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Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23

Any Apologies for the Paddars?

Thursday 31 May 2007, by Subhash Gatade

The name of Canadian-Syrian Mahel Arar is not unfamiliar today in the rest of the world.

The travails and tribulations of this young software engineer who became a victim of the US Government’s extraordinary rendition programme have been recounted umpteen times. We very well know how he was seized by CIA operatives during a stopover at New York in 2002 and was secretly sent to Syria. Lodged in a grave-like cell in Syria, Arar was repeatedly tortured to extract information which he did not know. Ultimately his tormentors released him within a span of a year-and-a-half without ever being charged with a crime.

Looking back it is clear that Mahel Arar became a victim of the Islamophobia manufactured by the likes of Bush-Blair in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

Recently Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, sought public apology for the ordeal which Mahel went through and for the role played by the Canadian officials in the whole affair. The Canadian Government also gave him nine million dollars as compensation. Harper said in full public view of the media:

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I wish to apologise to you, Monia Mazigh (Arar’s wife), and your family for any role Canadian officials may have played in the terrible ordeal that all of you experienced in 2002 and 2003.

Of course, Mahel’s saga reminds us of the ordeal through which Tariq Ahmad Dar, a Kashmiri by birth, went through in recent times. Tariq had carved out a niche for himself in business in Bangladesh and was also one of the most successful models in the country. Many top corporate houses had signed him. But September 2006 changed all that.

One fine morning a team of security personnel from the Bangladesh Rapid Action Force raided his house and jailed him for being a RAW agent. In jail he was badly tortured to extract some confession. Ultimately when the security forces failed to get any evidence against him, they released him without charging him with any crime. Tariq, feeling relieved over his release, caught the next flight to Delhi to meet with his parents. But he did not know what was waiting for him. At the Delhi airport, the personnel of the Delhi Police immediately arrested him for being a terrorist owing allegiance to the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a dreaded terrorist organisation working across the subcontinent.

If in Dhaka jail, the Bangladesh Rapid Action Force were his tormentors, inside Tihar, he was subjected to similar harassment by the Indian security agencies. Of course, he was released after 90 days when the police failed to gather any evidence against him and failed to present a chargesheet. Today, Tariq is a bitter man. He is finding himself in a blind alley with a career ruined by false charges and a family which underwent tremendous emotional trauma during all these months.

Looking at the ordeal through which Tariq went through, is it asking for too much that the custodians of democracy in our country and our neighbouring country, should come forward and seek apologies from this innocent young man for whatever wrong was done to him by their own people? But apologies and that also coming from the custodians of our country are unthinkable at least in the subcontinent. One cannot even expect that the office of the Delhi Police or the Bangladesh Rapid Action Force would have issued even a formal apology to Tariq. And as far as Tariq or his family members are concerned, one cannot expect them to pursue the case at the judicial level, so that the guilty officers are punished and the Indian Government decides to compensate him for the role played by its own people in his tragic ordeal.

Of course, anyone familiar with the Indian situation may easily notice the rampant misuse of various laws of detention and confinement. We have a plethora of cases before us where one finds innocent people being targeted and criminalised for no fault of theirs.

In worst cases they are also killed in fake encounters to gather gallantry awards by the custodians of law and order themselves. It is not for nothing that Kashmir has erupted into a show of mass anger where many similar cases have come to limelight. The exact quantum of such killings would never be known, looking at the fact that the people in power go all out to cover their acts of commission and omission and defenders of human rights try to go the extra mile to document each and every of such killings/disappearances.

The year 2003 had seen “[o]fficial acknowledge-ment that many scores of people may have been killed in the custody of India’s security forces”. According to a report filed by Phil Reeves in Delhi (The Independent, June 23, 2003),

A provincial Minister told the State’s legislature this weekend that there had been “144 alleged custodial killings” by security agencies and local police since 1989, when violence erupted in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. Abdul Rehman Veeri also gave the number of people reported missing in the past 14 years as 3931, a figure that will be seized on by human rights campaigners demanding an investigation into the “disappearances” in Indian-controlled Kashmir.

Notwithstanding the recent eruptions in Kashmir, that have rather prompted the powers that be to take some corrective actions, we should not forget that within the law and order machinery itself, discrimination against certain communities and sections of our society has been internalised to a great extent. All of us have been witness to the way the probe in the Malegaon bomb blast proceeded and the way continuous stigmatisation of the minority community went on unabated despite clear evidence that Hindutva extremists had unleashed this reign of terror.

To be very frank, in all such cases it is difficult to differentiate whether the people are ruled by forces of the ‘programmatic communalist variety’ like the BJP or Shiv Sena or the ‘pragmatic communalists’ like the Congress.

It then becomes impossible to forget Mohammad Afroz, who was arrested after 9/11 by the Mumbai Police and charged for planning a terrorist attack. It was told to the pliant media then that this ‘dreaded terrorist’ wanted to crash a plane piloted by him on the British House of Commons and Australia. A special team from Mumbai Police especially went to these countries but could not bring back any evidence. Ultimately the whole charge come out to be a grand fabrication. It was a time when Maharashtra was ruled by a secular front comprising parties like the Congress and NCP.

And what happened to the ‘dreaded terrorists’ arrested in connection with the four-year-old attack on the Raghunath temple in Jammu? The courts have finally absolved all the accused of any charges and have advised the police to properly use its minds in handling sensitive cases of such nature. These innocent people had to languish in jail for such a long period for no fault of theirs.

As of now, Kashmir is up in arms over the series of fake encounters staged in the central Kashmir district of Ganderbal last year. Two senior police officials who were said to be at the heart of a rogue police and Army ring responsible for a series of fake encounters have also been arrested. The cold-blooded murder of the Larnoo resident, Abdul Rehman Paddar, a carpenter by trade, has shocked many.

It remains to be seen who will seek apologies from Paddar’s near and dear ones? Who would gather the courage to stand before Paddar’s widow and children with folded hands and say: ‘On behalf of the Government of India, I wish to apologise to you…’? n

Human Rights Watch’s Plea To GOI

Human Rights Watch, a US based human rights watchdog, has said that to prevent “disappearan-ces” and fake encounter killings, the government should also:

• strengthen and enforce laws and policies that protect detainees from torture and other mistreatment, including strict implementation of requirements that all detainees be brought before a magistrate or other judicial authority empowered to review the legality of an arrest within 24 hours;

• establish a centralised register of detainees, accessible to lawyers and family members;

• respond promptly to habeas corpus petitions in cases of alleged “disappearances”;

• take swift and public action against all state officials who have obstructed or ignored judicial orders to produce detainees in court;

• take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and provide information to their family members;

• allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to undertake the full range of its protection activities in Jammu and Kashmir, including giving it full access to all Army and paramilitary interrogation and detention centres;

• promptly ratify and implement the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which India signed on February 6, the date the treaty was opened for signature.

It further says:

We commend India for signing the new International Convention on Enforced Disappearances. Ratifying and implementing it would go a long way toward showing Kashmiris that the government is committed to ending human rights abuses there.

(Kashmir Times, February 10, 2007)

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