Malegaon bomb blasts: Time for a fresh probe
Malegaon - a predominantly a Muslim populated town - which had once carved out a niche for itself because of its powerloom industry, is today seething with anger. A town and its people which had decisively defeated the gameplan of the fanatics - who had planned that bomb blasts on the day of the Shab-e-Barat would definitely provoke a communal conflagaration - are today finding that they have been cheated by the ruling elite.
If the aftermath of the bomb blasts on Shab-e-Barat the town had witnessed many communal harmony rallies, today one notices perceptible change in the ambience. If earlier the anger of the Muslim community was directed against the unknown terrorists who had conspired to kill innocents, today the communalised police machinery has also become an important target of the people's ire.
And it was not surprising that an unusual type of sit-in on the streets of Malegaon on the 10 th Novemeber largely went unnoticed. As reported by this paper, " Protesters donned same kind of hoods which police places on the heads of arrested criminals. Protesters also wore black bands around their arms in a show of protest against official attempts to portray the victims as terrorists."
The unique sit-in was part of the ongoing protest campaign by the townspeople. In fact, the city observed a complete bandh on the 14 th November as part of its protest against the attitude of the police and authorities. It was a day when Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vilasrao Deshmukh, came to visit the town to lay the foundation stone of a hospital. And the key demands of this bandh were the "investigations into the blasts be handed over the the Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI)" , Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) should be removed from the cases filed against the arrested youths, report of the Patel Commission must be released and its recommendations put into action, and a financial package must be announced to develop Malegaon and its powerloom industry. (Ref :The Milli Gazette, 1-15 December 2006)
It need not be repeated that all the demands raised by the minority community, with due help from human rights organisations, have fallen on deaf ears. As of now, it is for everyone to see that tragedy of Malegaon continues unabated.
Gone are the days when the needle of suspicion was pointed towards extremist Hindutva organisations like Bajrang Dal by the Prime Minister himself. Gone are the days when enough RDX was recovered from many Hindutva sympathisers from the adjoining, areas and the police just decided to gloss over such clues.
The state's law and order machinery has hurriedly reached a conclusion that members of SIMI, a banned organisation of Muslim students, carried out the blasts with the intention to create religious animosity between Hindus and Muslims.
Interestingly, the media has duly noted the unusual hurry shown by the Maharashtra police. It feels that the it is ‘aimed at stalling the transfer of the September 8 Malegaon blasts to the CBI. According to the Indian Express Mumbai, November 27: In a move believed to be aimed at stalling the transfer of the September 8 Malegaon blasts case to the CBI, the Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) today claimed it had cracked the case. Interestingly, on October 30, it had made the same claim and at today’s press conference, presided over by DGP, Dr P S Pasricha, it had little more to offer by way of detail.
"We have successfully detected the Malegaon serial blasts case, and have arrested eight men, all of them former SIMI members. We are on the lookout for eight others," said Pasricha. He, however, refused to confirm whether Pakistan, its intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the Lashkar-e-Toiba or any other terrorist outfit was behind the blasts. (CBI in mind, ATS claims it cracked Malegaon blasts (Indian Express : Posted online: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 at 0000)
The Maharashtra police is well aware that if an outside agency, which could be construed as impartial, takes up the case, then the one-sided role of the Maharashtra police can come under scanner, and it will have to do lot of explaining. From day one, there have been allegations that the police has not remained even-handed while dealing with the case. Apart from providing lax security at the time of the Shab-e-Barat celebrations, it is also alleged that it did not follow some vital clues. Human rights activists, who had the opportunity to interact with the local senior police officials, have also discovered how biased they have been towards the minority community.
A fact-finding team consisting of Justice (retired) Hosbet Suresh, Prof. Shekhar Sonalkar, Jatin Desai, Suresh Khairnar and Nandini Chavan visited Malegaon on October 1-2, 2006 and met cross section of the people including top police officials. Its enquiry report, "Concerned Citizen’s Inquiry Report of Malegaon Bomb-blasts" concludes with the obserevation. "The police appears quite sluggish in its investigation as compared to its action role after Bombay bomb blast. After our discussion with police officer Shri Rajvardhan, it appears that the police is convinced that Bomb blast was carried out by Muslims (with the involvement of SIMI).
The police is not taking seriously the allegations by the Muslim leaders of Malegaon that some Hindu organizations could have been involved. Mr. Rajvardhan, said that more than 300 Hindus were interrogated but it is being done rather secretively, if it’s at all being done. He fears that if he actively pursues Hindu organizations in this respect, there will be backlash by Hindus and Communal Harmony, which the police is trying hard to maintain, will be disturbed and, again, Muslims will suffer. We did not have hard evidence to interrogate Militant Hindu organizations. But when it comes to Muslims, it seems police has no such fear and they are detaining some Muslims for interrogation, especially those who have SIMI past. But those detained so far are poor Muslim powerloom workers. Muslim leaders want to know why police is not arresting the main brain behind it, why is it arresting poor unknown power loom workers. The police, on the other hand, says that how can we reach the main brain without interrogating those through whom this work was done.
In one of his perceptive write-ups "Malegaon blasts —partisan approach and biased police" leading secular activist Asghar Ali Engineer tells us :"..[I]n case of Malegaon it appeared, as the police is hardly interested in catching the culprits. Most of the human rights activists and Muslim leaders from Malegaon felt that the bombs could have been planted by some extremist Hindu organisations like the Bajrang Dal."
The Malegaon Muslim leaders maintain that in Nanded in the month of April 2006, before Malegaon blasts, there was explosion in the house of an RSS activist, Laxman Rajkondwar, in which two persons were killed, one of whom was Laxman Rajkondwar’s son, Naresh
Rajkondwar. Also, in Ahmednagar, some bomb shells and 195 Kgs. RDX was caught from one Shankar Shelke’s shop on 16th September. The shop owner committed suicide the next day. Then, more than 300 Kgs of ammonium nitrate, timers and fusers were caught from the house of a Sarpanch of a village few kilometres from Aurangabad.
Many activists and Muslim leaders urged upon the government and police authorities in Maharashtra to investigate the connection between Malegaon explosions and these incidents, but the police and the ATS authorities turned a deaf ear. The ATS and district police had prejudged the whole issue, and was connecting these blasts to Mumbai train blasts and were looking for ISI connection.
There was no headway until recently, when the police started arresting some labourers from Malegaon and then they arrested two Unani doctors, alleging they have Pakistani connection. There is no doubt police is highly biased in investigating Malegaon bomb blasts, as if it has an inbuilt bias against Muslims in investigation."
Engineer further adds: "Malegaon Muslim leaders also say that though so much RDX, ammonium nitrate and fusers, timers etc. were caught from some Hindu shops and houses, police is not prepared to look into this aspect and interrogate these persons in connection with Malegaon blasts. I met the S.P. Rural of Nashik district who is in charge of bomb blast investigation in Malegaon and had detailed discussion with him. It was quite clear that he also had same approach that it is work of some Muslims and there is no possibility of any Hindu being involved.
His logic was that Malegaon city is a Muslim majority area and no Hindu will dare do it in Muslim majority area. It was strange logic indeed. It is just Malegaon that is Muslim majority area, not even district. Along with rural areas, it is Hindus who are in majority and then what about the district, state and country? He also argued that if a Hindu had done it he would have tried to inflict maximum loss of life and would have planted bomb at night when many more people gather.
But the time bombs went off on 8th September (1-30 P.M.) was also a peak time as thousands of Muslims go for prayer on Friday, especially on Shab-e-Barat and, if loud speakers had not stopped for few minutes, thousands of Muslims would have come out of the mosque and damage would have been much greater. There was no explanation for this. The Muslim leaders also told us that bombs were kept on two cycles, which were bought from a shop in Malegaon and buyers’ sketches were prepared by the police.
However, Muslim leaders say, police has made no efforts so far to arrest those two persons whose sketches were prepared, and instead arrested Nurul Huda and others. What happened to those two persons who bought cycles? Who were they? Can the police jump to the final conclusion as to who the culprits are without first tracing those whose sketches were prepared? Police has no answer.
The Malegaon Muslims are very perturbed that why police is not interrogating extremist Hindus and why is it after some Muslims from Malegaon? Has the police completely written off the possibility of some extremist Hindus being involved? Rajwardhan, S.P. Police, told us that he has interrogated some Hindus but he is not prepared to disclose their names? Why? When the police interrogates Muslims their names are publicised through the media. Nurul Huda was detained and his name was publicised in the media. But so far no Hindu who was interrogated or detained has come out in the media. Why keep these names under wrap?
We feel that no Muslim, much less from Malegaon itself, would keep bombs in a mosque, that too on Friday and a holy festival. When I asked Shri Rajwardhan why should a Muslim keep bombs to kill Muslims on such a day of festivity, his reply was that they intended to cause Hindu-Muslim riot. Again, if Hindu-Muslim riot takes place, it is Muslims who will heavily suffer as the past riots in Malegaon clearly show. Why then Muslims from Malegaon itself should do something to cause Hindu-Muslim riots? Perhaps he was suggesting that ISI of Pakistan was interested in inciting Hindu-Muslim riots."In her writeup, Jyoti Punwani, political commentator similarly raises questions about the one-sided approach of the police. (The Times of India, 22 November 2006, "Victims of Terror").
"..After the Malegaon arrests, astute Muslims are wondering whether the Indian government is trying the US tactic of pitting Muslim sects against one another. The Ahle-Hadees obey the Qur’an strictly; their women wear the much-maligned naqab.
Tearing it off, throwing it on the faces of male relatives who are the accused, trampling it under foot, and threatening that this would happen to all the women in the family, what could be the consequences of such action by the police on the victims and the community?
A substantial number of SIMI and Ahle-Hadees followers are educated. At least five of those arrested, and many of those "picked up" (for questioning, often for days, with no record of their detention), are professionals.
First-timers at police stations, they initially felt incredulous and indignant, and finally helpless and bitter at the way they, their parents and their religion have been humiliated, for no "crime" other than being related to a SIMI member, or being active members of a mainstream Muslim sect.
Have such tactics been used to investigate another blast in April, where two Bajrang Dal boys died while making bombs inside an RSS activist’s house in Nanded? How widespread were the links of that conspiracy, given that fake beards and moustaches were found at the site? The ATS has been uncharacteristically discreet here.
If having once been a member of SIMI makes you a terror suspect, what does that make members of the Bajrang Dal, which openly instigates violence against minority Indians? What is certainly suspect is the July 11 investigation."
Looking back, we are not yet clear about the whereabouts of the two people who purchased the two cycles in Malegaon which were used in the bomb blast. In the initial stages of the investigation, police had released sketches of the two persons who were from some Hindi speaking area. Even a layperson may tell that they would be able to shed more light on the conspiracy which went into making it.
The conspiracy of silence maintained by the police over the recovery of bomb shells and 195 kg RDX from some Shankar Shelke's shop on 16 th September, and the strange facts around this affair, are baffling. This man, who’s godown had stocked this was found dead the next day and an employee of his was absconding. Similarly the recovery of more than 300 Kgs of ammonium nitrate, timers and fusers from the house of a Sarpanch of a village few Kilometres from Aurangabad has also also gone unnoticed.
Any justice loving person would agree that there is an urgent need that the whole investigation is handed over to some central agency like CBI, so that we are able to reach the kernel of truth. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has, of late, been talking about the need to rectify the injustice which the polity has done towards the minority community. It is time that he shows his sincerity by asking the CBI to take up the probe.