For judicial redress

Print edition : November 25, 2016

MUSLIM organisations across the country have set aside their age-old differences and condemned the killing of eight Muslim undertrials, alleged to belong to the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), in Bhopal. They have formed a steering committee in Bhopal to pool resources to provide legal and financial aid to the families of the deceased. They also plan to file first information reports (FIRs) naming the policemen concerned.

Navaid Hamid, who heads the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, an umbrella organisation of Muslim bodies, dubbed the killing “deplorable and a dark spot” in the history of Indian democracy and pluralist society. Scoffing at the official version of the incident, he said: “The government has not spoken in one voice. The Anti-Terrorism Squad [ATS] says one thing, the Inspector General quite another. We have to take a united stand.”

The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, known for its role in providing relief to riot-affected people across the country, rushed two teams from its Mumbai unit to Bhopal and Khandwa to provide support to the family members of the deceased. Its president, Arshad Madani, urged the Supreme Court to take suo motu action. “What has happened is sad and condemnable. With the State government inconsistent in its utterances, the Supreme Court should step in. The police have not been able to come up with any evidence against the so-called SIMI activists in jail. Others have been released in the past.”

The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, which has been leading the protest against a uniform civil code, questioned the entire jailbreak episode. Its secretary general, Salim Engineer, pointed out various anomalies in the official version of the incident. “The incident raises a lot of uncomfortable questions. Was it possible for the accused to scale a 32-foot-high wall of the most secure jail in Madhya Pradesh? How could they have laid their hands on weapons? Why are there contradictory statements from officials on whether the alleged SIMI operatives had weapons or not? Why were the CCTVs in the jail not functioning?”

Drawing a parallel with the custodial deaths of Khalid Mujahid, Qateel Siddiqui and Mohammed Waqas, he reiterated that all Indians had a right to question the government and the police on the issue. “It is incorrect to state that we must not question the authenticity of the encounter as it would damage the morale of the police force. Rather, we must investigate how a terror accused could escape from such a highly secure jail,” he said.

He demanded a high-level inquiry into the incident under the supervision of the Supreme Court. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind demanded a “high-level investigation” by a High Court judge. The Jamiat is planning to approach the High Court in this regard. “We are approaching the court. Other Muslim bodies are doing likewise, not together but separately in their individual capacity. It is similar to how various organisations reacted in the Babri Masjid case. If many organisations approach the court, it is more likely to be beneficial. We cannot simply file a public interest litigation petition and wait. So we have opted for a vakalatnamah. Our lawyers from Mumbai will represent us,” the Jamiat’s Fazlur Rehman said. He also said that “we had a closed-door meeting with other Muslim bodies soon after the incident. Our president, Arshad Madani, is of the view that we must seek judicial redress.”

He said there were enough gaps in the police version for the case to stand a chance in the High Court. “The ATS has denied that the accused had any weapons. The State police are saying something different. We find all this suspicious. The lawyer of the [22 other] accused says there is a possibility that they will be released shortly. Under the circumstances, we have decided to approach the High Court.”

“We have demanded compensation from the State government. We believe that the eight persons died in judicial custody. We are approaching with due caution. Judicial relief is definitely an option,” a Jamaat-e-Islami official said.

Even as attempts were made to provide the family members of the deceased with financial aid and legal counselling, the Association for the Protection of Civil Rights filed an FIR in Ahmedabad (one of the eight dead men hailed from there) and plans to file FIRs in Ujjain, Sholapur and Khandwa. “We would have filed the FIR around the time the bodies were taken for burial, but some miscreants burst crackers during the funeral procession. So in order to prevent an outbreak of riot, we decided to postpone the filing of the FIR. We will file FIRs by name for the five men who hailed from Khandwa. We believe justice has not been provided to them. We have the cooperation of all the Muslim bodies on the matter.”

The organisation is also looking to help the 22 other accused in the case, who are lodged in the same jail. “We have to provide legal redress to those still in jail.”

Ziya Us Salam

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