ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Terror and the Course of Law

The NIA must adhere to its avowed role of matching the international investigation standards.

 

The recent acquittal of the accused in the Samjhauta Express blast of 2007 near Panipat in Haryana that had killed 68 passengers, 44 of whom were Pakistani nationals, has led to reactions that are diametrically opposite. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has hailed the verdict as “historic.” Pakistan, on the other hand, has denounced it as a travesty of justice. However, what is notable and is a cause for concern is the effect on the credibility of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that conducted the probe. This was reflected in the observations made by the NIA court. The judge of the special NIA court said that there were “gaping holes” in the evidence presented by the prosecution and that a “dastardly act of violence” is going unpunished due to the lack of admissible evidence. He put on record his “deep pain and anguish” while concluding the verdict.

Among the four accused who were acquitted is Naba Kumar Sarkar alias Swami Aseemanand who was acquitted in 2018 by a special NIA court in the Ajmer blast case of October 2007 and also by the Hyderabad court in the Mecca Masjid blast of May 2007 and that killed nine persons. Both these cases were probed by the NIA and herein, too, the acquittal came due to the prosecution failing to prove any allegation against the accused. In the latter case, the Hyderabad police had at first arrested Muslims who were later released, but not before they were allegedly tortured in custody. The 2006 Malegaon bomb blast case in Maharashtra followed a similar trajectory, though the investigative body was not the NIA.

For long now, human rights activists, lawyers, and progressive media have been pointing out that there is a large trust deficit between the Muslim community, and the law enforcement and security agencies in India. Beginning with the report of the Srikrishna Committee that was looking into the 1992–93 riots in Mumbai following the pulling down of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya through the many terror cases and riots that have followed, the Muslim community has clearly perceived itself as being demonised and being accused arbitrarily in these cases.

The foremost casualty of this is the public’s right to know the truth about all these cases and, in the present case, of the Samjhauta Express blast. For, what follows are simple but weighty questions: Who planted the bomb that took 68 innocent Indian and Pakistani lives? Who were those forces that were adamant that the two countries should not arrive at any agreement, howsoever precarious, and forever be at each other’s throats? The Samjhauta Express—its name meaning the arrival at a common understanding—was supposed to help citizens of the two countries visit each other. Instead, the blast not only led to human pain, but also acrimony. The probe and the verdict based on it have done nothing to assuage, even minimally, the agony of the families of the victims. Instead, Pakistan felt encouraged to say that the case “exposes the sham credibility of the Indian courts” and its duplicity in levelling allegations against it.

Within India, there have been several allegations that the NIA had begun going easy on cases that involved “Hindutva” terror suspects in the past few years. Such allegations will only gather force with what the special court has said about its investigative skills. Given its central role in combating terrorism, it is necessary that it should be seen by all citizens to be an effective and professional agency. The 12 years following the Samjhauta Express blast have seen 51 out of the 224 witnesses turning hostile and one prime accused being murdered. The top ranking (now retired) Haryana police officer who led the SIT investigation into the blast is on record in the public domain about there being firm evidence against the Hindu extremists accused of the blast. The union home minister has been quoted in the media as saying that the acquittal of the four accused will not be challenged and neither will there be a fresh inquiry into the blast.

Given this state of affairs, it is natural that the critics of the government’s lack of further action will point to the Godhra train burning case, which has seen the trial and convictions (against the Muslim accused) proceed apace. There are similar comparisons drawn between the progress of cases against the accused in Mumbai’s 1992–93 riots (many of them policemen and Hindus) and the bomb blasts in the city in 1993 where the accused were predominantly Muslim.

In its vision and mission objectives, the NIA has stated—among many other noble aims—“to win the confidence of the citizens of India through selfless and fearless endeavours.” In any case, what is clear is that the credibility of the NIA as an investigative body must be reclaimed and the government must act to ensure this.

Updated On : 2nd Apr, 2019

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