Reporters as police stenographers

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Reporters as police stenographersDelhi, September 27, 2012: As 16 terror cases end in acquittal the English press is guilty of giving in to the dubious claims of the infamous Special Cell. The writer wonders why reporters never question police claims.

Will the English press ever again report verbatim what the Delhi Police’s Special Cell tells them?

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’s just-released report on 16 cases of terror filed by the Special Cell that ended in acquittal, is an indictment not just of the functioning of the Special Cell, but also of the English press. The report cites examples of reports in national newspapers such as The Times Of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Hindustan Times, which carried verbatim, often without the use of the word “alleged”, the version given by the Special Cell at press conferences where often, the arrested innocents were produced as “hard core militants’.

Among the many paraded this way was 24-year-old Kashmiri Imran Kirmani, an aeronautical engineering graduate who had just landed a job in Delhi. His background came handy for the Special Cell to describe him as “part of an LeT module” planning to carry out a “9/11 plot”. “Prize catch” was the caption given by The Hindu to his picture on page one, surrounded by Special Cell plainclothesmen.

Four years later, the judge acquitted Kirmani. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story,” Kirmani told the Kashmir correspondent of The Indian Express Muzammil Jaleel.

The JTSA report cites only the Express as having bothered to talk to Kirmani. But The Telegraph’s Muzaffar Raina did so too. The paper carried the story on page one.

Not that this in any way compensated for Kirmani’s trauma. “My dream (of becoming an aeronautical engineer) has died,” he said more than once to Jaleel. “Who will give me a job now?”

It wasn’t just Delhi’s Special Cell that ruined this blameless young man’s future. The English press also played a part.

This columnist has tried for years to find an answer to the question: why do reporters implicitly believe the police when they claim breakthroughs in “terror” cases? Because the police bear the authority of uniform? They are the ones who should know?

Even when the country’s first big terror strike took place on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai, there were doubts whether everyone picked up was part of the conspiracy. At that time, the lawyer of one of those arrested approached me with his client’s story. His client claimed that his only offence was that he had rented out a scooter, something he did everyday to strangers. How was he to know what it would be used for? (It was used to plant a bomb.) The TOI refused to publish the story, which was based entirely on the lawyer’s plea filed in court. The man was eventually discharged after spending three years in jail.

This was just after the 92-93 Mumbai riots, wherein the Mumbai police had shown just how aligned its men were with the Shiv Sena. The Times’ reportage of the riots had exposed some of this and earned it the abuse “Times of Pakistan” from the RSS. But riots were one thing, simultaneous bomb blasts across the city, killing random innocents, were a different kettle of fish. Would publishing that story have made the Times look like it was supporting the terrorists? Is that what stops newspapers from expressing doubts about police claims?

April 2006 should have been a turning point for investigations into bomb blasts. That was when the Nanded blasts took place and the RSS hand in the bomb blasts became clear. But even after Nanded, the police stuck to its only-Muslims-are-terrorists theory. Given the well-known anti-Muslim prejudice of the police, that was understandable. But what prevented the press from questioning this theory after April 2006?

Indeed, what prevents the press till today from picking holes in theories put out by our investigative agencies when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by Muslims? Why do reporters become “police stenographers” as the JTSA report calls them?

After the 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai all newspapers faithfully reported the theory given out by the ATS. The seven bombs were assembled in a tiny room in a Govandi slum, open to all passersby. Then, from the north-east of Mumbai, they were carried to the north-west, to Bandra. They were kept in pressure cookers. These pressure cookers were kept in train compartments. Whatever you say, sirs. Never mind if the final charge sheet in the 2006 serial train blasts case has no mention of pressure cookers. Pakistan was involved, said headlines. Never mind that when it came to actually presenting evidence to Pakistan, the ATS developed cold feet.

The most bizarre aspect of the 2006 train blasts is that another branch of the Mumbai police, the Crime Branch, discovered in 2008 that quite a different set of persons were behind these blasts. The ATS had laid the blame on SIMI’s door. But an alleged Indian Mujaheedin member arrested for a series of blasts in 2008, reportedly “confessed” to the Crime Branch, headed by the legendary Rakesh Maria, that it was the IM that was behind the train blasts. Both police units stuck to their respective claims. In 2009, this man who “confessed”, Sadiq Shaikh, was discharged by the court on an application filed by the ATS which said he had no role in the train blasts, a crime to which he had reportedly “confessed”!

And these are the agencies we blindly trust. Among them is the Delhi Police Special Cell, as high profile as Maharashtra’s ATS, and, as the JTSA report shows, as dearly beloved of the Delhi press.

Sensational

On September 23, 2007, The Times of India carried a news item titled: “Indian Intelligence informer spills the beans”. The report was sensational. It quoted a letter from Tihar Jail by an ex-IB informer detailing how IB, working with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, plants its own “jehadi maulvis” to lure Muslim youth to commit terrorist acts. The CBI, directed by the Delhi High Court to investigate the case in which this informer was arrested by the Special Cell as an Al Badr terrorist, had corroborated the most important accusations made by the informer, said the report.

In November 2008, the CBI filed a closure report in the case, gave the two accused a clean chit and recommended legal action against three sub-inspectors of the Special Cell: Ravinder Tyagi, Vinay Tyagi, and Subhash Vats, for “fabricating and planting evidence to implicate” the accused “for an oblique motive.” In its closure report, the CBI revealed that the mobile phone records of one of the accused showed that he was in constant touch with IB officers.

Despite the Times following this story, these sensational findings were not widely reported in the English press. Even the Times did not do any larger article based on this “mind-numbing” report. (This phrase was used by the Times to describe one of the many so-called terror conspiracies solved by the Special Cell.) However, subsequent developments in the case were reported, including a complaint by CBI officer Santosh Kumar that one of the indicted Special Cell men had threatened him. So it can be safely said that the entire English press was aware of the CBI’s findings against the Special Cell.

In February 2011, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat, acquitting seven alleged Kashmiri terrorists, ordered an FIR to be registered against the Delhi Police Special cell’s Sub Inspector Ravinder Tyagi and three other sub-inspectors for framing the accused. He also ordered the Delhi Police Commissioner to
Hold an inquiry against the four policemen, who he said, had “brought shame and disrepute to the entire Delhi police force”.

Both the Asian Age and The Indian Express reported this judgment, with the latter even interviewing the Kashmiris who were acquitted. But again, there was no follow-up on this indictment by the court against such high-profile policemen. By this time, Ravinder Tyagi had won a President’s medal; his name had also figured in the infamous Batla House encounter.

In January 2012, Amir Khan was acquitted after spending 14 years in jail for a total of 19 cases foisted on him. Almost every paper published the story of his frame-up by Delhi’s Special Cell and his acquittal in 17 of them.

Yet, despite being aware of all these indictments and irregularities, when the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested journalist Syed Kazmi in March this year for the bomb attack on the car carrying an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi, all newspapers faithfully reproduced the police version with the word “alleged” featuring occasionally–the moped left in Kazmi’s house by the bomber; the $ 5000 first installment received by Kazmi from the bombers… The team in charge of the case included many familiar names whose earlier cases had ended in acquittal. But no scepticism was voiced.

Kazmi’s son’s version was of course reported a few days later.

Speculation

Again, in December 2010, when two alleged Hizb-ul-Mujaheedin members were arrested from Dehradun, reports speculated whether the Indian Military Academy was the target. None of the reports bothered to mention that not even a year earlier, four youth arrested for allegedly planning a terror strike on the IMA had been honourably acquitted.

There appears to exist a marked sympathy towards the Special cell, which emerges in the frequent use of words such as “Special Cell dealt a blow” or “Special Cell resurrects with triple hit” (this from TOI). This report rejoiced at the return of ACP Sanjeev Yadav to the Cell. Yadav features in many of the cases documented by the JTSA report.

When courts and respected investigative agencies accuse the same police unit more than once of framing innocents, and the press, instead of highlighting these indictments, plays them down, how can the victims so framed get the publicity they deserve? Two cases cited in the JTSA report on the acquittal of Ayaz Ahmed shah, an alleged Kashmiri terrorist, are important here.

An acquittal does not mean that the accused is innocent. However, only after going through the judgment can you conclude whether the acquittal was based on technicalities or there was just no case against the accused. Quoting the judgment, the JTSA report shows that Ayaz Ahmed Shah was acquitted after the prosecution’s story was found riddled with holes. The depositions of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, the inspector gunned down in the Batla House encounter, and other members of the Special Cell team who arrested Shah, were found riddled with discrepancies and contradictions. Shah had been picked up on the basis of a tip off from an informer. But under cross-examination, the policemen admitted that the informer had neither revealed the suspect’s name nor description!

Yet, Midday reported on Shah’s acquittal with this headline: “Another terrorist goes free”, while The Telegraph described Shah as an “outlaw” who “slipped through”.

However, newspapers do follow-up on acquittals. Tehelka specially, does so regularly. Doing so is neither compensation nor a favour to those released. What is needed is simply news exposing the way our police have made it their dharma to frame innocent Muslims with terror charges.

Post Script:

The Delhi Police Special Cell in a rebuttal to the JTSA report claims that “six cases out of 16 referred to in the compilation have actually ended in conviction, while one case is still pending trial”.(Reported in The Hindu, September 20).

However, responding to this, the JTSA has listed out each of the 16 cases and pointed out that only in one of them were four out of the ten accused convicted of terror charges. The convictions that have been secured in other cases have been under the Arms Act or the Explosives Act, not on the charges of terrorist conspiracy or waging war against the State. “Courts have clearly held that there was nothing to prove that the accused were members or activists of terrorist organizations, or that they intended to carry out terror attacks,” says the rebuttal.

– tcn

Muslims need a Gujjar movement, not conferences and seminars

May 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Muslims, National, New Delhi, newsletter-lead

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New Delhi, May 21, 2012: It seems conventions, conferences, symposium, seminar, debate and discussions have become a trademark of Muslim organizations. By passing long and high-voltage resolutions the leaders of these organizations think they have done their job well. This is happening since after the Independence. These resolutions have no impact on governments at all. The Milli leaders also know it well that no one will take their resolutions seriously and they are bound to fall on deaf ears.

Resolutions won’t solve problem
Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind organized its 31st General Session on 19th May 2012 at the sprawling Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi. It is said around 50 thousand people attended the conference. Speaking on terrorism and illegal detention of Muslim youths, Jamiat’s national president Maulana Qari Syed Mohammad Usman Mansoorpuri condemned terrorism of all forms and demanded the government to stop harassing Muslim youths in the name of investigation. Jamiat leader also demanded:1) Transparency in investigation be maintained rising above religion and caste; 2) A fast-track court be set up immediately, which should look at all cases of falsely accused at one designated place in a time-bound manner at daily basis; and 3)All Muslim youths found innocent must be adequately compensated, Character certificate, government job should be provided and the money be collected from the salary of official responsible for destruction of their life. Besides, Jamiat also demanded Muslim reservation, amendment in Article 341 of the Constitution, communal violence bill, end to injustice to Kashmiri people, citizenship rights in Assam etc.

No doubt the resolutions passed by the 31st General Session of Jamiat are the voice and the concern of the community but what impact it will make is also a known fact. Forget about conferences, symposiums and seminars, the last two months witnessed many protest marches and rallies against the illegal detentions of Muslim youths. To utter surprise when these marches and rallies were being held, Maharashtra police was scripting encounter of Muslim youths in Aurangabad and Karnataka police was planning to arrests more Muslim youths from Bihar.

Interestingly, while addressing the Jamiat conference the chief minister of Delhi called upon the massive gathering of Muslims to come forward to push for their demands and to take their rights.

Will Muslim leaders come out of their comforts?
But the Muslim community doesn’t know when these Ulama will come forward and fight for their rights. It has been observed that generally these Ulema and their organizations come forward to impress political parties when the Parliament is in session just to make sure a Rajya Sabha seat for their leader or settle their score by organizing a conference against the conference organized by the rival group. These Ulama who proclaim Nanotwi, practically they have shunned the way of struggling hard like their themselves to be inheritors of Maulana Mahmoodul Hasan and Qasim forefathers and have made themselves confined in conference grounds and seminar rooms. They rarely come out to protest on roads against the injustice. Can’t they learn a lesson from Jaats and Gujjars? Leaders of these castes braved scorching sun and heavy rain and police actions, they laid themselves on the railway tracks and ultimately they got success. How many of our Milli leaders are ready to come out of their comforts, AC rooms and AC cars?

In the past when the whole Urdu media was crying over the series of bomb blasts and speaking loudly and clearly that these could not be the acts of Muslim community and some others are involved in these acts of terror, the same Jamiat was organizing a series of conferences to teach the Muslim youths the lessons of tolerance and declaring that Islam is nothing to do with terror. For them brainwashed Muslims were behind those acts of terror. But when saffron brigades were found involved behind those terrorist attacks the same Jamiat Ulama is now organizing conferences to demand the government to stop illegal arrest of Muslim youths.

No doubt these organizations were assets in the past and had played a significant role for the community but now these assets seem to have become liabilities.

No doubt Jamiat’s (Arshad Madni Group) role in fighting some cases in which Muslim youths are implicated and illegally detained is a laudable act and is an example for other Milli organizations to follow.

Why no joint strategy even on consensus issues?
Other major issue is the lack of unity among Muslim organizations even though they have same views on specific issues. For example, Muslim reservation, communal violence bill or terror arrest of innocents – these are the three major issues today and fortunately all Muslim organizations have same view on them, but unfortunately they are not chalking out joint and united strategy for these issues.

Last month Milli Council organized a convention on the topic of “Muslim Youth Protection” in Delhi. Recently Jamaat-e-Islami Hind declared to launch a campaign against the illegal arrests of Muslim youths. And now two days ago, Jamiat Ulema raised the same issue at its Ramlila Maidan conference. But the fact is that no government will heed to their demand and take these organizations seriously unless they get united on common issues and come out from seminar and symposium rooms and take their demands to the street.

Act before it gets too late
They will have to act before it gets too late. In fact conspirators are out to create a war-like situation in our country. They want to create frustration among Muslim youths. They want to provoke Muslims. They want to instigate Muslim youths. The time has come for the Muslim leaders to come forward and control the situation from getting worse.

– tcn

MPs from across the Political Parties supported the demand of Dalit Christians & Dalit Muslims

December 5, 2011 by  
Filed under Christians, Dalit, Government, Muslims, National, newsletter-india

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Joint Action CommiNew Delhi, December 3, 2011: The Joint Action Committee for securing equal rights to Muslims and Christians of Scheduled caste origin conducted a dialogue between members of Parliament and the leaders of Christian and Muslim Communities on 30th November 2011 at the CNI Bhavan at 6.30pm. The Joint Action Committee consisted of representatives of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, the National Council of Dalit Christians and Muslim organizations for Social Justice.

The leaders of the Muslim and Christian Communities expressed their deep anguish over the delay in justice to Christian and Muslim Dalit brothers and sisters who have been in struggle for the past 60 years. They have been urging the Government of India to delete the discriminatory paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 that precludes Dalits of the Christian and Muslim communities from availing the benefits of affirmative action. To push for this demand, they have organized various protest marches, hunger strikes, rallies and have written memorandums and met Ministers and Government Executives. However, the Government has not fulfilled its promise. Justice delayed is indeed justice denied.

The meeting of the Joint Action Committee also brought to the notice of the Parliamentarians the government’s non-cooperation on the Civil Writ Petition 180/2004 in the Supreme Court and told them that government is yet to give its reply to this writ to the Supreme Court.

The members of Parliament expressed their support and solidarity with the Joint Action Committees requests. They reaffirmed that this is a just demand of the minority communities. It is discrimination based on religion and is not acceptable. They promised to support this cause inside the Parliament and outside the Parliament.  They also suggested that the minorities should stay together in their demands for the rights of Dalits of their communities.

The following members of the Parliament attended the meeting with the Christian and Muslim leaders.: Shri. P.R. Natarajan, Communist Party of India (Marxist); Shri. Harsh Kumar, Prof. P.J. Kurien, Shri. Husain Dalwai, Shri. J. D. Seelam, Shri. C.L.Ruala, Shri. Dr. Charles Dias and Shri. Francisco Sardinha of the Indian National Congress; Shri. Syed Azeez Pasha, Shri.D.Raja, Shri.P.Lingam from the Communist Party of India; Shri. Ali Anwar Ansari from Janta Dal United; Shri. Asaduddin Owaisi from the All India Majlis-e-lttehadul Muslimeen; Shri. Thol.Thirumaavalavan from Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi;  Shri. Abdul Rahman from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam; and Shri. Mohammed Shafi from the Jammu Kashmir National Congress.

The following Christian and Muslim leaders participated in the dialogue along with members of their communities: Ms. Sushma Ramswami, Vice President NCCI, Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary NCCI; Mr. Alwan Masih, General Secretary, Church of North India Synod; Ms.Leila Passah, General Secretary, YWCA; Mr. John Varughese, General Secretary, YMCA; Dr. Daniel Ezhilarasu, General Secretary AIACHE;  Mr. Eric Christopher, Habitat for Humanity;  Fr. Cosmon Arikara, Secretary of SC/ ST Commission of CBCI, Fr. Charles, CBCI, Fr. Bosco, NCDC, Mr. Franklin Caesar Thomas, NCDC, Fr. Selvaraj, ISI; Mr. Abdul Rashid, All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushwarat, Mr. Aaris Mohammed, Centre for Social Justice, Mohammad Ahmad, Secretary Jamaat-E-Islami Hind, Shri. P.C.Hamza, General Secretary Welfare Party of India.

There was the view expressed that only a strong united political action will bring a solution to the issue.

(1) It was proposed that the Christian and Muslim leaders draft a fresh memorandum in the light of the discussions that were held, and to make a single focused demand that Para 3 of the 1950 Presidential Order be deleted, and that Scheduled Caste Status be delinked from religion. A copy of this memorandum should be sent to the concerned Parliamentarians.

(2)  At the same time the Parliamentarians who have attended the meeting on 30th November 2011 suggested that they would get together along with other like-minded Parliamentarians and decide on the appropriate political strategy to be undertaken in the Parliament.

(3)  The Christian and Muslim organizations would need to work together to protect their rights of the Communities.

(4) Mobilize Christians and Muslims to vote in the 2014 General Elections for the party that would support the rights of Dalit Muslims and Christians.

– samuel jayakumar