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Injustice Unlimited

Court Verdicts on Aseemanand and Saibaba

Anand Teltumbde (tanandraj@gmail.com) is a writer and civil rights activist with the Committee for the Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.

The verdicts in the Swami Aseemanand and G N Saibaba cases expose the roguery of the Indian state. The former was let off despite clear and close links with saffron terror and mass murder, while the latter was sentenced to life imprisonment for being sympathetic to a people’s resistance to state oppression. While such fascistisation is visible across the globe, in India, it finds resonance with the hegemonic, ruling-class ideology of Brahminism, which the current regime seeks to uphold.

Two court judgments in early March 2017, less than 24 hours apart, sent shivers across the country. The first one was by the sessions court in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra on 7 March that sentenced a wheelchair-bound Delhi University professor, G N Saibaba and four others to life imprisonment under various sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for aiding and abetting Naxalite activities. A sixth convict was handed 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

The second judgment came the next day from a National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court in Jaipur. The court acquitted a self-proclaimed monk and former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) activist, Swami Aseemanand, and six other accused in the triple blasts of 2007, namely, Samjhauta Express blasts (68 dead and dozens injured), Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts (16 dead and hundreds injured), and Ajmer Dargah blasts (three dead and 17 injured). Three persons were convicted in the sensational Ajmer Dargah blast case.

In Saibaba’s case, the court, on the face of it, cited no crime, except for notions constructed by the draconian UAPA. Yet, the accused were awarded extreme sentences. In the second case, people were actually killed in the blasts at the 13th century holy shrine in a congregation of 5,000 devotees, but the key accused were let off. In any another context, these contrasting verdicts would have simply been an unfortunate coincidence. However, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in power, the verdicts reinforce a sinister pattern of protecting Hindutvavadi criminals, while crushing its opponents at the cost of the institutional reputation of the judiciary.

When Muslims were demonised as terrorists after the 9/11 attack on the United States (US), the biggest beneficiaries after the Zionists were the Hindutvavadis in India. The US’s “War on Terror” came as an endorsement of the historical vendetta of the Hindutvavadi forces against Muslims.

Aseemanand’s Innocence

For the first time, Aseemanand’s confessions exposed Hindutvavadis as a terrorist group. Although he stated that it was in response to Muslim terror, much of what passed off as Islamic terrorism may also be of Hindutvavadi design.

P Chidambaram, as the then home minister, first alerted state police chiefs about the danger of “saffron terrorism” in August 2010. Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat at the time, had responded with a Bhagwa Gaurav Andolan (saffron pride campaign) in his state. Assemanand’s confession was not obtained by the police through custodial torture but was a statement by him. Also known as Jatin Chatterjee, he was a postgraduate in botany and hardened RSS functionary, who masterminded several terror plots. The statement was recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure before the metropolitan magistrate Deepak Dabas, at Tis Hazari court, on 18 December 2010, as evidence under the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. Aseemanand had confessed that he and other Hindu activists were involved in bombings at Muslim religious places because they wanted to counter every Islamist terror act with “a bomb for bomb’’ policy. Further, in a taped interview to the Caravan magazine, Aseemanand revealed that a series of deadly blasts between 2006 and 2008 had been sanctioned by Mohan Bhagwat who was the then RSS general secretary, but who cautioned them that “you should not link it to the Sangh.” Both these irrevocable statements were conveniently retracted by Aseemanand later.

Aseemanand’s confession corroborated investigations in various cases. The audio tapes seized from a laptop belonging to Dayanand Pande, an accused in the Samjhauta Express blast, confirmed that Hindutva groups had been plotting and executing a series of bomb blasts across the country, including Malegaon (2006, 2008), Ajmer Sharif, and Mecca Masjid. The police picked up, detained and tortured dozens of Muslim youth in each of these cases and made up usual stories of Islamic modules being involved. It goes to the credit of Hemant Karkare, the then chief of the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) who was later killed in the 26/11 attack, that the role of the Hindutvavadi gang was exposed.

However, even after these confessions, Muslim boys were incarcerated for 10 long years before the courts finally acquitted them. These confessions took a toll on at least two lives—Karkare’s death remains shrouded in mystery, and Shahid Azmi’s was dismissed as the outrage of a patriotic goon. The cases dragged in the absence of political will, and after the BJP came to power in 2014, the NIA that had taken over the cases began plotting to release all the key accused. In May 2016, it dropped all charges against Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Shiv Narayan Kalsangra, Shyam Sahu, Praveen Takkalki, Lokesh Sharma, Dhan Singh, and five others in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, while charges under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA), 1999 have been given up against all the other 10 accused, including Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, calling Karkare’s investigation “questionable” and “dubious.”

Saibaba’s Crime

The vehemence with which the state opposed and the courts obliged in denying bail to Saibaba despite his being 90% disabled and of failing health, makes it clear that it wanted to make him an example and to deter the “urban network” of the Maoists. It has striking similarities to the Binayak Sen case, who despite having a professional reputation, an impeccable record of public service, and vocal sympathy of the entire progressive world, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Raipur sessions court and was repeatedly denied bail just to deter all those who dared to have a soft corner for the Maoists. Sen’s innocence itself became the biggest crime in this state schema. In Saibaba’s case, the Maharashtra government has overtaken Chhattisgarh in identifying its prey in a 90% disabled professor working in a prestigious university in the nation’s capital. Saibaba has been a radical activist and never hid his sympathies for the struggling masses, who are all Maoists for the government. But can a wheelchair-bound person do anything beyond thinking and writing? The state wanted to demonstrate that if it could do this to Saibaba, it could do it to anyone.

Saibaba’s co-accused in the case, namely, Hem Mishra and Prashant Rahi, a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student and a freelance journalist-cum-activist respectively, also supplemented its terrorising schema. The other three were Adivasis, perhaps just to project the unlikely nexus. The Gadchiroli sessions court held them all guilty under Sections 13, 18, 20, 38 and 39 of the UAPA read with 120-B of the IPC. The punishment was awarded for having connections with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its “front” Revolutionary Democratic Front (RDF).

In the Binayak Sen case itself, a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Mishra had categorically said that mere membership of a banned organisation did not make a person criminal, unless he or she resorted or incited people to violence. In May 2015, the Kerala High Court freed one Shyam Balakrishnan, who had been picked up in 2014 on suspicion of being a Maoist, saying “being a Maoist is not a crime.” The high court cryptically observed that it was “a basic human right for people to have aspirations,” and reproached the state for “disguised aberration of law in the cloth of uniform” where “protectors become aggressors.” Still the case hankered on the Maoist connection of the accused. As has been pointed out by the lawyers, the judgment is fraught with apparent neglect of law and wilful ignorance of facts. It is obviously coloured with the pulls and pressures of police as well as politicians, as most lower-court judgments are.

Roguery of the State

These two cases expose the roguery of the Indian state. In the neo-liberal era, states have an intrinsic tendency towards fascistisation to ensure “marketocracy.” While, this trend is visible across the globe, in India it finds resonance with its hegemonic ideology of Brahminism, which has been the ideology of the ruling classes. The state, irrespective of which party is in power, has always been the same—pro-capital, pro-Hindu, pro-upper caste, and plutocratic. The BJP unashamedly adhering to the above attributes makes it more aggressive and masculine, aptly reflected in Modi’s bravado. To achieve its goal of the Hindu rashtra, it could go to any extent to decimate all resistance. The institutional barriers having largely been overcome by its saffronisation drive, it is out to crush the residual dissent. As a matter of fact, from 2014, the trend is so visible that such verdicts have become predictable. All the executioners of the 2002 carnage in Gujarat are out of the net of law and instead, stand handsomely rewarded. Whereas those who tried to resist, such as Teesta Setalvad, are harassed and terrorised in a variety of ways.

Contrary to their self-proclamation, the Hindutva forces have always been ruthless executioners. Their foundational inspiration being the Hitlers and Mussolinis of the world, and the prophets of peace like Buddha, being their objects of abhorrence. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the progenitor of Hindutva wanted “Hinduisation of politics, and militarisation of Hindus.” The burning of Graham Staines with his two sons in 1991, the lynching of five Dalits in Dulina in 2002, the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015, the flogging of four Dalit youth in Mota Samadhiyala near Una last year, or the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi provide glimpses into the Hindutvavadis’ brutal persona. After all, when they are drawn to their cultural roots, violence becomes their hallmark, their religion being the only one whose gods wield weapons. But it does not behove the state to become unjust, violent, and amoral.

It is a folly to imagine that brutalising Saibaba and his co-accused in such an unjust manner in the name of justice would be a lesson to others of his ilk. There is no evidence that such “lessons” ever served their purpose. On the contrary, this police mentality hasinstead hastened the radicalisation of Maoists. They only steeled peoples’ resolve to fight such terrorist acts of the rogue state.

Updated On : 10th Apr, 2017

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