www.sacw.net > The Inferno of Hate, Horror in Gujarat, India
POTA in Gujarat and Its Meaning for India
by Zakia Jowher and Mukul Dube [August 15, 2004]
POTA has been systematically used by the Government of Gujarat to terrorise the Muslim community into submission. At the end of 2003, 286 Muslims were booked under POTA on flimsy grounds and a deliberate attempt was made to make it appear that the Muslim community as a whole had taken to terrorism as a reaction to the post Godhra violence directed against it.
In its meeting of 16 May 2004, the Gujarat Janandolan asked the new government at the Centre for the repeal of POTA with retrospective effect and for the cancellation of all POTA charges. As an interim measure, it asked for the immediate functioning of the state POTA Review Committee headed by Justice N.B. Patel.
It emphasised the right of the victims of the post Godhra massacre to demand changes of trial judges and prosecutors and to get all the facilities needed for fair trials. If these could not be provided, then the trials should be held outside Gujarat. The Janandolan also asked for the constitution of a special tribunal, presided over by a judge selected from a panel of judges suggested on behalf of the victims, to consider the damage caused to all parties in the 2002 turmoil and award appropriate compensation to them.
What is the reality of your life if you are a Muslim of Gujarat, specially if you live in Ahmedabad? Twenty or more men hammer on your door at 3 a.m. and, on entering, proceed to ransack household goods and to abuse and kick you. After an hour or two of this, they select a male to be taken away "for questioning". You are threatened with dire consequences if you ask what his fault is, and you are warned not to tell anyone about what has happened.
After that you begin to wait. Often your wait is without end, for your loved one never returns. In the same way, you might wait for your husband or your brother, who did not return from what should have been a routine errand in the neighbourhood like buying fruit or medicines. All you get by way of information are the confused accounts of bystanders. And then, one day, you hear that your son or your husband has been found guilty of a "terrorist action" such as the tiffin blasts or the Haren Pandya assassination or a jehadi conspiracy to kill BJP or VHP leaders.
These are not scenes from one of the more absurd Bollywood movies: they are based on the recorded testimonies of several people. For the Muslims of Gujarat, of Ahmedabad in particular, this is everyday reality. There hangs above them constantly the threat of such persecution. They have been deprived of their democratic rights and are powerless against the might of their rulers, who have branded their whole community as terrorists.
At the end of 2003 there were 287 cases, of nine different categories, registered in Gujarat under POTA. Of these, one was against a Sikh and all the others were against Muslims.
Aman Samuday spoke to several hundred families. Members of many of these - 245 individuals in all - were taken into custody under POTA. Certain common features emerged from this survey.
1. All the 245 persons were detained illegally before they were arrested. The length of this period of illegal detention varied from 3 days to 25 days.
2. While they were invariably picked up from their homes or neighbourhoods, the Crime Branch has recorded other locations as the places of arrest.
3. One or more members of their families were often detained as substitutes until they turned up. The broad pattern of police operations suggests that for every person arrested, there are several others illegally detained. Civil society groups estimated that in September 2003, between 350 and 400 persons were in illegal detention in Ahmedabad city.
4. In none of the 245 cases was there any previous history of crime, either by the person detained or by any member of his family.
5. Most of the accused are electricians, radio or TV repairmen, drivers, religious teachers and the like. Some have activist backgrounds and helped others, irrespective of religion, after the earthquake and during riots.
6. All the accused are young men, mostly below 30.
7. The general pattern is to burst into peopleÝs homes at unearthly hours in groups of 25 to 30. Ransack the homes, terrorise all in them, and never leave without at least one member. For example, a senior citizen of 65, Mr. Karimi, was taken away when the person of their choice was not at home.
8. The Crime Branch has sometimes taken away important documents like degree certificates, wedding photos, etc.
9. Almost always, the families concerned are threatened with encounter killings or with the invocation of POTA if they speak up or inform anyone about their plight. The name of Tarun Barot, the "encounter specialist", is used as a powerful weapon.
10. There have been instances of grandparents, uncles, and so on who lived elsewhere being harassed. Here again, the favourite time chosen for questioning appears to be past midnight.
11. Not just the accused but also members of their families are almost routinely made to sign on blank sheets of paper. When family members have refused to sign, they have been told that the illegal detention would continue. At times they were told that their son or relative could be freed only if they signed on blank papers.
12. Members of the family of an accused are not allowed to meet him for quite some time, at any rate not until the confession has been extracted. Old parents often got a glimpse of their son only from a distance when he was brought to court with his head covered: neither could they have spoken to him, nor could he have known that they were present.
13. The economic condition of a family becomes precarious when the person thus picked up was its sole bread earner.
Aman Samuday also gained access to six complaints written by persons accused under POTA while they were in judicial custody. Copies of these were sent to various agencies but to no avail. Their contents are shocking.
1. These persons were subjected to torture, which included the giving of electric shocks to their genitals and the application of severe pressure on their bodies with a wooden object resembling a roller. Several victims (Kalim and Anas are examples) had fallen unconscious several times during this torture a number of times. The officers who routinely inflicted the torture have been named.
2. The accused were forced to hold weapons in postures dictated by the police while videos were shot.
3. They were made to work with electric gadgetry, apparently to indicate that they were making bombs, while photos were taken and videos were shot.
4. Repeated threats of "encounters" were made: "Ab ki baar tu upar jayega", etc.
5. They were forced to memorise statements that they were to make before the magistrate. They were also forced to read out prepared statements which were tape recorded.
6. The accused have repeatedly complained about insults to their religion and about their community's being abused even by clerical and support staff who had little to do with them. This points to a systematic brain-washing of the Crime Branch work-force and the demonisation of an entire community. Hatred of the Muslim was constantly in evidence.
7. Specially horrifying was the complaint by an accused that a magistrate ˝ whom he named ˝ told the Crime Branch to "properly prepare" him when he refused to sign a pre-written statement. But this was not all. The complaint records that the same magistrate reminded another accused of the history of ýencountersţ by the Crime Branch officials when he showed hesitation in signing the pre-written confession.
This is the fate of an entire community, but only one community: the rest of society in Gujarat continues to be "normal". The ruling forces, with the help of a section of the vernacular media, keep alive in the minds of those who are "normal" the fear of the terrorist ˝ and of course it is the Muslims, all Muslims, who are viewed as terrorists or at least as prone to terrorism. This is not a loss for just one community or one section of society: what is happening in Gujarat is a major setback for Indian democracy itself.
Draconian laws such as POTA and TADA are generally amenable to two kinds of misuse. Rulers suppress movements or parties which are opposed to them by using these laws to detain their leaders; and they are used to advantage by the police and by others responsible for "law and order" because of their stringent provisions, all of which go to make the extraction of confessions easy.
In Gujarat, though, we find that a constitutionally valid law has been used to perpetuate the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims. We have seen above how the Muslims are being kept in a state of terror and poverty, how their rights as citizens have been snatched away from them. But the majority community too, supposedly normal, lives in a state of terror. Daily it reads and hears of the hundreds of Muslim "terrorists" in Gujarat. It is not given a chance to think whether this is true or even possible.
In Gujarat, the vast profits of POTA are shared by two intimately related beneficiaries. One is the government of the state, which has through careful stage-craft and incessant propaganda projected itself as the sole defender of the majority community against an enemy which is as fearsome as it is imaginary. The other is the bunch of Sangh Parivar leaders who, because the police daily arrests or kills some of the thousands of mythical but deadly terrorists who conspire against them, become daily more heroic in the minds of the same majority community, large sections of which uncritically swallow their constantly updated lies.
In short, a constitutionally valid law is being used systematically to undermine the very Constitution of India.
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