- Subhash Gatade
Adam Goldman, a journalist who with the help of his colleague Matt Apuzzo first broke the story about New York Police Department's Muslim Spy Programme in a series of articles he wrote for Associated Press must be a happy man these days.
News has come in that NYPD (New York Police Department) has finally decided to disband its DemographicUnit which was engaged in spying on Muslim neighborhoods, infiltrating groups and eavesdropping on conversations across the northeastern United States, In the years following the Sept. 11 attacks. It has finally admitted that its secret Demographics Unit failed to yield a single terrorism investigation or even a single lead. Senior police officers of the department confirmed that the police gathered information on people even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.
It was quite a coincidence that when the world at large was discussing how NYPD tried to stigmatise a community and terrorise a people, reports about the 'informer-cop nexus behind Islamic Fundamentalism in Tamil Nadu'. (http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/Informer-Cop-Nexus-Behind-TN-Islamic-Fundamentalism/2014/04/11/article216) were already making rounds. What is important to note here is that a (retd) senior police officers confidential correspondence with higher officials formed a key evidence in this unfolding drama.
Not very many people would remember today that during Lal Krishna Advani's tour of Tamil Nadu in the year 2011 police had discovered a plot to cause mayhem supposedly by Islamic militants. It was told that pipe bombs were discovered on the route which Advani's cavalcade was to follow. Police had even arrested two 'terrorists' Syed Wahab and Ismath and presented them before the media.
A petition before the Madras Highcourt which has sought a CBI probe into the various bomb planting cases in Madurai alleging that the real accused were not arrested is revisiting this particular high profile case as well. Madras Highcourt ( Madurai bench) is expected to give its opinion on the 21 st April.The said letters written by former Madurai SP V Balakrishnan to the DGP and Additional DGP in March and August 2013 and were presented before the court in the second week of April.
According to Balakrishnan police informers belonging to the Muslim community were themselves indulging in subversive activities by abusing the faith the police had placed on them and also due to their alleged nexus with some corrupt intelligence sleuths.
"To buttress this contention, Balakrishnan in a letter to the DGP dated March 29, 2013 pointed to a case registered by the Avaniyapuram police against Syed Wahab and Ismath relating to a case of extortion. Of them, Ismath, who was an informer for the City Intelligence unit, was involved in the Advani pipe bomb planting case. Also, Vijaya Perumal, a head constable attached to the Madurai City Intelligence Wing, had joined hands with Wahab and conducted kangaroo courts settling controversial real estate dealings.
Balakrishnan had in another letter written to the Additional DGP on August 23, 2013 strongly objected to the transfer of an Inspector of the SIT who was probing cases related to bombs planted by Islamic fundamentalists in the temple town. He feared that the transfer of Inspector Madasamy would embolden fundamentalists to carry on with their subversive activities."
Definitely this could not be said to be the first investigation of its kind where the role of the police and investigating agencies has come under a scanner. There are n number of cases where law and order people have badly fumbled and have received enough opprobrium from the judiciary. Not some time ago ' Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association' had brought out a report 'Framed, Damned and Acquitted' which looks at the operations of the Special Cell of the Delhi police, the stereotypical manner in which they conducted investigations in cases arresting Muslims for being part of terrorist outfits and how in most of these cases the accused were acquitted by the courts.
The developments in the Malegaon bomb blast case 2006 where a terror module of RSS workers was finally chargesheeted, was also a pointer to the prejudices entertained by the police and the role of informers in helping people nab innocents. One still remembers the bomb explosions in Malegaon on the day of Shab-e-Barat (Sep 2006) and the manner in which nine Muslim youth were apprehended and had to spend more than five years behind jail because of biased investigation. Here also role of one Abrar Ahmad had proved crucial - who worked for the police - who had provided 'evidence' against these nine youth. Later he had submitted an affidavit before the court recounting the false evidence.
We have n number of such examples where the actual perpetrators were never caught and innocents were apprehended, tortured badly and asked to ‘confess’ a crime which they had not committed.
Or refer to the expose by Ashish Khaitan (www.gulail.com) which has unearthed:
“.[i]nternal 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...”
In a press conference held in Mumbai he had presented his investigation and had even screened a film with candid interviews of accused Muslim men. He has even sent a letter petition to the Bombay high court with nearly 400 pages of evidence in the form of official investigation and interrogation reports of the accused men and other documents which clearly indicate huge discrepancies. According to him his research into the July 11, 2006, train blasts, the Malegaon 2006 blasts and the Pune German Bakery blasts of February 2010 showed that the ATS has deliberately created bogus evidence, extracted false confessions by the most inhuman torture, planted explosives in the houses of the young men and implicated innocent youth. In the name of internal security, the ATS and other agencies were misleading the courts.According to a report which appeared in a section of the media:
..Khetan said he wasn’t out to prove anyone’s guilt but expose the farcical criminal investigation which also reflected deepset anti Muslim prejudice. What is serious is that one of these men Himayat Baig has been given the death sentence for the Pune German Bakery blasts when clearly police had found evidence of another man’s involvement. The case of Qateel Sheikh who died in a high security Pune prison just before he was to testify in a Delhi court is not longer a mystery going by what Khetan’s documents show. The ATS arrested Himayat Baig from Udgir and claimed he had carried out the German Bakery blast. However, a year later the Delhi police arrested Qatil Siddiqui and Interrogation Reports obtained by Khetan show he is linked to the Pune blast. These reports were not produced in the court which finally gave Baig the death sentence. Police then tweaked reports to show Sheikh’s involvement in another case.
Presenting all the facts, Khetan has asked the high court to order an independent commission of inquiry into the conduct of the investigating officers, action against officers guilty of violations and relief for the victims of such operations.
It has been more than six years that Vanzara, ex DIG of Gujarat is languishing in jail for his alleged role in the encounter killings which saw 15 deaths. All these killings followed a very similar pattern. May it be the case of Ishrat Jahan, the student from Bombay or Sameer Khan Pathan or for that matter Mr Soharabuddin, all these encounters took place at night wherein none from the police force received any injuries, despite the 'terrorists' being armed with 'latest automatic weapons' (as was announced later) and the rationale provided for these killings was that they had come to kill Mr Modi and his other colleagues from the Hindutva brigade.
Last year his ten page resignation letter had made headlines. Commenting on the unprecedented situation wherein more than thirty officers working with him were now in jail - which includes few officers of the IPS rank also - he maintained that between 2002 and 2007, he and other officers of his ilk
"simply acted and performed their duties in compliance of the conscious policy of this government"
and yet his political bosses betrayed him. The letter targetted Narendra Modi- Amit Shah - who handled the home portfolio then- duo for their continuous neglect of these police officers who were just implementing the policies formulated at higher level and demanded that the policy formulators should also be questioned and punished.
According to him:
..the CBI investigation officers of all the four encounter cases of Sohrabuddin (Sheikh), Tulasiram (Prajapati), Sadiq Jamal and Ishrat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also as we, being field officers, have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters… I’m of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinangar, should either be at Taloja Central Prison in Navi Mumbai or at Sabarmati Central Prison in Ahmedabad.”
(Excerpts of the letter sent)
As an aside it may be mentioned here that when the Ishrat Jahan investigation was on, it was reported that the CBI has evidence on tape where one of the accused police officers in this particular case has claimed that Vanzara had told them that both Safed Dadhi (White beard, alluding to Modi) and Kali Dadhi ( Black beard, alluding to Shah) were in the know of things.
Coming back to NYPD's decision to shut the unit, an activist notes the NYPD people just "[d]idn’t wake up in the morning and decide to be nice to Muslims. " And he adds it need be remembered that it took years of advocacy work, reports in the media exposing the veil on the secretive program that was being conducted without any public information, years of activism from members of the American Muslim community and its allies. It included courageous plaintiffs who took great risks to sue the New York Police Department in a lawsuit, Raza v. The City of New York. and also included public pressure, rallies, joining coalitions with the folks working on stop-and-frisk to show that the New York Police Department has been conducting discriminatory police practices against many communities of color, including political activists.
Perhaps a hint to everyone who is part of the democratic movement elsewhere to persist and expose the machinations of the police and the powers that be to stigmatise a whole community and consider everyone of its members a suspect.
Subhash Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the author of Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India, and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India.