Death sentence for Al Umma cadre

Print edition : January 17, 2003

Al-Umma leader M. Mohammed Ansari. - K. ANANTHAN

ON December 23 the Fast Track Court II in Coimbatore sentenced to death four Al Umma militants who were accused of the murder of traffic constable R. Selvaraj on November 29, 1997. Judge R. Prem Kumar also awarded life imprisonment to four other activists, Siddiq Ali, Aslam alias TADA Aslam, Samsudeen and M. Mohammed Ansari, of the same organisation. Shafi, Ashiq, Abbas and Abudhahir were sentenced "to be hanged till their last breath" for what the judge called "the gravest of grave and rarest of rare offences". The Judge said: "An assault on a constable serving society is an assault on society itself."

The killing of Selvaraj was one singular incident that led to the polarisation of Coimbatore on communal lines. Al Umma cadres stabbed Selvaraj on the night of November 29 when he was regulating traffic at Kottaimedu, a Muslim-majority area. He died at the Coimbatore Medical College Hospital.

Earlier that day, Sub-Inspector M. Chandrasekaran of Bazaar police station near Kottaimedu detained Jehangir, an Al Umma office-bearer, and two other Muslim youth for riding on a motorcycle without a driving licence. Mohammed Ansari, who was then Al Umma State secretary, went to the police station and demanded their release. A row broke out between the S.I. and Ansari, with the latter threatening to "break Coimbatore in two".

About an hour later, four Muslim youth stabbed 31-year-old Selvaraj, who was totally unconnected with the earlier incident. Al Umma men wanted to target a policeman because its members had been detained at the police station and Ansari was "humiliated" at the police station. Ironically, Selvaraj had stepped in to relieve another traffic constable.

The death of Selvaraj infuriated the police force. They struck work the following day and demanded the arrest of the assailants. They alleged that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government did not allow them to take action against Al Umma. They were also infuriated by the fact that four policemen and prison officers had been stabbed or murdered in Coimbatore and Madurai by Muslim extremists in the 18 months preceding the murder of Selvaraj. The policemen's families also staged dharnas, demanding security for the law-enforcers. The situation was so grave that the government called out the Army and the Rapid Action Force to bring back normalcy to the city (Frontline, December 26, 1997).

The upshot was that not much progress was made in the Selvaraj murder case until K. Radhakrishnan took over as Coimbatore Police Commissioner about three months later. Only three persons had been arrested until then. Radhakrishnan requested the Director-General of Police to hand over the case to the Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department. The CB-CID arrested all those involved in the murder. The charge-sheet was laid. The accused were charged with offences under Sections 302, 147, 148, 149 and 109 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

In his order, Judge Prem Kumar said that with a view to taking "revenge" on the police for "an alleged insult" to Mohammed Ansari, "the Al Umma cadres resolved to rip up Coimbatore in two and showed their hatred by murdering the constable, inflicting 15 stab injuries."

December 1997: Rapid Action Force personnel out on the streets of Coimbatore.-K. ANANTHAN

He pointed out that the murder and the subsequent violence resulted in the filing of 520 cases, damage to property valued at Rs.70 crores and murder of 24 persons belonging to both communities. He added that the retaliatory action culminated in the serial bomb blasts in the city on February 14, 1998 in which 59 persons were killed and property worth Rs.17 crores was damaged. "The accused were aware of the consequences and the consequences were their intention," the Judge ruled. He declined to show any leniency to Shafi, Ashiq, Abbas and Abudhahir observing that there were fair chances of their committing a similar offence again.

In the drive against terrorists, a special team of the Chennai City police, following a tip-off from the Andhra Pradesh Police, arrested nine members of the "Muslim Defence Force" (MDF), a nascent organisation founded to "protect" the minority community. One of them, Safiullah, who was earlier K. Kannan, and a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, was in charge of training camps to impart self-defence to MDF cadres in Tamil Nadu. With this, the Chennai police have so far arrested 20 men with the assistance of the special intelligence branch of the State police.

The breakthrough was the arrest of Thoufeek and Zackria on November 29. The unearthing of the MDF led to the unravelling of its connections with persons in Saudi Arabia and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Thoufeek set up an organisation called "Pudhiya Parvai" (New Vision). He was active in converting Dalits to Islam (Frontline, January 3, 2002). According to the police, Thoufeek distributed video cassettes on the killing of Muslims in Gujarat after the Godhra train incident "arousing the feelings" of Muslims. They added that the MDF had planned to disturb law and order in the State by exploding bombs in temples.

T.S. Subramanian
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