- Subhash Gatade
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” - L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between
Sixteen year old Shahwan, from Ahmedabad, who is still waiting for his Class X results, was extremely happy that day, when India’s electorate gave its verdict. He hugged his Ammi and went out in his Mohalla along-with his brother Almas, yelling ‘we have won’, ‘we have won’. And not only Shahwan and his family members but one could witness similar joy in the houses of Mohammad Salim Hanif Sheikh, Abdul Qayyum Mansuri alias Mufti Baba and several others.
Interestingly Shahwan’s tremendous joy with tears flowing down the eyes of his Ammi Naseem (40) had nothing to do with the fact that Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi, had delivered a ‘historic victory’ to the BJP.
|Shahwan and his mother. File photo: Indian Express|
It was a strange coincidence that the day India’s electorate decided to give a mandate to the Modi led BJP to rule the country for coming five years also happened to be the day when Supreme Court of India in a historic judgment overturned a controversial decision take by him as home minister. It was related to the prosecution of those arrested for Akshardham attack under now lapsed Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA).
Perhaps not very many people would remember today how Akshardham Mandir in Ahmedabad was attacked by two terrorists killing 37 people and injuring several others way back in September 2002. It was reported that both the terrorists were killed by commandos on the spot itself. Shahwan’s father Adam Sulaiman Mansuri alias Adam Ajmeri, a poor mechanic along-with four others were arrested from Shahpur and Dariapur areas of Ahmedabad in August 2003 by the anti-terrorism squad of the Ahmedabad police for their alleged role in the attack. The sixth accused was nabbed from Uttar Pradesh a few days later. The lower courts sentenced Adam and another person to death for his ‘heinous role in the conspiracy’ which was later confirmed by the Gujarat high court. Remaining four accused were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for life.
Pulling up Gujarat police for framing “innocent” people in the particular case a bench comprising of Justices A K Patnaik and V Gopala Gowda held that the prosecution failed to establish their guilt beyond reasonable doubt and they deserved exoneration from all the charges. The bench nixed their confessional statements being invalid in law and also said that the prosecution could not establish they participated in any conspiracy. After perusing evidence and lower court judgments, the SC bench underlined how the story of prosecution crumbles at every juncture. According to Indian Express ( 17 th May 2014) the bench blamed the home minister for:
“clear non-application of mind ..in granting sanction,” since it was based neither on an informed decision nor on an independent analysis of facts..The court said the sanction was hence “void” and not a legal and valid sanction under POTA.
Shahwan remembers his visits to jail on Eid and his father’s breaking down on such visits telling him that he had nothing to give him for the festival. For Naseem, it was rather a torturous journey as her own relatives literally boycotted her for being ‘wife of a terrorist’ and was not even invited on any occasion and had to bring up her two kids by embroidery work and stitching ofburqa. The only saving grace was that her neighbours who had seen Adam grow before their own eyes helping his father in his tiny workshop and always ready to go extra mile in helping others never believed the police’s theory and continued to offer her moral support.
People who have tried to look beyond the glitter and glitz would recount similar stories of pain and suffering at the hands of a callous administration and a biased civil society. One of the most discussed and rather most tragic case was that of a social worker Maulana Umarji from Godhra who went out of his way to maintain communal harmony in the area and also organised relief and rehabilitation for the needy. He was made to rot in jail for years together under the same draconian law POTA on the basis of a confessional statement of another accused taken under duress. Maulana was similarly acquitted by the courts. Tortured and humiliated by the police in jail, he died few months later.
It is matter of days when Adam Ajmeri like other accused in the terror attack case would return home. For one who had lost all hope to meet his family again it would be like rebirth and he would definitely like to forget what travails he went through, and perhaps would like to make a new beginning in his life. It is a different matter that question will keep lingering about the impunity with which the state could frame any innocent and stigmatise one’s family for all their lives and how the state could be turned into a large torture chamber for the marginalised and the vulnerable.
This strange coincidence about electoral outcome and Supreme Court’s damning remarks which had a bearing on the quality of governance reminds one of another not so glorious chapter in the state’s recent history. It is well reported that it happens to be the only state of the Indian Union where you find so many senior police officers and their juniors still languishing in jail for their alleged role in many of the encounter killings in the state.
May it be the case of Ishrat Jahan, the student from Bombay or Sameer Khan Pathan or for that matter Mr Soharabuddin, or Sadiq Jamal 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.
Merely a week before the election results were out, Gujarat government had to face another humiliating moment in the Supreme Court itself about its plea seeking uniform guidelines for dealing with cases of encounter killings. The highest Court dismissed the pleas saying that there cannot be such an advisory in a federal structure. A bench comprising of Chief Justice RM Lodha and justices MB Lokur and Kurian Joseph said that:
“Guidelines or advisory of such nature are not enforceable,” (read media report here)
|Creative depiction of fake encounter.|
It may be noted here that the Gujarat government in 2012 had filed this PIL (Public Interest Litigation) for independent probe into all cases of alleged killings by police in past 10 years in the country and had sought direction to deal with all cases of fake encounters in a uniform manner. It had been Gujarat government’s contention that some vested interest groups are selectively targeting its police force over the encounter killings.
The petition had sought a direction to all state governments and Union Territories to evolve and formulate a uniform nation-wide policy providing for an independent agency like “monitoring authority / special task force” created by the Gujarat government to probe into all cases of alleged fake encounters. An important aspect of this debate was that none of the BJP ruled states’ supported Gujarat government over this move and it found itself isolated.
May it be the issue of ‘encounter killings’ in the state or for that matter the troubling developments in the year 2002 variously described as Gujarat carnage or Gujarat riots where according to his own party seniors ‘Rajdharma’ was not observed, it is clear that Mr. Modi begins his innings as PM of the country with a past which would keep haunting him.
History bears witness to the fact that past just cannot be wished away claiming that it is a construct of the adversaries. All those people who tried to brush aside their past under carpet had to pay heavy price for their ‘amnesia’.
Would Mr. Modi be able to make a radical rupture with the period gone by and turn a new page as far as not only good but just governance is concerned. That would be a moot question.
Chances look really dim but as of now we have no other option than to wait and watch.
Subhash Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the author of 'Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India' ; 'The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India' and 'The Ambedkar Question in 20th Century' (in Hindi).