By Advocate Mohammad Shoaib and Sandeep Pandey
That corruption is rampant in the police department is a common experience. However, there is another form of corruption that devastates the lives of individuals and their families. It has now emerged as a common phenomenon that police more often than not register false cases because of which individuals have to spend a number of years in jail. Sometimes their period in jail extends beyond the punishment if they were to be convicted in the charge for which they landed in jail. For lack of evidence, many such individuals get acquitted or eventually get bail but by that time their lives are beyond redemption.
Father Stan Swamy was in jail in a false case. He had not even heard of Bhima Koregaon, what to talk of having participated in any meeting related to it or the violence which took place there in 2018. The court would not even give bail to him in spite of his age and ill health, as a consequence of which he died after 9 months in jail.
Recently Kishorchandra Wangkhem, journalist, and Erendra Leichonbam, activist, from Manipur, spent two months in jail under National Security Act for criticism over Facebook of the efficacy of cow dung and urine as a cure for Covid, something for which even ordinary penal sections do not apply.
When it comes to terrorism-related cases the accused are labelled as terrorists by the security agencies as well as media even before a case has been filed or been heard in a court of law. On the other hand a politician in jail, even under serious charges, can contest elections until he is convicted. The conviction under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is hardly 2% indicating that most arrested under terror charges are innocents who ultimately get acquitted. But the stringent provisions of law make it difficult for any accused to get bail.
In Lucknow, on 11 July 2021, Minhaz Ahmed, aged about 30 years, and Masiruddin, aged 50 years, have been arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Squad accused of being members of Ansar Gazwatul Hind associated with Al-Qaeda, who were planning to carry out blasts in various cities of Uttar Pradesh before the Independence Day. Two Pressure Cooker bombs and a pistol was recovered from them, which seem more like having been planted as the ATS carried some suitcases inside Minhaz’s house when they went to raid it. Same day Mohammad Mustakeem was also arrested. Two days later on 13 July Shaqueel, aged 27 years, and Mohmmad Moid, aged 29 years, were also arrested.
All except Minhaz belong to the lower middle class. Minhaz, with a diploma in Electrical Engineering, was running a battery shop. His father is a retired class II government official. Masiruddin and Shaqueel used to operate battery rickshaws and had bought batteries from Minhaz on instalments. Moid used to work with somebody in the real estate business. Mustakeem was a petty contractor who would hire labourers to get small houses built. When police went in search of Masiruddin he was overseeing the construction of an adjacent house of Masiruddin’s brother. The police took away Mustakeem’s mobile phone and identity card and later called him to a police station to arrest him as well.
It is alleged that all these ‘terrorists’ were being funded from overseas. Masiruddin has an unfinished house in which his wife, mother-in-law and 4 children live in a makeshift arrangement. His wife Saeeda says she recently bought a pressure cooker, an iron and a stove, to keep for her daughter’s marriage. The ATS, as they were leaving after their raid, on second thought, came back and confiscated the new pressure cooker. Her daughter Zeba, a student of class 6 is suffering from diabetes.
Masiruddin would take all her daughters to school in his rickshaw and get other children also on board when the school was open. Minhaz, the only son of his parents, also doubled up as a daughter, combing her mother’s hair and giving her massage in feet. He had a year and a half old son. Shaqueel’s wife was 7 months pregnant. His brother Ilyas asks how could a person who carried passengers for Rs. 5 be a terrorist?
Shaqueel and Masiruddin’s families survived on their daily incomes. After Mustakeem was arrested people who owed him money for work done in past are refusing to pay. The family needs money to pay the pending fees of the youngest son and daughter. Among the 3 grown-up daughters, one is undergoing medical treatment, for which also money is required. They live in a rented house. Neighbours of Minhaz and Moid are bringing food for the grieving families and vouch for their innocence. A visit to families of any one of these 5 who have been arrested doesn’t give a feeling that they were being funded by any international organization. Also, it is unlikely that fathers, who were in most cases the sole earning members of their families, of small children would take the risk of being involved in something as dangerous as terrorism.
It appears that the Bhartiya Janata Party in UP after getting routed in panchayat elections, terrorized the entire state to win the presidentship of district panchayats and block panchayats using brute force, wanted to divert attention from the bad publicity it was receiving for abusing the government machinery. Facing an embarrassment over scams in land deals for the Ram temple in Ayodhya and mismanagement of Covid, it stares at a possible defeat in the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections. The ATS operation seems more like a desperate attempt to polarize votes in its favour using tactics which has been overused. Famous poet Munawwar Rana has commented that ATS has arrested not terrorists but pressure cookers.
All the abovementioned 5 accused face charges under UAPA. Looks like their lives are also doomed like those of many before them.
The biggest police reform that India needs is a halt to registering false cases against innocent people. Whether it is under political pressure, to seek medals and accolades, or merely to build hype around security so that units like ATS, National Investigation Agency, etc., could continue to get unaccounted funds, it is time to say enough is enough.
Note: Mohammad Shoaib and Sandeep Pandey are associated with Socialist Party (India).