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Monday, June 23, 2008

Torture in Hyderabad


M J Akber has launched a fortnightly. Its name is peculiar one. It is "covert". Only M J Akber could name such a peculiar names.

Anyhow as expected covert is different. When all other magazines are commercialised except one or two, the dawn of covert should be welcomed with open hands. India needs such bold magazines. India needs bold journalists such as MJ.

The following is an article by veteran journalist Seema Mustafa in covert.

I read it with tears flowing down my cheeks. The incidents could happen anywhere. anytime. This gloomy scenario makes covert more relevant.

No other magazine cared to probe the plight of innocent Muslims. Covert has done it. Hats off to Covert, MJ and Seema.

It was 3 September 2007. Abdul Rahim was just finishing dinner with his family when two persons in civilian clothes came and asked him to step out. They led him to an auto, and after a short journey pushed him into a car. Four others were there. He was blindfolded and taken to a police station.

They began interrogating him till the early hours of the morning. They wanted to know whether he had been involved in the twin blasts that had paralysed Hyderabad. They tied his hands, made him lie down and started hitting him on the soles of his feet with a belt. The pain was excruciating. They pulled his beard repeatedly, taking out tufts of hair. They asked him to give names of those who were with him in planning the bomb blasts in Hyderabad. They spoke filth against his religion and his family. The torture that carried on for three days in his case became secondary to the humiliation.

"I thought they were going to kill me, I thought they had killed the others. I was not allowed to sleep for three days and nights. Even now when I think of it I tremble with fear, I cannot sleep," Abdul Rahim says as his old father, a former government employee, cries quietly beside him. His parents cannot forget the week after. "No one told us where he was, whether he was dead or alive, we only got to know when a journalist came and told us that our boy was in jail," his father said. His mother remembers when she saw him, "His face was all swollen. He could not speak. I am a heart patient, I thought I would die."

Abdul was produced before the magistrate after three days. He was in jail for five months and ten days until he was released on bail.

His life is ruined. He was the only bread earner of the family. He drove a rented autorickshaw. No one is willing to hire him now. He was engaged to be married, but the girl's family backed out after the arrest. There is no money to pay the rent for the tiny two-room house. They are in deep debt. There is no furniture. There is a certain desolate look in his eyes, he is still in shock. He has to report before the courts twice a week. "It takes the entire day, I cannot even look for work, no one will allow me two days' off a week," he says quietly.

He has not been booked in the bomb blasts case. There is no evidence.

M

ohammad Shakeel is not at home. He does not want to meet us. He is too scared, under grave threat. His paralysed father is sitting in the tenement, eyes wide, registering fear as he looks at us quietly. Shakeel's mother, Ashabi speaks reluctantly. Two persons in civilian clothes picked up the boy. The family did not know for days where he was. Someone told them after a long time that he was in jail. He is out on bail now, without a job as no one wants to employ him. There is little food in the house for them to eat. What Ashabi did not tell us, even as tears trickled down her face, was that Shakeel was kept in police detention for 21 days without being produced before a magistrate. His hands were tied and he was hung from the ceiling. Heavy weights were placed on his knees, while hefty men pinned his shoulders down. He was given electric shocks on his temples, penis and chest. He fell unconscious repeatedly, but they would pull him out and after a short break resume the "treatment" again.

He has not been booked in the bomb blasts case. There is no evidence.

A

rshad Ali Khan's face has no expression. It is as if he is speaking about someone else, not about himself. But as he continues, his hands start trembling, and the horror of the days in detention is reflected in his eyes.

It was 2 September 2007. Two men banged on the door, came in and took him away. No one could protest. His father is paralysed and a heart patient. "Bahut ghabrahat ho rahi thi," was the only sentence he spoke to us. Arshad's mother Mehrunisa said they had no word of their son for two weeks or more. They heard he was in jail from another family, not from the police.

Arshad says they took him to a city office blindfolded, then to what is referred to by most of the boys as a "farmhouse" on the outskirts of Hyderabad. "In the day they would question me; at night they would drink and start beating me on the soles of my feet. They tied my hands and hung me for two to three minutes, I almost fainted with the pain. They would give electric shocks every day on different parts of my body. I became unconscious many times, and even later there were burn marks on my chest, thighs, near the ears. I could smell burning flesh. I heard screams from other boys in the building, they kept asking me to name others, to admit that I was involved," he says in a voice devoid of emotion, face deadpan except for the eyes. He was taken for narco tests, twice. He does not know the results, but guesses they could get no evidence from these.

He has not been booked in the bomb blasts case. There is no evidence.

M

aulana Abdul Aleem Islahi is a walking tragedy. Originally from Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, he made Hyderabad his home decades ago. A learned man — his room is full of books — he is restrained in his dignity. There is an air of resignation around him, as he narrates the story but without a word of protest or acrimony.

It was 2004. His eldest son Mujahid had accompanied a well-known cleric of the locality — Maulana Nasiruddin who was on the watch-list of the Andhra and Gujarat police — to the police station. The Maulana was described as a bad element by the police — although the local people insist his only crime was his courage to protest against the atrocities committed by the police — and had been called to the police station. The Gujarat police was lying in wait and nabbed Nasiruddin. The young Islahi protested, and as the story in the streets of Hyderabad goes, one of the policemen took out his gun and shot the young man dead at point blank range. The police does not deny the death, but claims that Islahi tried to take the Maulana, along with others, out of the van. This is vehemently denied by all those aware of the incident, including another eyewitness who has been targeted by the police.

On 5 March 2008, Maulana Islahi was sitting in his little room from where he could see outside. His younger and only surviving son, an engineering student, Mohtasim was sitting with some friends outside. "They came in a car, they just picked him up, pushed him into the car and left. I ran out but they had disappeared. In the evening we went to the police station but they gave us no information," the Maulana said. It was several days later that they were told he was in jail by an acquaintance, but while his sisters have been to meet him, his father cannot bear it and has decided not to go. Huma, Mohtasim's sister, said she found him to be mentally distressed. He was tortured in police custody, as they repeatedly wanted him to confess to participating in the blasts. But what has become worse for a family that believed in educating their children and living a quiet and decent life, is that the police has been visiting the locality where they live and as Huma said, "They go to the families and say that Mohtasim has named you, and now everyone is very upset with us."

This was not so in the beginning, as the family was very popular. In fact, after news of Mohtasim's arrest broke, 30 women of the locality went to the police station to protest. They were lathicharged, arrested and detained for an entire night before they were produced before a magistrate the next morning and released. Two babies were also kept in detention with their mothers.


To protest is a crime. Ibrahim Ali Junaid had held a press conference along with others after the Mecca Masjid blast in Hyderabad where dozens had died in the attack, and at least six to seven persons had been killed by police firing. Hundreds of Muslim youth were detained. This placed him on the police watch list, although Junaid is a student of Unani medicine with a clean record.

On 3 September 2007, he had just returned from Delhi where he had gone to attend a university seminar. He went straight to the hostel to put his luggage. Two men, again in civilian clothes, emerged, tied his hands and pushed him into a car. "If you speak we will kill you," they said as they blindfolded him. After a two-hour drive they reached a "farmhouse" and started questioning him. He could hear the voices and screams of others. Late at night they stripped him and the torture began. "They started hitting me with a belt … and kept asking why I had held a press conference… They made me recite the Quran as they knew I was a Hafiz, and then hit me whenever I spoke. They beat me mercilessly at regular intervals and after a day started giving me electric shocks on my ears, temples, lips, private parts. I would become unconscious…" As Junaid spoke in a monotone, his mother, sitting beside him, shuddered. His father could barely contain his anger, but admitted his complete helplessness.

The police kept telling him to accept responsibility for the bomb blasts. "They pulled my legs wide open, placed weights on them, pressed down on my shoulders. I don't know how I survived those days," Junaid says. In six days there was blood in his urine, he was running temperature and "I knew if I died, they would put it down to an encounter". He was then taken before the magistrate, and put in jail from where he has just been released on bail after just over five months. "One night they took us somewhere, blindfolded, and took us out and said say your prayers, we were sure we were going to be killed that night…"

He has not been booked in the bomb blasts case. There is no evidence.

R

aeesuddin Khan's crime was that he was witness to the murder of Mujahid Islahi, Maulana Islahi's unfortunate son. On 31 August 2007 a large car with six persons came to his house. He was picked up, blindfolded and after about an hour's drive they reached a building. His was the same story — five days of continuous beating, electric shocks. "I gave them names of maybe 100 persons, all I could think of to get away from the pain, but they carried on. I thought all the other boys were dead, they made me believe that. One night they took me out blindfolded, they asked me to say my prayers, I could hear shots being fired, I thought I was next…"

His mother, a widow, Zaheera Begum said she was beside herself with worry. She had no idea where her son was. Friends informed her that he was in jail many days after he had been taken away. The hair from his beard had all been pulled out, he was passing blood in his urine, she says. He was taken for narco tests, and that has now left him with a permanent headache and allergies that are being treated. He is suffering from memory loss. He was also taken to Delhi by the CBI. "They were very nice, very polite, they took me there and dropped me back," he says. He looks haunted, his eyes are full of tears, more when another person tells us that his mother keeps very unwell now, has high blood sugar. "I am so scared," her voice trembles, "for both my sons. They can pick them up any day."

He has not been booked in the bomb blasts case. There is no evidence.


Iqbal Begum runs into the room breathless. "Where is he, have you found him?" she asks. Her eyes dull when she is told that she had been contacted for an interview, not because the contact person had found her son. She dissolves into tears, and takes out faded newspaper clippings as she tells her story. Her son Farhan had once been involved in some localised dispute over a mosque. The police had picked him up and kept him in custody for three days. He could not walk after the beatings, was put in jail for 15 days and then released on bail. A few days later, at 2 a.m. men came in civilian clothes when everyone was sleeping, and took Farhan away. He sold vegetables for a living. His father died a month after he was taken away. They have not seen the boy since.

T

here is terror in the localities targeted by the police. Sullen youth look at you and turn away. Families are reluctant to talk. After the twin blasts on 25 August 2007 the police rounded up over a hundred young men from the poor and predominantly Muslim localities of Hyderabad. A top police official admitted to "70". Many were interrogated and beaten in police custody, and released without ever being brought before a magistrate. There is no record of this number. About 30 were formally arrested by the police after illegal custody and torture, six or seven are still in jail and the others have been released on bail. They all spent over five months in prison. They remain fearful of being picked up again. "What will we do, they might kill my boy now," the families say as if in a chorus.

Civil rights activists in the city say that the accounts of torture under Rajashekhar Reddy's government in Andhra Pradesh rival those emerging from the prisons in Iraq. The governments at the Centre and the state, despite numerous petitions and fact-finding reports, have not responded. In fact the story itself would not have penetrated the walls of the old city had it not been for an Urdu newspaper, Daily Siasat. The managing editor of the newspaper, Zaheeruddin Ali Khan said that they were convinced that the accounts were completely true, and without intending it to be so, the story became a campaign that angered the administration but did not elicit any action. The Police Commissioner at the time, Balwinder Singh, now cooling his heels in Delhi as he was transferred to get out of the heat, even called the editors to convince them that the police had a case, but did not succeed as the evidence otherwise was overwhelming. The English media ignored the story.

Civil rights activists took up the issue. Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K. Anuradha, Mohammad Afzal formed a fact finding committee on the arrests after the twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad on 25 August 2007. They found, and the other civil rights activists in Hyderabad confirmed, that any number of petitions had been sent to the President of India, to the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, to the Chief Minister and the state Home Minister, to the National Human Rights Commission, to the state and Central minority commissions and to Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The young men arrested had also sent a letter to the authorities — including the Prime Minister and Mrs Sonia Gandhi — recounting their tales of horror and seeking redressal. Every Constitutional door has been knocked at, but the state government has managed to kill the story and protect its back.

The state minority commission on its own decided to send a team to inquire into the reports. Chairperson Yusuf Qureshi appointed leading advocate L. Ravichander and forensic expert Dr M. Reddy who visited the jail and met the young people. Mrs Gopalakrishnan and Mr Chander both told Covert that they were absolutely horrified at what they heard and saw. The advocate said that he found that the boys were speaking the truth as he spoke to them individually and then met their families. "The accounts were the same, and there was a ring of truth to all that they told us, they had been tortured," he said. He saw marks on their bodies and was surprised to find that many of them had been sent for narco tests to Bangalore which he said "were illegal as the law does not permit you to give evidence against yourself". A top police officer of the state who was directly involved in the arrests, but did not want to be quoted, admitted that the issue was in the Supreme Court and the evidence of narco analysis was not admissible in court. He said that the tests were carried out to ascertain whether any of those arrested knew more than they had revealed.

The state minorities commission submitted a report confirming the torture. After that Mr Qureshi has been completely marginalised by the state government. His staff has been taken away, many have not received their salaries, and he is just sitting back until his term expires in March next year. The National Minorities Commission also sent a team and interviewed the boys. The report notes the violations, but plays down the role of the Congress government. The activists' fact finding committee found that every law had been violated by the state government and the police. Those arrested were not permitted to inform their family of their arrest, nor did the police inform their relatives within the stipulated 24 hours. They were not produced before the court or within the mandatory 24 hours of being picked up, with most reporting a delay of six to ten days. Many of those detained did not have charges booked against them, were kept in police custody and released after several days without being taken to court. Some of the detainees and suspects who have been released were reported as absconding by the police, with their families and friends pointing out to this correspondent that this was usually the precursor to an encounter death. Mohtasim Bilal, for instance, was reported absconding although he was with his family. The civil rights groups then arranged for him to be present at a press conference addressed by the well-known Ram Jethmalani in the city. It was only after this that the police arrested him, with his family pointing out that this was better than finding him dead one day.

Abdul Majid and Mohammad Shakeel were picked up on 31 August and 8 September 2007 respectively. The police announced their arrest only on 29 September at Kachiguda when they were produced in court. Abdul Majid continues to be in jail, and others who met him told the fact finding committee that he was subjected to terrible physical torture. His legs and hands were so swollen that the handcuffs could not be removed. He was vomiting blood. He was given electric shocks repeatedly, and one of the relatives of another family told Covert that the soles of his feet were literally hanging. He was punished for being the brother of a wanted youth, Shahid Bilal, who is reportedly absconding. Shakeel who was also tortured extensively is a friend of Majid. "I just can't believe how well the government has covered this up and has taken no action," Nirmala Gopalakrishnan said.

The police official insisted that they had identified "sleeper cells" and as a routine kept watch over the members. The boys who were arrested, he insisted, were members. Why did you not book them for the blasts? "We are looking for the RDX. Three kilograms were used in the blasts, we have to find the remaining. Once we find this we can get them all," he said. Why were they tortured? That is their story, he said with not a trace of remorse. Presently most of them have been booked under charges such as conspiring in a graveyard and distributing anti-state CDs. A civil rights activist, Latif Mohammad Khan, who has been very active in petitioning the authorities and getting the boys released on bail, has come on the police watch list. Latif knows this, and the police officer confirmed it. "You must have met this Latif, he is HUJI," he said. How do you know that? We have the evidence, was the expected reply. Civil rights activists recognise Latif as a conscientious man, pointing out that he has encouraged the boys to seek justice within the law — through the courts and petitions — and not outside it.

The activists point out that "there is urgent need to allay the sense of insecurity and fear that is growing in the Muslims, particularly the youth". Mr Chander said that the police action and the government's indifference were pushing the youth towards alienation. Meetings are being held by the different groups and concerned individuals to prevent this, but the Congress government remains indifferent and in a state of total denial.

1 comment:

mad mullah said...

MJ leads a bunch of closet jehadis like Seema Mustafa,Farzana Versey to provide excuse for letting go muslim fanatics without any police trial/accountability.Seemas account contains narratives from the accused themselves and not a single account from the police.It's hard to imagine the police under the YSR govt(who released a known LeT terrorist ) going after muslim youth without any evidence.Muslims of course are experts at creating trouble everywhere and then crying hoarse when the backlash starts.Doublestandards and Islam are synonyms.

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