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India: Muslim youth

By M. Reyaz
May 28 2013





Death of Khalid Mujahid has once again brought into focus atrocities on Indian Muslim youth in the name of terrorism. This special TCN series highlights some of the example cases of people beyond the headlines and their struggle for justice. This series is sponsored by Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).

The mysterious death of Khalid Mujahid on Saturday on his way to jail from the court in police security has once again brought to light the vulnerability of hundreds of Muslim youths arrested across country on dubious charges of terrorism and declaring war against the nation.

Although there is no known data on those behind bars specifically on terror charges, hundreds of youths are believed to be as under-trails in connection with alleged terror attacks or terror plots. Muslims anyways have disproportionately high representation in jails, according to a recently released report of ‘Prisons Statistics – 2011’ by the National Crime Bureau. 56.7% of convicts belong to Muslim community were lodged in four states alone namely Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In Gujarat, for example, Muslims comprise of 10% of population, but 22% of jail inmates are Muslims. In West Bengal Muslim population is 25%, but Muslim prisoners under trials and convicts in jail are 46%, while in Uttar Pradesh it 21%.

Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), a group of teachers, from Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU and DU, who came together in the wake of the Batla House encounter to fight for human rights and ‘illegal’ detention last year released a report “Framed, Damned, Acquitted : Dossiers of a ‘Very’ Special Cell,” in which it had documented 16 cases where ‘innocent’ Muslim youths were “arrested, in main by the Special Cell of Delhi Police, were accused of being operatives and agents of various terrorist organizations (Al Badr, HUJI , Lashkar), and charged with the most heinous of crimes: sedition; war against the state; criminal conspiracy, planning and causing bomb blasts; training of terrorists; collection of arms, ammunition and explosives and the transfer of funds for terrorist activities.” At the end, however, they were acquitted by court. Sometimes the duration of detention, as in the case of Md Amir, has been as long as 14 years.

Khalid Mujahid’s custodial death has once again reminded the grim reality of what a leading national daily wrote in its editorial, “Khalid Mujahid’s death raises vital questions about justice delivery in terror cases.”

Those accused of terror cases are prone to abuses, torture, attacks from jail inmates as well as security agencies. Several accused are out on bail, or those acquitted have complained how during interrogations they were asked questions about their faith, why do you read Quran, why do you have sympathy for Pakistan, or their patriotism is questioned. Often confessional statements are extracted by using forms of third degree torture that includes canning, hanging upside down, pouring petrol on genitals, extracting nails, etc making them psychologically and/or physically crippled for life.

They are not safe even after they are sent to judicial custody, as in the case of Khalid. There were 1,332 deaths in prison in 2011 alone, of which 88 were “unnatural” deaths, according to the latest data available from the National Crime Bureau. In July, last year 27 year old Qateel Siddiqi, arrested in November 2011 by the Special Cell for his alleged links with Indian Mujahedeen, was killed in Yerwada Central jail in Pune by fellow inmates.

Investigative journalist Ashish Khetan has now revealed on his newly found website, “Secret files prove what Muslims have suspected all along: the State is knowingly prosecuting the innocent on terror charges.” It has unearthed “internal documents from more than half a dozen anti-terror agencies that show that the State has been knowingly prosecuting innocent Muslims for terror cases and keeping the evidence of their innocence from the courts.”

Khetan adds, “In the Pune German Bakery Case the accused Himayat Baig has even been sentenced to death. And another accused, Qatil Siddiqui, whose testimony could have proved his innocence was murdered in a high security prison. In the 2006 Malegaon Blasts case, even after the arrestof a set of Hindutava radicals, the NIA has still not exonerated the original set of innocent Muslims nor has it taken any action against those police officers who had planted explosives in the premises of the innocent accused. The Maharashtra Government has persisted with prosecuting thirteen innocent Muslims for the 2006 train blasts even after evidence surfaced of their innocence.”

The biggest faux pas for security agencies were arrests in connection with terror attacks on Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, Malegaon blast and Samjhauta Express blast, where several Muslim youths were arrested in connection, but later it was found that those blasts were handiwork of extremist Hindutva outfits.

Senior police officials, however, claim that if someone is acquitted by court it is not that the concerned person was innocent, but that there were not enough evidences to prove him guilty in court. In case of Khalid, they have gone a step further. Vikram Singh, former DGP of Uttar Pradesh, under whose direction Khalid was arrested and he is one of the 42 police officials whose name finds in an FIR filed by his uncle Zahir Alam Falahi, is adamant. He told media that he is proud of the fact that under his direction Khalid was arrested, against whom there are evidences of involvement in acts of terror.

Security agency is questioning government’s motive and arguing that it would be difficult for them to work in this kind of environment. In fact, after the 2010 Batla House encounter, when civil rights groups demanded probe into the matter, the government turned it down saying the moral of the police would be affected.

To be fair, it’s not just Muslims who appear to be at the receiving end of the biased system, 65% of total jail inmates are Dalits, tirbals or other backward community members according to the National Crime Bureau.


“Clearly there were blasts, and if doubts are being raised on those arrested, that implies that real culprits are still at large. The government should not only punish the erring police personnel, but should also initiate a fresh investigation in the whole case,” said Advocate Shoaib, whose Rihai Manch (Forum for the Release of Innocent Muslims imprisoned in the name of Terrorism) has been fighting for the release of innocent Muslims imprisoned in the name of terrorism.

What needs to be looked upon is the ‘inefficiency’ of the security forces and an over haul in the whole system, that should include proper training in counter terrorism handling, point out experts. India is the second lowest among 50 countries ranked in number of police per capita, with only 129 cops per 100,000 people. Delhi based rights activist Mahtab Alam agrees that our police force is overstretched and meagerly paid, and that often in quest of giving quick result, under pressure from media, they resort to easy way out and Muslim youths are ‘readymade’ prey. But he says that this is just part of the problem. “Apart from police and investigating agencies our political class as well as judiciary is also responsible. The bias is multi layered. Our criminal justice is almost rotten,” he quips.

The stigma of terror on a population suspected to be unpatriotic:

As a consequence of partition on the basis of politics of religion, as also the communal politics of the saffron brigade Muslims in India have generally been seen with suspicion, perpetuating certain negative stereotype about them. There has been several success stories in the ‘story of India’ attributed to Muslims in all walks of life. In fact current vice President, Chief Justice, Attorney General, Foreign Minister, and host of other eminent positions are held by Muslims. However, the central government- appointed Sachar Committee has rightly documented the deplorable condition of the biggest minorities in India, for whom the inequality of the boom has reinforced their exclusion.

In such a scenario the stigma of being branded a ‘terrorist’ is not easy. When those acquitted are asked for possible reasons for their arrest, often the answer is the stark reality: witch hunting based on faith.

Kanpur based 41 year old Syed Wasif Haider was in jail for over eight years in several cases from August 4, 2001 to August 12, 2009 when he was finally acquitted from all cases. However, the ‘media-trial’ against him continues. Speaking to TCN earlier he had said, “My media-trial continues even after I have been acquitted from the court… it seems media in India has become bigger than judiciary.” Every time there is some terror related news in local media; his name is dragged in it he alleges. He finally had to knock the door of the judiciary and his petition against some media houses are pending in local courts.

Haider, the only son of his parents, is married with four daughters. At the time of his arrest, he was working as sales manager in a multi-national company. Even after his acquittals from all cases Haider is not able to lead a ‘normal life’ or find a job since people are afraid to meet or even talk to him, he said.

Similar is the story of Dr. Anwar Ali Javed Ali Khan, a former lecturer at National Defence Academy in Pune, who is out from jail after spending 8 years – with acquittal in one case and on bail in another since February 2011 – and is now forced to sell books that he authored while in jail for “learning Urdu in 30 days.” However, the ghost of terror does not seem to leave him and the income is not sufficient to support his family of three school going children, wife and ailing mother.

The government on its part has maintained that there might have been mistakes in some cases, but that by and large law does not make any distinction based on religion. As the demand for speedy justice delivery system, particularly in terror related cases, gaining strength, Home Minister Shushil Kumar Shinde has sent an advisory last week to all states, seeking to expedite the process of finding the total number of Muslim youths who are in jails, their duration, etc for setting up fast track courts. Home Ministry had earlier informed the Parliament that 39 special courts are already functional under the NIA Act for terror related cases.

The bigger question that is haunting is rehabilitation and compensation packages for those acquitted. Take the case of Md Aamir Khan, who was arrested when he was merely 18 years old and spent 14 precious years in jail before he was finally acquitted. He is finding great difficulty in starting his life afresh. For compensation, he even met the Delhi Chief Minister, but so far he has little success. He told TCN that the Delhi CM was sympathetic towards him and expressed her concerns the way Muslim youths are arbitrarily detained. Aamir spoke about the compensation package he had urged a year ago in his meeting with the Principal Secretary of Delhi. According to Aamir, Dikshit has assured him of all possible support.

The National Commission for Minorities too has intervened in cases after the acquittals of Muslim youths for compensation. After NCM recommendations, for example, 70 acquitted youths in Hyderabad were awarded a total of Rs 70 lakhs from the Andhra government. NCM had also intervened for compensation of youths acquitted in Jaipur. Engineer Rashid Husain, who was sacked from his job from Infosys in 2008, after his arrest went to court where the IT major agreed to pay him compensation of Rs 20 lakh.

However, there are no set guidelines yet and hence the travails of these youths continue even after their acquittals.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Samosa.


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