Mainstream, VOL LIV No 32 New Delhi July 30, 2016
A Tale of Two Vehicles: Sadhvi’s Motorcycle and Rubina’s Car
Tuesday 2 August 2016
by Ram Puniyani
Can there be two types of justice delivery system in the same country? This question came to one’s mind with the U-turn taken by the NIA in the cases related to terror acts in which many Hindu names were involved. Now the NIA in a fresh charge-sheet (May 13, 2016) has dropped the charges against Pragya Singh Thakur, has lightened the ones against Colonel Purohit and others. Along with this new line of the NIA it is being stated that Hemant Karkare’s investigation in these cases was flawed and that it was the ATS which had got the RDX planted in Purohit’s residence to implicate him in this case. The implication is that all this was being done at the behest of the previous UPA Government.
A brief recap is in order. Maharashtra in particular and many other places in the country were witness to acts of terror. The first major attention to this phenomenon took place when two Bajrang Dal activists were killed while making bombs in the house of one RSS worker, Rajkondawar (May 2006). There was a saffron flag flying atop the house and a board of the Bajrang Dal was put up in front of the house. At the site of the bomb explosion fake moustaches, beard and pyjama-kurta were also found. This was followed by many other blasts—in Parbhani, Jalna, Thane, and Panvel etc. In most of these cases the police investigated on the lines in which the generally Muslims were blamed for such acts. After every act of blast a few Muslim young men were arrested and they were later, after long gruelling court cases, released as no evidence was found against them.
The Malegaon blast, in which the Sadhvi’s role came to the surface, took place in 2008. In the blasts those returning from Namaz (prayers) were killed and many injured. Following this the usual suspects, Muslims, were arrested. Then while investigating the cases the Maharashtra ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, found that the motorcycle used for the blast belonged to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, an ex-ABVP worker. The trail of investigation led to Swami Dayanad Pande, retd. Major Upadhyay, Ramji Klasnagra, Swami Aseemanand amongst others. They all belonged to the Hindu Right-wing politics. There were lots of evidence in the material recovered. One of the helpful evidence came in the form of the legally valid confession of Swami Aseemanand. This confession was made in judicial custody in the presence of a Magistrate.
In the confession the Swami spilled the beans and said that after the Sankat Mochan blast of 2002, they had decided that bomb will be replied by bomb. He was then looking after the VHP work in Dangs. He gave a detailed narrative of the whole process in which all the people were investigated and became part of the charge-sheet of the NIA.
When Karakare was investigating the case and many of the Hindu names started coming under the scanner Bal Thackeray wrote in Saamna that ‘we spit on the face of Karakare’. Narendra Modi, the then CM of Gujarat, called him deshdrohi (anti-national). Advani also reprimanded Karkare. Feeling the heat of this pressure from the Hindutva political outfits, Karkare went to meet his professional peer, Julio Rebeiro. Rebeiro has a record of high level of professional integrity. Rebeiro appreciated his painstaking work. Karkare asked what should be the stand of a person like him when facing such a heat from the politicians. The senior officer told him to honestly do the work and ignore these insinuations.
Meanwhile the global terror phenomenon hit Mumbai. On 26/11 ten terrorists, armed to the teeth, attacked Mumbai. On this occasion Karakare got killed. There is a strong controversy about this killing also. The then Minority Affairs Minister, A.R. Antulay, said that there is terrorism plus something else which is behind the killing of Karakare. Narendra Modi, who had earlier called Karkare a deshdrohi, landed up in Mumbai and wanted to give a cheque of Rs one crore to the widow of Karkare; she refused to accept the amount.
After Karkare’s death the investigations continued on the lines laid down by him. The charge-sheet was ready and all the involved were to be tried for acts of terror. Meanwhile the government changed at the Centre and the NIA adopted the line which has led to the present situation where the efforts to release the Sadhvi are gathering intimidating speed. The change in the line got reflected in the statement of the Public Prosecutor, Rohini Salian. She stated that she was told to go soft on these cases. As she refused to toe this line, she was sacked.
One recalls that in the 1992-93 Mumbai violence, over one thousand people had died. This carnage was followed by the bomb blasts in which over two hundred people died. As far as the communal carnage is concerned, not many got severe punishments—no death penalty, no life imprisonments. In the cases of bomb blasts many have been given death penalty and many more life imprisonment. One of the people undergoing life imprisonment is Rubina Memon. Her crime: she owned the car which was used to ferry the explosives. She never drove the car with the explosives.
Sadhvi owned the motor cycle used for the Malegaon blasts; she will be out from the prison soon. Rubina owned the car; she will be in prison all her life. In the Mumbai carnage so many died. No severe punishment to anybody. So many severe punishments in the bomb blasts’ case!
So where does our democracy stand at the end of all this? It seems two types of justice delivery systems are out there in the open. While shrill debates on TV will defend the Sadhvi and blame Karkare for faulty investigation, the people in Malegaon are protesting furiously and planning to go to the court against the change in the stance of the NIA. Two political parties seem to be preparing to save the honour of Karakare and press for sincere examination of the evidence collected by him.
One hopes the guilty will be punished and innocents will be protected. But this seems a bit too much to expect in the current scenario!
The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.