Sunday, January 23, 2011

Malegaon at Crossroads

Malegaon bomb blasts 2006: The scene outside the Bada Qabristan

In his famous novel Jimmy the Terrorist, Omair Ahmed brilliantly portrays Muslim alienation in the fictional town of Mozammabad in Uttar Pradesh. The protagonist of the novel Jamaal, also referred to as Jimmy, grows up in the shadow of mosque demolition, curfews and the rise of religious intolerance. In the end Jimmy stabs a police inspector and is beaten to death. The last words he utters are, “My name is Jimmy the terrorist.” The gripping portrayal of Mozammabad can be a story of any town with a sizeable Muslim population. Mozammabad can be easily replaced with Azamgarh or Malegaon.

Like Mozammabad, a deep sense of alienation and mistrust runs through the psyche of Malegaon. Listening to fiery speeches of emotive orators amidst jeering crowd on Friday night in Malegaon created a thought that crossed my mind: Was there any Jimmy in the audience? One can easily call this question ‘provocative’ but yet it would be foolhardy to dismiss this hypothesis with a shrug. A Jamaal can easily be a Janardhan.

As India marches ahead on the world map, it cannot overlook the broader theme at the heart of this debate, which is alienation and a sense of victimhood irrespective of religion. The ordinary Muslim of Malegaon has every reason to feel like Jimmy though he is yet to fall into the dangerous trap of stabbing the inspector. That is not to suggest that there have not been any of the same violent manifestation. The burning of a police van after 2006 blasts and clashes with police after 2008 blast are two examples in the making of Malegaon’s Jimmy. These episodes are a defining moment in drawing a distinction between Jimmy as himself and Jimmy as the terrorist.

The 2006 Malegaon blasts are a watershed in the history of Indian Muslims. The trend of targeting mosques and Muslim localities originated like a sparkle in Nanded, Parbhani and Jalna in 2003 and the sparkle turned into fire when it reached Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer and Samjhauta Express. The screaming voices of Indian Muslims to investigative these blasts from all possible angles were lost in wilderness and it came back like an echo at Mahabaleshwar’s Arthur point. Then all of a sudden the 2008 blast took place. It was the honesty and integrity of a brave officer that lead an investigation to turn the tables. There is a gap of five years between 2003 and 2008. The political voice of Indian Muslims is so weak that it took five years to travel from bylanes of Malegaon to power corridors of Delhi. The political Muslim dispensation is still living an age of defeat; they have yet to come out of slump of 1857.

The reinvestigation of 2006 Malegaon blasts will be a litmus test for Central Bureau of Investigation. It remains to be seen which path CBI chooses to tread. Its battered image can get a fresh coat of paint if it applies the rule of common sense. It will not be unfair to suggest that Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur knew about the 2006 blasts. She visited former RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi’s house on December 30, 2007, the night after he was murdered by his “own” men in and took away a briefcase without telling the family members. The family was unaware of Joshi’s death and nobody questioned Sadhvi since she was a “regular” visitor. Sadhvi told investigators that the motorcycle used for the Malegaon blast was the one she sold to Joshi. Aseemanand’s confession is a masterstroke in the sense that the main-accused person, Sunil Joshi, was murdered under mysterious circumstances. Both Sadhvi and Aseemanand seem to suggest that Sunil Joshi was the main player in 2006 and 2008 blast. It will be an uphill task for CBI to connect dots with a dead man. Which court in the world has successfully prosecuted a dead man?

With Swami Aseemanand’s confession the mood in Malegaon seems to be celebratory. The same mood prevailed when the inquiry into the 2006 blasts was mischievously handed to CBI after the filing of chargesheet. The same mood prevailed when approver Abrar Ahmed turned hostile. The same mood prevailed when CBI told the Bombay High Court that it has not found anything incriminating against the nine accused. This vicious cycle of justice seems to be as evasive as a mirage of barren desert. At each episode, the key players involved in the struggle of justice have enjoyed their 15 minutes of fame, but nothing has happened. Will Jan. 28, 2011, the date of hearing for bail, turn out to be an extension of this vicious cycle?

Media is the mirror of society. It returns to Malegaon only when there is some ‘development’ in the bomb blast case. One cannot blame the media for this trend because news-hunt is its job. Omair Ahmed sarcastically describes the role of media members in covering Mozammabad this way, “Look at them, how they gather, descending like kites upon a fresh kill.” In doing so, media has greatly affected the collective behaviour of Malegaon: leaders only appear on scene when there is any ‘development.’ There is no persistent attempt for justice. The air-conditioned office of a chief minister or a home minister (be it RR Patil or Chidambaram) is not the ideal place to seek justice in a democracy. The days of Mughal Empire are long over! In a democratic setup, justice is sought in court of law. One understands the importance of building political ‘pressure’ but this exercise is always performed discreetly not in front of camera. No Kashmiri went to meet the home minister when SAR Geelani was wrongly convicted in the 2001 Parliament attack case. Instead they turned to famous lawyer Ram Jethmalani who successfully fought Geelani’s case free of cost, despite strong opposition from the right-wing quarters.

The mad race to take ‘credit’ is a shameful act while the innocent accused are still anguished in jail and their families going through an agonizing experience. No civilized society will tolerate petty politics over the lives of the innocents. The only boy worthy of any credit is Abdul Kaleem of Hyderabad, if Aseemanand’s confession is genuine.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a sincere man and he comes from the Sikh minority. He understands the anger, despair and helplessness of the minority. The general feeling in Malegaon can be summed up in the words of Noor-ul-Huda’s wife, Samira Bano, who told Tehelka magazine, “I would only tell Allah about my misery. I don’t have any faith in the media or in the courts.” One hopes that Manmohan Singh understands her voice is the voice of Malegaon.

Meanwhile, Jimmy can take a break as Swami Aseemanand has taken his place.
Sunday Inquilab, January 23, 2011

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Whispers have become Words

Swami Aseemanand: The Man behind five bomb blasts (Pic Courtesy: Tehelka)
Whispers have become words. Murmurs have taken form of sentences. Private conversations and personal convictions are no longer confined within the four walls of a decrepit Muslim household. A quiet sign language has been replaced by a wild scream. The guilt-soaked eyes have got new sparkle of hope and redemption. The Indian Muslim has finally got the guilt-free-pass handed by a ‘devout’ Hindu priest Swami Aseemanand of Dangs, Gujarat.
Aseemanand’s judicial confession – that he and his Hindutva men were responsible for five major bomb blasts – has opened Pandora’s Box. The bees of the box have stung so many men in Khakhi. One confession has destroyed the credibility of countless police officers. It is safe to assume that Rajwardhan, the then Rural SP of Nasik, did not sleep properly on Friday night. He weaved a dangerous fictional tale in order to implicate 11 innocent Muslims in Malegaon’s 2006 blasts. It is equally safe to assume that the conscience of former ATS chief KP Raghuvanshi must be cursing himself. It was Raghuvanshi who proudly displayed sketches of two suspects who bought new cycles. How conveniently he forgot the fact that the sketches don’t match with the bearded Muslims languishing in jail! How conveniently he forgot the fact that Shabbir Masiullah, one of the accused, was already in Mumbai police custody since many months before the blasts! How conveniently he forgot the fact that Noorul-Huda, the accused number one, was under close police watch since many years! 

Aseemanand’s confession has brought open the divide within the CBI. The confession is an indictment CBI as well. CBI blindly followed the footprints of KP Raghuvanshi when it filed a supplementary chargesheet in Malegaon 2006 blasts repeating the lies woven by ATS. How conveniently CBI relied on ATS theory that Zahid, the Imam of Phoolsavangi, planted bomb when he was leading Friday prayers hundreds of miles away!  It is altogether a different matter that Aseemanand was arrested by CBI! Therefore it can be safely assumed that there are two kinds of CBI; one highly communal and the other secular. Does CBI stand for Communal Bureau of Investigation?

Harish Gupta, the then Hyderabad Joint Commissioner of Police, took inspiration from KP Raghuvanshi when he falsely implicated 19 Muslims in Mecca Masjid blast case.

The role of RSS has come on spotlight after Aseemanand’s confession. Ram Madhav, RSS spokesman, has said that confession was given under “duress”. He should know that it’s a judicial confession recorded as per the guidelines laid down in Section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code which says that confessions recorded before a magistrate are legally admissible evidence. Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab had given confession under the same section. It is very difficult to retract the confession given under this section. If one retracts confession then it is quite possible that perjury charges will be slapped on him. Retired Bombay High Court judge Justice Hosbet Suresh is of the opinion that the accused can retract his statement. In a recent interview Justice Suresh remarked, “Even if the prosecution relies on it, the magistrate who recorded the confession is summoned and he will give evidence in the court. The magistrate can be cross-examined”.

The communal and biased role of investigating agencies must be fully examined by Prime Minister Manmoham Singh. There is an urgent need for a legislation which will hold our investigating agencies accountable for their misdeeds. Delivering the Fourth R.N. Kao Memorial Lecture on January 19, 2010 organised by the Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW), Vice-President Hamid Ansari had called for greater “oversight and accountability” in the operations of the country’s intelligence agencies. He had suggested setting up of a standing committee of Parliament on intelligence. He passionately argued that just like other democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, the “concerned agencies should make public their mission statement, outlining periodically their strategic intent, vision, mission, core values and their goals”. It is high time to implement the suggestion of Hamid Ansari. 

Similarly we need to have a mechanism in place whose job is to keep watch that no innocent is falsely accused on terror charges. 32 Muslims have been wrongly imprisoned on terror charges. Four years of incarceration has ruined their lives; their families had literally given up the hope that they will get justice. It remains to be seen how the Indian government is going to right the wrongs done by law-enforcing agencies. Will the offending police officers be booked under the same stringent laws which were abused by them? This will be the biggest test of Indian democracy.   

Indian Muslim’s quest for inclusion in new India will remain a dream unless the guilty police officers are punished. The average Indian Muslim is still trapped between two keywords: Justice and survival.  

Can Indian politicians learn from Aseemanand’s judicial confession?  2010 was a year of loot and plunder. 2011 began on a happy note if Aseemanand’s “penance” is true.

Sunday Inquilab, January 9, 2011