indian secularism as well as judicial system shall continue facing a litmus test on whether Muslims have been denied justice or not.


Contrast: Fate of Malegaon Accused & Batla House “Encounter”

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Indian secularism is once again facing the test of whether there prevails a tainted approach in holding Muslims as “suspect” terrorists and sparing the majority from facing stringent anti-terrorist laws the former are subject to. Within less than a year of 11 being accused under the Maharashtra Control of Organized Act (MCOCA) for the 2008 Malegaon bomb case, a special court in Mumbai has decided to drop the stringent law against them. The accused include Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt. Col. Prasad Purohit. The court decided to drop provisions of MCOCA as there did not prevail substantial evidence against them (August 7).

Claiming that the state government would not remain quiet over the special court’s decision and would challenge it in the Supreme Court, Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said: “We would initiate MCOCA against those involved in terrorist activities irrespective of caste and religion of the accused.” Irrespective of whether MCOCA is slapped again against the 11 accused, what stands out is that law is being allowed to take its own course. The burning question is, whether the law is being followed because the accused belong to the majority community. Why isn’t the same approach displayed in lifting stringent laws against Muslims still languishing behind bars, quite a few of whom have not even been given adequate chance to prove their innocence?

One may refer to last year’s Batla House (fake) encounter, in which two Muslims – Atif Amin and Mohd. Sajid were killed (September 19) as “suspect terrorists.” Mohd. Saif and Zeeshan were arrested as “suspect terrorists.” Till date, details have not been made public as to what was the “substantial evidence” that led to the killing of two and arrest of other two. What is more stunning that the two killed were not even given a chance to prove their innocence. It would have been a different case altogether had they been arrested and/or killed while they were in the process of triggering of some militant activity. They were killed and arrested from the place where they were residing at in Batla House. If the law can be allowed to take its own course, as indicated by action initiated against those accused of Malegaon blasts, why has not same approach been displayed towards the ones targeted in Batla House “encounter?” Is it because the Malegaon-accused belong to the majority community and in the Batla House case to the minority?

The ironical difference in the two cases stands reflected markedly in the approach of the near and dear ones of the ones accused in the Malegaon-case and the Batla House encounter. It was party time for members of Sadhvi’s family who distributed sweets after MCOCA was dropped against her. Her father, C.P. Thakur said: “I was confident that my daughter is innocent and had faith in judiciary. It was an attempt by the police to frame her and this is just the beginning. She will come out clean in the end.” With MCOCA dropped, it will be easier for Sadhvi and other 10 to secure bail.

Welcoming the court’s decision, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said: “We welcome dropping of charges under MCOCA against Malegaon blast accused by Mumbai special court. With this the diversionary and fictional myth about Hindu terror has been smashed. It has been proven false.”

Rudy has a point. So do those who are of the opinion that Muslims arrested and/or killed as “suspect terrorists” are innocent and have been deliberately framed without being given opportunity to argue their case legally. Sajid’s father, Ansarul Hasan has not given up option of approaching the courts for justice. The process will not bring back his son, killed last year in Batla House “encounter” to life but at least it will enlighten others on whether to trust the Indian legal process when Muslims are shot dead only because they are “suspected” to be terrorists.

In a letter addressed to Chief Justice, Hassan pleaded that his son Sajid was innocent and an FIR be filed against the police personnel responsible for killing him. Hassan sought the court’s intervention as the police refused to register a case against its personnel involved in the encounter. Hassan also claimed that even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had refused to entertain his plea. Hassan’s letter came a few days after NHRC gave a clean chit to role of Delhi police in Batla House encounter. The report, released last month, claims that there was “no human rights violation by police in Batla House encounter.” The NHRC report has, however, been strongly criticized by social activists, civil rights groups and Muslim leaders, according to whom, it is based only on the police version of the “encounter.”

Against these odds, it is commendable that at least the Delhi High Court has not ignored Hassan’s letter. The matter has been posted for August 18, when the court would hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking independent inquiry in the Batla House case. One is nevertheless compelled to deliberate on the difference in legal trial having becoming easier for Malegaon-accused, while it remains arduous for relatives and supporters of those killed and arrested in Batla House “encounter.” Should the difference in the legal course of both cases be linked with religious identities of the accused? The answer, yet to be decided by higher courts, would certainly be a litmus test for whether a biased approach prevails in deciding judicial judgment for suspect terrorists, Hindus as well as Muslims!