All Out Crackdown on the Working Class in NOIDA

An activist’s account of the working class anger and outrage in the NCR region during the two-day strike. It contradicts the media construction of the workers as a destructive mob. The basis for the anger of the workers lies in the blatant strangulation of industrial democracy, denial of rights to organise and unionise, and the open violation of labour laws, including minimum wage and contract work laws.

Kavita Krishnan (Kavitakrish73@gmail.com) is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.

The dominant media narrative about the two-day All India Strike called by Trade Unions was one of ‘hooliganism’ by workers and inconvenience to the ‘public.’ As is usual, the main demands of the Strike found little space in the media’s discussion of the Strike. The working class – usually invisible both at the workplace and where they live – attain visibility on TV screens only as a ‘mob.’ Workers, whose labour is, after all, the source of all production, are seen – and shown – as an ever-present source of wanton, mindless destruction.

This February 2013, the narrative of the workers as a destructive mob, was constructed with images of the stone-pelting, arson and looting in NOIDA on the first day of the Strike. What followed has been an all-out crackdown on workers all across NOIDA.

Before we get to what is taking place in NOIDA, let us, briefly, talk about whyIndia’s working class responded so magnificently to the Strike. The Strike was successful in most of the vital sectors ofIndia’s economy: oil, telecom, mining, defence, power, port and dock, insurance, transport, State Government employees, post, banking, and income tax. Industrial workers all over the country shut down the production in both public and private industrial centres. In the NCR region, the Gurgaon-Dharuhera industrial belt of Haryana remained virtually closed on the second day of the Strike. Contract workers and workers of the unorganized sector participated fully in the Strike, everywhere. Several states – including Kerala,Bihar, and Jharkhand – observed a complete Bandh.

What were the workers saying, by striking for two days? They were demanding measures to curb price rise and unemployment. They were demanding that labour laws be enforced strictly. They were demanding compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days, and immediate ratification of the ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98 that concern workers’ right to organize and collective bargaining. They were protesting against the rampant contractualisation of work of a perennial nature, in both public and private sector, in blatant violation of the law. They were demanding that mandated minimum wages be paid, and that the statutory minimum wage be fixed at not less than Rs 10,000. The Government and the industrialists that are accusing workers of lawlessness, are themselves guilty of systematically abusing the laws enacted to protect workers’ rights.

In Wazirpur Industrial Area of Delhi, around 20,000 workers came out on the streets on the second day of the Strike, in a protest march organized by various Trade Unions including AICCTU and CITU. For workers employed in the factories in this industrial area, one of the key issues is the blatant and open denial of minimum wages. Some years ago, a struggle to demand payment of minimum wages in one factory was met with a ‘united’ opposition of all the industrialists in the area, and the local MLA as well. The struggle succeeded only thanks to the upswell of support from workers across factories and their families, most of whom are migrants living in the local slum cluster that borders a railway track. When a worker has been killed in a workplace accident and the management tries to fudge records to avoid paying his wages and compensation, women from this slum cluster, most of them married to the factory workers, have spontaneously gheraoed (surrounded) the factory and forced the management to pay the dues. In the slum cluster where the workers live with the constant threat of eviction, basics like water, drainage, and sanitation are missing, while most of the migrant workers struggle for voter identity cards and BPL ration cards. Every time there is a major all-India Strike, the response here is huge. During the Strike, the anger of the young workers is palpable, and not uncommonly, factories which remain open and barricade their workers inside to prevent them from joining the Strike, are targeted. This is not wanton vandalism – it is a bid to free fellow workers from the factory that uses coercion to prevent workers from exercising their right to Strike. This time, too, the workers marched for hours in the lanes of Wazirpur, enforcing the Strike, and they blockadedDelhi’s Ring Road for a couple of hours. But there was no looting: what was seen was the collective, organized anger and energy of the working class.

What, then, happened in NOIDA on 20th February? For the large part, workers participated in the Strike in NOIDA as they did in the rest of the country. But in a few pockets of NOIDA, especially NOIDA Phase II, there was arson and looting. Who, in fact, was responsible for that violence? Clearly, it was not the Trade Unions that planned and executed the arson – if they had, why would such actions have been confined to a few pockets of NOIDA alone? Though the perpetrators of the violence are not known, the incident has been used by the UP Government, police and administration, to strangle the workers’ movement in NOIDA.

A virtual emergency has been imposed on NOIDA – at least on the working class. The Provincial Armed Constabulary is patrolling the area and conducting flag marches. Section 144 has been imposed all over NOIDA till the end of the month. Reportedly, 150 people have been arrested against 338 FIRs. Trade Union leaders have been systematically targeted and jailed, charged with attempt to murder, arson, rioting, and looting. Ordinary striking workers, and even by-standers, have been branded as criminals and jailed. The entire working class in NOIDA today has been criminalized.     

Several of us from CPI(ML) and AISA visited NOIDA on 22nd February, following the arrest of 17 AICCTU activists on the 21st. On the morning of the 21st, our activists – including Delhi-NCR AICCTU Secretary Shyamkishor Yadav, were sitting inside the AICCTU office in NOIDA Sector-10, which is on the road adjoining the Sector-10 slum cluster. The activists, most of them unorganized sector workers including rickshaw pullers and street vendors, were preparing to hold a march in support of the second day of the Strike. They were arrested from inside their office, where they could not even be said to be violating Section 144! The AICCTU office in Sector-10 is very far away (at least 20 kms away) from NOIDA Phase-II where most of the violence occurred. The AICCTU activists had never even visited Phase-II.

On the 22nd morning, when we arrived at the Sector 10 office, there was a palpable feeling of terror among the local workers and activists. We were told it was not safe to stand near a Trade Union office. Eyewitnesses told us that on the previous morning, a large fleet of white ambassador cars (15-20 of them) with flashing red lights drew up and disgorged a posse of police as well as several VIPs from the local police and administration. We were told that in these cars, there were also mediapersons – presumably comfortably ‘embedded’ in the local administration. Once our activists were arrested from inside their office, they were paraded in front of the media, while the top police officials informed the media that the ‘culprits’ of the previous day’s rioting had been caught!

We waited at our office, trying to gather people who could stand bail for those arrested. We were also calling up the police, trying to get information on the status and whereabouts of those arrested. Several police vehicles drew up, and a large number of cops descended on us, including the SHO of the Sector-20 police station. The latter told us that we must disperse immediately, or else she would have us arrested! They waited till we left the place. Clearly, being in the vicinity of a Trade Union office, or being a Trade Union activist, is enough to merit being arrested in NOIDA today.

We then went to the Phase II police station, where we heard that those arrested were being detained. At the police station, we were told that there was no question of bail, and that all those arrested would be jailed by evening. We asked to meet the arrested people, and were told that one of us would be allowed to do so. I went inside the police station to meet our comrades in the lock-up. I was told to switch off my phone before doing so, and I later realized it was so I could not take photographs of the conditions in which the arrested workers were kept.

The police lock-up is a tiny 8ft/8ft room, totally dark, with no light whatsoever. Through the bars I saw and greeted Comrade Shyam Kishor. He is recovering from an accident, because of which he cannot sit on the ground easily nor stand for long periods of time. But inside that tiny room, there were some 45 men, sitting and standing in impossibly cramped conditions. There was a toilet, I was told, but it was full of water and so unusable. And the men had not been given water to drink for several hours! They had been there since the night of the 21st February, cooped up in that pen, deprived of basic rights and dignities. Seeing me, several of the young workers, all migrants, were desperate to have me note down contact numbers for their families, who would be worried about their whereabouts. They had not been informed about what they were being accused of, and what sections they were being booked under. Their families had not been informed about their arrest. Some family members who managed to reach the police station were not allowed to meet their arrested relatives.         

When I asked the authorities about the conditions in which those arrested had been kept, he said, “What can we do, we have to keep them in the place allocated for such arrests by the government.” I asked them, had a politician or an industrialist been arrested, would they too be kept in such a lock-up?! Since a large number of people had been arrested, why could they not be detained in a stadium or any other similar room? Why should they be denied the right to inform their families? The answer was clear: the manner of the arrest and detention, and the denial of dignity, were punitive, intended to victimize and intimidate the entire working class.       

I called on the number given to me by one of the arrested boys, Ram Bahadur. His aunt kept saying he had been on his way to visit a relative when he vanished – that is when the police picked him up. “My boy is bright, educated, a hard worker – why is he being treated like a criminal?,” she asked. Throughout the day, Ram Bahadur’s family kept calling up, feeling utterly shocked and helpless about the arrest of their son and breadwinner. Another concerned person trying to meet the detainees at the police station told us that among those arrested was a school master in Sector-10 NOIDA, who had been sitting on the road reading a paper when he was arrested. We secured a copy of one of the FIRs, which named 59 people, charging them with charges as serious as attempt to murder (307). All those arrested have now been jailed at Dasna Jail.

In the FIR that names Shyam Kishor Yadav, the SHO of Sector 20thana(Police Station) states that she and her team were on a raid when they received information that a group of people were gathering in preparation to protest. On reaching the spot, they found 34 people – and instantly recognised them all as being the ones responsible for the arson and looting of the previous day. So, she states, they were all arrested, their families will be duly informed of their arrest, and, she takes care to add, guidelines laid down by the honourable Supreme Court were followed to ensure that there were no human rights violations, and those arrested had no complaints against the police! Most of the rest of the FIR is a litany of names of those arrested.

There is, as of now, no evidence of who exactly was responsible for the arson and looting in NOIDA Phase-II. But without any evidence, why are all Trade Union leaders and ordinary workers being randomly arrested and booked in blatantly concocted cases for serious crimes? Why is terror being unleashed against NOIDA’s working class and trade union movement?         

Working class anger and outrage in the NCR region, contrary to the media construction, is reasoned and with basis. And the main basis for this anger is the blatant strangulation of industrial democracy, denial of rights to organize and unionise, and the open violation of labour laws including minimum wage and contract work laws. NOIDA’s slum clusters where the workers live, are in stark contrast to the massive gated communities that are enclaves for the rich, carved out in what used till recently to be fertile farmland.

The industrialists, government, and mainstream media, rant righteously about the trade unions that ‘break the peace.’ Maintaining exploitative work conditions by denying the right to unionise and encouraging the open violations of labour laws, criminalizing NOIDA’s entire working class and trade union leadership and jailing them on blatantly fake charges, and deploying paramilitary forces in the industrial areas are not acts of ‘peace’. They are declarations of a virtual war on the working class. The Uttar Pradesh Government and the central Government are both equally answerable for this war on the workers – happening so close toDelhi,India’s seat of power.

Ed. Updated on 26 February, 2013

EPW Vol – XLVIII No. 09, March 02, 2013 | Kavita Krishnan

p style=”text-align: justify;”

/strong

Adieu Prof. Lotika Sarkar


AISA expresses deep condolences at the sudden demise of Prof. Lotika Sarkar on 23 Feb. 2013 at 8.30pm in the evening at her residence in Delhi.

Professor Lotika Sarkar is a widely-known pioneer in the fields of law, women’s studies and human rights. She taught criminal law and conflict of laws at the Faculty of Law, University of Delhi. A Cambridge-educated lawyer by training, she was the first woman teacher of law at the University of Delhi. She has been an active member of the Indian Law Institute.

She was a member of the Government of India‘s Committee on the “Status of Women in India” and has been a founding member of several institutions—the Indian Association for Women Studies and the Centre for Women‘s Development Studies.

Lotika Sarkar had been a lifelong crusader of women’s rights and played a crucial role in several path-breaking legislations for gender justice.

Prof. Sarkar will remain an undying symbol of inspiriation for the  women’s movement as well as  the entire progressive movement for all times to come.

Condemn The Twin Terror Blasts In Dilsukhnagar, Hyderabad!


Demand Proper Investigation, Resist Attempts To Scapegoat and Witch-hunt !!

AISA strongly condemns the twin terror blasts that took place on 21 Feb in Dilsukhnagar in Hyderabad. Two blasts took place, at least 13 people have been killed, and more than 100 have been injured. We express deep condolences to the families of those killed in the blasts and demand smooth disbursal of compensation to all those who have suffered.

Such terror blasts have to be condemned in no uncertain terms, and it is of utmost importance that a proper investigation be conducted to nail the actual culprits. Unfortunately, time and again, we have seen that in the name of ‘investigation’, several youth from the minority community are picked up and instant ‘break throughs’ are claimed. This time too, the same beaten track is being followed : unsubstantiated stories and theories of ‘involvement of a number of students from minority community labeled as IM operatives’, are being bandied about in the media almost immediately after the blasts – none of which point to attempts at serious investigation. Moreover, this time around too, the BJP-VHP-RSS saffron brigade has started its oft-repeated campaign immediately after the blasts. BJP leaders like Venkaiah Naidu and Sushma Swaraj have claimed that the Hyderabad blasts are a response to the hanging of Kasab and Afzal Guru.  Such atrocious statements, with NO evidence whatsoever, are highly condemnable, and smack of politically motivated attempts to spread communal tensions. May we remind the Sanghi brigade that  after the Hyderabad Mecca Masjid blasts too, several Muslim youth were picked up, kept in jail for years and tortured in custody; finally all were released with no evidence to back the police claimWorse still, later on it got unearthed that some Hindutva groups were involved in the same Mecca Masjid blasts! Almost the same trajectory was followed in several other terror blasts, including the Malegaon, Ajmer and the Samjhauta express blasts. Till date, the entire Sanghi terror network remains to be completely unearthed.

It is high time, instead of the oft-repeated mode of prejudiced scape-goating to claim ‘break-though’ and dramatic media stories, investigation must be unprejudiced and objective to reach the real culprits. It is extremely important that a proper investigation takes place and the real perpetrators of the incident are brought to book.

AISA condemns the terror blasts in Hyderabad, and appeals to the student community to resist any attempts to use this incident to vitiate communal harmony and spread a communal hate campaign.

Kunan Poshpora, Kashmir, 23 Feb 1991 : The Horrific Episode of Mass Gangrape by Army and Shameful Cover-up by the State!

Do Not Forget! Do Not Forgive!

22 years ago, on 23 February 1991, a battalion of the 4th Rajputana Rifles of the Indian Army entered the village of Kunan Poshpora in Kupwara district of Kashmir late at night for a ‘search’ and ‘interrogation’ operation. The men of the village were rounded up and kept in custody just outside the villages. At least 53 women – aged 13 to 80 years – were gang raped by the army for several hours together. According to the villagers the number is much higher. What is equally horrific about the Kunan Poshpora incident is the response of the ruling establishment, the media and successive governments. Kunan Poshpora will go down in history not just as an instance of brutal state repression and sexual assault, it will also be known as an ignominious cover up  of state repression by the Indian government.

After this horrific incident, the Indian government, and later the Press Council of India claimed that the whole incident was a “well-concocted bundle of fabricated lies” and “a massive hoax orchestrated by militant groups and their sympathizers and mentors in Kashmir and abroad…for reinscribing Kashmir on the international agenda as a human rights issue”. They claimed that the allegations were “grossly exaggerated or invented”. This amazing ‘conclusion’ was reached after highly questionable ‘investigations’:  Mufti Baha-ud-Din Farooqi, Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, who led a fact-finding mission to Kunan Poshpora, has stated that in his 43 years on the bench “he had never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one”!  Several independent investigations and reputed international human rights organisations have publicly stated that the Indian government launched a “campaign to acquit the army of charges of human rights violations and discredit those who brought the charges”.

Today, more than two decades after the horrific Kunan Poshpora incident, the issue of AFSPA, state repression and impunity to rapists in power are once more being discussed. At a time when justice is denied in such a case in the name of ‘protecting the morale’ of the army – what is the Indian State then saying about the morale of Kashmiri women? Aren’t these rapes then committed to break the morale of the Kashmiri people?

In a signed response to an RTI application (Home/RTI/15/2012/1213) filed by Khurram Parvez, co-ordinator of J&K Coalition of Civil Society and a well known human rights activist in Kashmir, on the number of prosecutions sanctioned under AFSPA, the J&K Home Department simply stated that “no sanction for prosecution has been intimated by the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Defense to the State Government from 1990-2011 under the J&K Armed Forces Special Powers Act.” No prosecution in 21 years. None. Not one.

Today, on the anniversary of the Kunan Poshpora gang rape, it is urgent for all democratic voices to once again demand justice for the survivors of this chilling incident and scrapping of the protective shield of AFSPA providing immunity to the army and security forces for such horrific crimes!

Do Not Forget! Do Not Forgive!

Resist This Draconian Bill ! Down With J&K’s Own Homegrown AFSPA! !

Photo: Ashish Sharma

More powers in special zones: J&K police Bill has AFSPA ring

Muzamil Jaleel,  Indian Express,  Posted online: Sun Feb 24 2013, 02:24 hrs

Srinagar : While Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah frequently speaks out against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in force in the state, as per a Bill drafted by his own government, the state police could get powers quite similar to the controversial legislation.

The 76-page ‘Jammu and Kashmir Police Bill, 2013’, made public recently, allows the state to declare any area disturbed, proposing setting up “Special Security Zones” where “administrative and development measures” are integrated with police response for “problems of public order and security”.

Negating the role of civil administration like a district magistrate in affairs of law and order, the Bill proposes that police be able to set up and arm controversial militia of civilians — as “village defence committees” — and recruit special police officers outside the existing police structure. It also plans a stringent confidentiality clause that could override the existing Right to Information Act in the state.

The Bill was posted on the home department’s website on February 15, while Kashmir was under curfew following Afzal Guru’s hanging, with a notification inviting suggestions for the next two weeks.

Under the draft legislation, a police officer would be considered “always on duty” and the government as well as the complaints authority deputed to hear cases against him/her would have legal immunity regarding decisions taken by them “in good faith or intended to be done in pursuance of the provisions” of the Bill. In fact, the good faith clause — also the main basis of immunity under the AFSPA — in the draft legislation is vague, doesn’t spell out whether the police force itself falls under “government” and is thus open to wider interpretation.

There is also a six-month deadline on entertaining a complaint made against a police official from the “occurrence of the incident”.

While the civil administration sees the Bill as a bid to encroach on its powers, activists see it as an attempt to exert control. “The draft police Bill essentially reads as a blueprint on how to exercise control on the populace,” said noted human rights lawyer Parvez Imroz. “Within these (Special Security) zones, the attempt is to allow the police and its functionaries, the SPOs, absolute and unaccountable power. It allows for a different Standard Operating Procedure within these zones, without specifying the limits to these powers.”

Imroz also questioned the expansion of the role of SPOs and village defence committees. “The government is seeking to formalise practices that have resulted in structural police violence in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.

Senior J&K High Court lawyer Riyaz Khawar accused the government of trying to make a police state. “They are taking away magisterial powers and giving it to the police,” Khawar said. “So even if the AFSPA is repealed, they would have already brought it back via this police Act.”

Minister of State for Home Sajad Kichloo claimed that “most of the features in the draft Bill are based on a model Bill prepared by a committee of eminent experts constituted by the government of India and on the directions of the Supreme Court”. They would consider the suggestions received on it, he added.

Some of the proposals:

  • Any person cleaning a furniture or vehicle, slaughtering an animal, cleaning a carcass or grooming an animal in a public place would invite punishment. So would those trespassing into a government building or land, and those driving, dragging or pushing any non-motorised vehicle at any time between half an hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise. Knowingly defecating or urinating in a public place with a view to cause “annoyance”, breaking any queue in any public place and other similar “violations of public order” are also frowned upon. Such “offences” would invite imprisonment up to six months or fine up to Rs 2,000.
  • The director general of police would draw up an “Internal Security Scheme” for the entire state and formulate an SOP. Under it, even lawful activity by a group or organisation that has the “potential of disturbing law and order” would need prior police permission.
  • The state government may declare any area a Special Security Zone (SSZ), when such area is “widely and intolerably beset with violence or insurgency or destruction of public property on account of communal or terrorist or anti-national activities”. These SSZs would have a “suitable administrative structure, which shall integrate administrative and developmental measures in the area with the police response to deal with problems of public order and security”.
  • Any inflow of funds as well as “production, sale, storage, possession or entry of any devices or equipment” into SSZs be banned if these are “reasonably considered a threat to internal security or public order in any manner”.
  • There must be a ‘State Security Commission (SSC)’ with the CM as its chairman, the home minister or minister of state for home as its vice-chairman, a retired high court judge as its member, and the DGP, the chief secretary and the home secretary as ex-officio members (Activists have pointed out that there are no members from the Opposition in the proposed commission).
  • A Police Complaints Authority, at the state and district levels, be set up to look into grievances against police officials.

People’s Watch Over Parliament!! Join In Large Numbers!

Demand that Parliament Enact a Law Against Sexual Violence Based on Justice Verma recommendations! No to Eyewash Ordinance!

SPEAKERS WILL INCLUDE:

12 Noon – 5 PM

Shabana Azmi, Vrinda Grover, Madhu Mehra, Nilanjana Roy, Gautam Bhan, Rebecca John, Binalakshmi Nepram, Kamal Chenoy, Maitreyee Pushpa, Anand Pradhan, Bimol Akoijam, JNUSU leaders, and many other scholars, activists of the women’s and students’ movement

5-8 PM

Cultural performance including
Street play ‘Bekhauf Azaadi’ by Hirawal from Patna
Performance by Maya Krishna Rao
Solo Theatrical Performance by Rojio Usham, based on the Poetry of Irom Sharmila
Music and Poetry by Nihal Parashar and his group
Songs on the theme of women’s movement and people’s movements!

Do Join in Large Numbers! Buses Will Leave from JNU, DU, Jamia Millia Islamia, contact for details:

Freedom Without Fear- Bekhauf Azadi,
Campaign Against Sexual Violence and Gender Discrimination
Contact: 9868383692 , 9868033425 , 9213974505

Watch  this also:

PEOPLE’S WATCH OVER PARLIAMENT – Kavita Krishnan

AISA’s Statement on Hanging of Afzal Guru

Hanging of Afzal Guru: Travesty of Justice and Democracy

The hanging of Afzal Guru at the crack of dawn on 9 February, done in an extremely secretive manner without even informing his family, will be recognised by every justice-loving person as a case of justice being compromised to appease the communal fascist forces with an eye on the elections.

It is well known that Afzal was a surrendered Kashmiri militant who had given himself up to the BSF in 1993 and had since been working in the shadow of the Special Task Force of the Kashmir police, and was implicated in the December 13, 2001 Parliament attack case. He had no lawyer to represent him when the trial court convicted him without any direct evidence and yet the Supreme Court upheld the death penalty in the name of satisfying ‘the collective conscience of society’ even as the High Court and the Supreme Court passed adverse remarks on the shoddy nature of investigation and dubious quality of evidence produced by the police.

Nobody has ever been hanged in this country for the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom, for all the anti-Muslim violence including the horrific Mumbai and Surat riots of 1992 and the 2002 Gujarat genocide, or for the massacres of dalits, adivasis and other oppressed sections by private armies or the state. Far from satisfying the ‘collective conscience’ of the Indian society, the hanging of Afzal Guru only exposes the double standards of justice followed by the ruling establishment.

Faced with growing popular opposition and resistance on every front, the Congress party and the UPA government are desperately trying to appease the BJP and the communal-fascist brigade. The democratic movement in the country will reject and resist this Congress-BJP collusion and intensify the battle for justice and democratic rights for the common people of India.

9.2.13

Parliament Attack Case and Execution of Afzal Guru: The Many Questions That Remain


A week back, Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar jail, in complete secrecy, without even informing his family and close relatives. Saffron brigade distributed sweets, and danced on the streets. We are now being told that finally the ‘national conscience’ has been ‘assuaged’ by this execution. We are being told by several voices – ranging from the Sangh Brigade and the Congress to Sitaram Yechury – that the “law has finally taken its course”, justice has been delivered, and the case should now be buried. Entire Kashmir has been shut down, virtually everyone in Kashmir is under surveillance, and several young people have been killed in police firing. Right in the centre of Delhi, activists of the Sangh brigade attack peaceful protestors, while the Delhi Police watches on in silent support.  For the Sangh brigade, this moment of Afzal’s execution is one more occasion to manufacture a jingoist frenzy across the country. Anyone who continues to ask uncomfortable questions on the Afzal Guru trial and on the death penalty is immediately dubbed as an ‘anti-national’ and subjected to abuse, physical violence and hate speech.

Glaring Gaps

It is true that the attack on Parliament was most highly condemnable and an assault on the institution which is known as the highest seat of our democracy. Precisely because of this, it was imperative that the police and investigation agencies should have carried out an honest investigation to book the perpetrators. Instead, what did we get? We quote below from articles written by Praful Bidwai in 2006 which point out some of the glaring gaps in the prosecution’s case against Afzal:

 “…Afzal was not the mastermind or chief conspirator in the Parliament attack. He didn’t personally commit murder or participate in the attack. Yet, he was sentenced to death for murder (Sec 302 of the Indian Penal Code), waging war against the state (Sec 121 and 121A), and criminal conspiracy (Sec 120A & B). The punishment is prima facie excessive and disproportionate.

Assistant Commissioner Rajbir Singh of the Delhi police’s anti-terrorism ‘Special Cell’ completed the investigation in just 17 days. An ‘encounter specialist’, Rajbir Singh stands disgraced for extortion and corruption.

..The biggest gaps pertain to the role of the Special Task Force of the J&K police, to whom Afzal, a former JKLF militant, surrendered. Afzal claims — without being contradicted — that he was introduced to Tariq Ahmad at an STF camp. Tariq took him to a police officer, Dravinder Singh, who introduced him to Mohammad alias Burger, named as the leader of the five attackers. Afzal admits that he brought Mohammad to Delhi and helped him buy the car used in the attack. But he says Dravinder Singh [of the STF] and Tariq ordered him to do so. Here, the investigation goes cold. There is no trace of Tariq or Dravinder… And it’s a mystery why the police knew nothing about the activities of a surrendered militant on whom they kept tabs.

Besides his own testimony, circumstantial evidence of Afzal’s involvement in conspiracy hinges on the recovery of explosives, and crucially, on records of cell phone calls to the five attackers. However, the explosives recovery record isn’t watertight. The police couldn’t explain why they broke into Afzal’s house during his absence — when the landlord had the key.

The cell phone record traced several calls from the five men to number 98114-89429, which allegedly belonged to an instrument seized from Afzal during his arrest. The instrument had no SIM card. The only identity mark was its IMEI number, unique to each instrument.

How did the police discover the IMEI number? There are only two ways: open the instrument, or dial a code and have the number displayed. But the officer who certified the recovery said on oath that he neither opened nor operated the instrument. Besides, the testimonies on the date of purchase of the phone with a new SIM card (December 4) and its first recorded operation (November 6) don’t match! This means that there’s a large grey area in the evidence.” Praful Bidwai, ‘Halting the descent into medieval barbarity’, The News International, 21 October 2006

Some of the unanswered questions:

•   The judicial proceedings recorded two occasions on which Mohammad Afzal spoke before the law: his ‘confessional’ statement before the police and his statement under ‘Section 313 of the CrPC’. The Supreme court verdict itself admits Afzal’s much publicized ‘confession’ which was extracted in police custody was ‘UNRELIABLE’. But after the Supreme Court rejected the prosecution’s theory based on Afzal’s ‘confession’, the latter’s CrPC 313 statement was the only basis left on which his role in events that led to the attack could be probed. The Court has found his only role in it was to help a man suspected to be involved in the Parliament attack, to find a house in Delhi and to buy a car. Afzal never denied or falsified this role, rather admitted it. In his statement he,  in fact, named an STF officer Davinder Singh who ordered him to perform those acts. Yet, Davinder Singh was mentioned neither in the FIR nor chargesheet, nor was he made a witness in the case. He did not figure anywhere in the trials, despite the presence of his phone numbers in Afzal’s phone records. How come the Supreme Court chose to believe one part of Afzal’s statement under Section 313, while conveniently ignored the rest?  Why wasn’t the link with the STF probed? 

•   After the Parliament attack, a former Police Commissioner of Thane S.M. Shangari, claimed in a press conference that one of the killed terrorist (Abu Hamza) had been arrested in Maharashtra in December 2000 along with three others (one year before the Parliament house attack) and had subsequently been handed over to the J&K Police. Therefore at the time of the Parliament house attack. Abu Hamza was supposedly in the custody of the J&K police. However, K Rajendra, then inspector general of the J&K Police, dismissed Shangari’s enquiries calling it a case of mistaken identity and arguing that Hamza is a common Muslim name. Perhaps so. But then what happened to those four militants including Abu Hamza in J&K STF custody? The Thane court issued repeated summons to the J&K Police to produce them in Thane. They were never sent nor any explanation provided! WHY? (See Mihir Srivastava,The Question of Reasonable Doubt,The Open Magazine 14/2/13)

•     The so-called ‘masterminds’ behind the attack (Masood Azhar, Ghazi Baba and Tariq Ahmad) were never arrested and produced in any court, to verify the prosecution’s story. Of these, Ghazi Baba was claimed to be shot dead by security forces in 2004. Then, where is Tariq? Why can’t the STF produce him? After Kasab’s arrest, we saw a flurry of diplomatic exchange, with India providing proof of Pakistan’s involvement, demanding extraditions and so on. WHY didn’t we see a similar diplomatic exchange demanding that these three be produced in Indian courts?

•    And finally, the big question that the Indian State must answer: Afzal being a surrendered militant was under constant State surveillance. Could a man constantly watched by our security forces, and who, even according to the Court, did not belong to any terrorist organisation at the time of Parliament attack, manage to execute a terrorist attack of such magnitude? If a person under the watchful eye of the STF could be part of a conspiracy to wage war against the state, how can anything less than a public inquiry do? For this is not about the guilt or innocence of one man, but about how a system works and what it means, to democracy, sovereignty and the security of the state. Whose pawn was he really?

Some of the best legal minds in the country have ripped apart the story being told to us; they have raised several crucial questions on the ‘evidence’ provided by the prosecution, based on which DU professor SAR Geelani was released, and Shaukat Guru’s sentence was reduced. It seems no coincidence that Afzal, the only man sentenced to death, was the only accused who was not properly represented at the trial stage, he NEVER had a lawyer of his choice at the trial stage. The Supreme Court, while admitting that there is no direct evidence of Afzal’s guilt, has held that he must die to satisfy the ‘collective conscience’ of the Indian nation.The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, has shaken the entire nation and the collective conscience of the society will be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded to the offender,” the judgment said. It was almost as if there was a need to at least ensure one death sentence so that the faith of the public in the efficacy of the prosecution and the judiciary and the Legislature would not be shaken. A range of Indian citizens – teachers, writers, lawyers, Gandhian and Left activists, ordinary people – have raised their voice to declare that they are NOT part of this contrived ‘collective conscience’. Truly, the conscience of democratic and peace-loving citizens can be satisfied only if there is a guarantee that there is no witch-hunting or scape-goating, and those really guilty for terror and genocide are identified and punished. 

Manufacturing and Manipulating a Communal Commonsense

Let us remember that in this country where a communal common sense is continuously manufactured, it is chillingly easy for the state machinery to convince people that ‘every terrorist is likely to be a Muslim’. It is precisely this communal common sense that the saffron fascists and the Sangh brigade depend on and seek to exploit: remember how Bajrang Dal activists were caught making bombs in Nanded before the Malegaon blasts, remember how fake beards and Muslim clothes and caps were found with these activists! Also remember how the Malegaon police in 2006 claimed that the use of RDX proves ‘Islamic’ involvement- which subsequently proved to be the handiworks of elements linked to the Sanghi outfits, thanks to the daring investigations by Hemant Karkare and his team. It is only of late that the entire saffron terror network – responsible for the Mecca Masjid blasts, the Malegaon blasts and the Samjhauta express blasts – is being gradually unraveled.

Double Standards Abound

We must remind ourselves that no one, including BJP, who is their alliance partner in the Punjab government,  calls Akali Dal ‘anti-national’ when the Khalistani separatist Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted in the killing of a former Punjab Chief Minister, is termed a ‘living martyr’.  The people demanding revocation of his death sentence are NOT subjected to hate speech, curfews, and violence, unlike Kashmiris who mourn the death of Afzal. We must keep reminding ourselves that in this country, death penalty has not been awarded to the perpetrators of the 1984 Sikh riots, to the murderers and rapists of the 2002 Gujarat genocide, to the accused in the Bathani Tola massacre, to the killers in Khairlanji or to the killers of Graham Staines. In fact, the Supreme court said that the Orissa HC was justified in awarding life term and not death sentence to Dara Singh and Hembran as the crime was committed in the passion to teach Staines a lesson for his alleged attempts to convert tribals.  (“Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity”, said the judgement- TOI, 21/1/11). Contrast this with “satisfying collective conscience” criterion of the very same Supreme Court! Such visible double standards abound. Is it not urgent that our societal discourse and justice system acknowledge consistent yardsticks in dealing with acts of terrorism, caste and communal massacres, human rights violations – without pitting them against each other, without calling one category of heinous crime to be the excuse for the other? Why are certain categories of heinous crime treated with lesser seriousness and often offered immunity?

Therefore it is important to frame this very important debate – which has far-reaching repercussions for democracy in this country – beyond the frenzy of capital punishment and the politics of ‘vengeance’. On the crucial question of Parliament attack and Afzal Guru’s hanging, all those who care for democracy will have to raise their voices on the manner in which his trial took place, the manner in which ‘collective conscience’ was invoked as a rationale for death sentence instead of legally admissible evidence and for unearthing of the entire trail of unexplored, ignored facts to reach the bottom of the truth.

16.2.13