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Terrifying Testimonies


By Yoginder Sikand


03 September, 2008


For several months now, almost no week passes without the media reporting about 'dreaded Muslim fundamentalists' being picked up by the police and allegedly confessing to being involved in bomb blasts or plots to engineer violence across India. It is not my argument that all of these reports are cooked-up and dished-out propaganda. Some of these stories must be true, and those behind such acts must be caught and punished. But, the fact remains, many of these stories circulating in the media are wholly fabricated, and these are being manufactured and highlighted for a particular motive: to fuel anti-Muslim passions and, thereby, justify various forms of discrimination and oppression—even murder—of hapless Muslim citizens who, far from having anything to do with terrorism, are victims of terror—of agencies of the state, especially the police and Hindutva terror outfits.


America's 'global war on terror' has provided a convenient cover to the Hindutva lobby and to fiercely anti-Muslim elements within the Indian state machinery to launch a concerted campaign of terror against Muslims. Large numbers of Muslims in various parts of India continue to languish in jails on trumped-up terror charges, suffering brutal torture as well as routine insults to their religion by police officials. Meanwhile, Hindu terrorists, often in league with the police and the state machinery, are allowed to run riot, unleashing violence and bloodshed on a frightening scale, while the state, the police and the courts take no firm action against them. Bomb blasts that are now occurring with frightening frequency, whose perpetrators remain unknown, are automatically blamed on Muslims, while some of these might possibly be engineered by Hindutva outfits or by elements within the state apparatus, or even by foreign intelligence agencies like the CIA or the Israeli Mossad who have a vested interest in demonizing Muslims and thereby driving India closer into the deadly American-Israeli embrace.


That, in brief, was what numerous social activists as well as dozens of Muslim victims of police and state terror testified to at a public hearing on brutalities against Muslims in the name of countering 'terrorism' recently organised in Hyderabad by a group of noted human rights' activists. Going by their depositions and the verdict of the jury of eminent social activists, journalists and retired judges, it appears that powerful elements within the state apparatus are deeply implicated, along with Hindu terrorist groups, in a witch-hunt of India's Muslim citizens.




27 year-old Yakoob Khan from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, was arrested at the age of 17, accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts in 1998, a charge that he vehemently denies. 'On the day of the blast I attended class at the Industrial Training Institute where I was enrolled, and when I was returning home I heard about the blasts'. In the wake of the blasts, the police went on a rampage, indiscriminately picking up Muslim youth. Some days later, Yakoob found himself in prison, where he was to spend almost the next ten years, much of it in solitary confinement in a small cage-like cell. 'I was accused of being in possession of explosive material, and of being associated with the Islamic group Al-Ummah, although I had never even heard its name.' In addition to routine torture, while in jail he was often abused for his religion. 'I would be beaten up if I wanted to say namaz. My torturers would tell me to face them while praying, rather than the Kaaba. They tore my Quran, and while beating me they would scream "Bharat Mata ki Jai"'. 'They ruined ten precious years of my life, my youth, falsely branding me as a terrorist', he says.



Yakoob Khan's friend, 34 year-old Shiv Kumar, alias Abdul Hamid, is a Hindu convert to Islam. He eked out as livelihood selling old newspapers and utensils for recycling. He was accused of being involved in the Coimbatore blasts, a charge that he denies. The police forced him to sign a blank piece of paper which they later filled out themselves, threatening him that if he refused to do so they would arrest his family as well. He was remanded to the Coimbatore jail on the basis of this forced 'confession' and his repeated applications for bails were rejected. Because he was the sole earner in his family, his wife was forced to beg in order to survive. He was finally acquitted only recently, after almost ten years in incarceration. 'I was mercilessly tortured in prison. I was constantly told that if I had not become a Muslim and had remained a Hindu I would not have been beaten like this', he says.




Shabbir Masiulllah Ansari was picked up by the Mumbai Crime Branch in August 2006, but he was soon released on bail for 'lack of evidence'. Yet, he was charged anew for being allegedly the 'mastermind' of the Malegaon mosque blasts, while, it is said, that at the time the blasts took place he was actually in police custody. He continues to languish in jail and has suffered routine torture, including acid being thrown on his private parts. In the course of torture he was coerced into making a forced confession, but he later retracted this in court.




Maulana Muhammad Zahid is originally from Malegaon. Some two years ago, at the time of the Malegaon bomb blast, he was in Phul Savangi, a village 500 km away from Malegaon, where he used to lead the prayers in a mosque. The police implicated him in the blast, although his relatives insist he is innocent. When he was produced before the magistrate in Mumbai Esplanade Court, he gave a statement listing the torture that was done to him and also the false statement on which the police had taken his signature. The magistrate ignored his plea and asked for the police produced statement and accepted that as evidence. He still languishes in prison.




Faisal Attaur Shaikh and Muzammil Attaur Rehman Shaikh are among the thirteen Muslims charged for the 11 July 2006 Bombay local train blasts. The police accused Faisal of being a commander of Lashkar-e Tayyeba and of setting off the blast. They also claimed to have recovered maps of Mumbai and some CDS from Muzammil. In October 2006, 11 out of the 13 accused in the case gave their confession, but later retracted it in the sessions' court. It is alleged that almost all the accused were subjected to brutal torture, which forced them to confess to crimes they said they had not committed. It is claimed that 11 out of the 13 accused could not endure the torture and finally agreed to whatever story the police fabricated. This is why their confession stands retracted.




33 year-old Kalim Ahmed Karimi used to manage a small radio repair business in Ahmedabad. On 3rd April, 2003 he had gone out to get some medicines for his pregnant wife who was unwell. The police picked him up and he never came back. Although Kalim was arrested on the 3rd April from Ahmedabad, the CBI states that they arrested him on the 26th of April in Andhra Pradesh. He was charged with being allegedly involved in the Tiffin Bomb Blast case, the Haren Pandya murder case and a 'jihadi' conspiracy. Thereafter, he was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the Haren Pandya murder case and to 10 years in the Tiffin Bomb Blast case.


Says his 70 year-old father, Habib Karimi, 'My son is innocent. Officials of the crime branch picked me up for questioning. Under duress, I was forced to sign some blank papers that they presented me with. They told me that I should not contact any lawyer and that they had men keeping an eye on me. I was also told not to forget that they had my signatures on blank sheets. My son has been tortured brutally and he has been forced to sign a confession. He and some others have narrated the experience of torture and forced confessions before the POTA Judge Sonia Gokani.'




Junaid is a final year student at Unani Medical College, Hyderabad, and president of the student union. He was picked up on the 3rd of September 2007 while returning to his home. He was produced before the magistrate on 8th of September 2007. Police claim that he was apprehended at Nampally railway station on the 8th of September. He was accused of conspiring against the state, which he vehemently denied. The argument given by the police was that some literature was found in his possession. While in custody he was subjected to heavy electric shocks, including on his private parts, and was coerced into making a forced confession. During his interrogation he was constantly rebuked for having shouted slogans against police violence. They asked him why he raised questions regarding the Sohrabuddin fake encounter and why he attended a conference against it. They even asked him why Muslims have so many children. For two days he was not given anything to eat. His face was kept covered in a black cloth throughout this ordeal. A shoe was stuffed in his mouth and he was told to read the Quran in that condition. In order to further humiliate him he was forced to shout 'Jai Shri Ram'.




24 year-old Aftab Alam Ansari, the only bread-earner in his 10-member lower middle class family, and an employee of the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation, was picked up by the police and taken to Lucknow. 'I was badly tortured with iron rods by drunken policemen who accused me of being a Bangladeshi. I was forced to declare that my name was actually Altaf Muletar and that I was responsible for the bombings in Sankat Mochan Mandir and the Courts in Lucknow. Of course I had nothing whatsoever to do with these.'


Aftab was then sent to the civil jail in Lucknow where he was stripped and was imprisoned for twenty two days. 'I was accused of being the area commander of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami, although I had never even heard of this outfit. My interrogators heaped abuses on Muslims and Islam.'


'They are targeting us just because we are Muslims', Aftab says. 'They want to falsely implicate us in terror cases so that our image gets tarnished and people start hating Muslims.' Like many other innocent Muslim youths who have been picked up and brutally tortured by interrogating agencies and then released for lack of any evidence, Aftab received no compensation for the enormous amount of money his family spent on securing his release. Nor has the state compensated him in any way for the damage to his health caused by the torture in prison. Nor has he received any sort of apology.


Scores more Muslim men and women testified at this public hearing, narrating the harrowing brutalities that they or their relatives have been subjected to, being, so they insisted, unfairly blamed for various terror acts. Predictably, though, the so-called mainstream Indian media took little notice of the hearing, the first of its kind in the country. Nor, for their part, did major political parties and state authorities. As Ghadr, the popular cultural activist from Andhra Pradesh who addressed the gathering, rightly put it, 'To expect anything else from the media and the establishment is folly. The answer lies not in simply narrating our woes but initiating a mass movement against this sort of oppression.'


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