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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 16 New Delhi April 6, 2019

Swami Aseemanand Acquitted! Whither Indian Justice System?

Sunday 7 April 2019

by Ram Puniyani

Seeing the pattern of the justice delivery system of India currently it seems getting justice, punishing the guilty is not easy. The judgments come as an outcome of the evidence produced by the executive, police in front of the Magistrates. The attitude of the ruling dispensation matters a lot in matters of the crimes related to the ideology being propounded and defended by the ruling party. Sometimes the assertion and strength of the ideologies, which are dominant but not in power, also influence the delivery of justice.

Times and over again this cruel fact has been staring in our face. In the Mumbai violence of 1992-93 nearly one thousand persons were done to death, not too many convictions took place for the heinous crimes committed during this carnage. In the aftermath of this carnage the bomb blasts took place, orchestrated by the underworld in collaboration with the ISI of Pakistan. In these blasts nearly two hundred people died. In these cases some have been hanged to death for the crime, many have got life imprisonment and many others got other punishments. This is what should happen in a democracy.

The most glaring has been the contrast between Rubina Memon, who is in prison for life for being the formal owner of the car which was used in the Mumbai blasts, while Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, whose motor cycle was used for the Malegaon blast, got the bail.

All this comes to one’s mind yet again when the NIA Court has acquitted Swami Aseemanand in the case of the Samjhauta Express blast wherein 68 people (43 of them from Pakistan) died. Incidentally, the Swami was granted bail in the Mecca Masjid blast case earlier and the factors influencing justice delivery became obvious as the main file, a key document containing the disclosure by Aseemanand, went missing from the Court’s custody.

Swami Aseemanand, associate of the RSS, who was working in Dangs with the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, was a key figure in organising the Shabri Kumbh in Dangs. He also emerged as the key figure in many a blast cases, Malegaon, Mecca Masjid, Ajmer Dargah and Samjhauta Express. All these took place in 2006-2008. The whole series came to a stop when the Maha-rashtra ATS chief, Hemant Karkare, while investigating these cases, came across the fact that the motor cycle used in the Malegaon blast case belonged to Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an ex- ABVP worker. The trail of investigation led to the role of many a follower of the Hindutva ideology, influenced by or close to the RSS- related organisations. When these facts started coming out Karakare was criticised and attacked by the Hindu nationalists. The Shiv Sena mouth- piece Saamna wrote that we spit on the face of Karkare, while the then Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, called him deshdrohi (anti-national). Though Karkare was investi-gating with full professional integrity, such criticisms from political circles did shake him and he shared his anxiety with his senior and upright police officer Julio Rebiero. Later as the NIA started maligning Karkare, Rebeiro stood by him and gave the strongest testimony of his professional integrity.

The involvement of elements like Pragya Thakur, Assemanand and company was a big revelation and some from then UPA Government used the word ‘Hindu terrorism’ or ‘saffron terrorism’ for these cases. This was a faulty word anyway. It came up on the lines of the prevalent term, Islamic terrorism, which has been in vogue for quite some time. Hemant Karkare was killed in the 26/11, 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. Many of those calling him anti-national now describe him as a martyr! Later the Rajasthan ATS carried the investi-gation further and many from the RSS-related stable were found to be accomplices in the acts of terror. Subhash Gatade’s book, Godse’s Children, chronicles it well.

The investigation changed track with the NDA coming to power at the Centre in 2014. Rohini Salian, the public prosecutor from Mumbai, who was dealing with these cases was told to go soft on these cases. Now a decade later Hemant Karkare’s investigation has been totally bypassed. Counter-allegations against Karkare are floating around. At the same time doubts about the legal system and its role in punishing the guilty are coming to surface yet again.

In case of Swami Aseemanand, after his arrest he had given a confession in front of a Magistrate. This confession was not in police custody; this was after two days of judicial custody. In his confession, which is legally valid, he gave the details of his central role in planning the blasts which took place during 2007-2008. He also indicated that even the top-level RSS leadership was in the know of the goings-on. In a long interview spanning over two years, given to the Caravan magazine, journalist Leena Raghunath (Believer, Caravan), he stated things similar to what he told the Magistrate. Later he withdrew the statement given to the Magistrate saying that the confession was extacted under pressure.

After this bail it is clear yet again that the justice system is so much dependent on the executive, the way the police presents the case to the Magistrate examining the case. In the aftermath of this bail, Vikash Naraan Rai, who was the chief of the SIT investigating into the Samjhauta blast, questioned the handling of case by the NIA. He asked: “It is for the NIA to answer why the witnesses resiled (backtracked) in this case. As they have turned hostile in the court even after giving statements under 164 of Cr.P.C., the investigating agency should press perjury charges on them. The general perception is that the NIA had gone soft in this case. One can further comment once the complete judgment comes.”

With this bail the question that comes up is: who is responsible for the death of those 68 people? As usual, it seems nobody carried out the blast leading to the Samjhauta Express tragedy! What we are witnessing is a sustained effort to undermine the process of justice in pursuit of sectarian nationalism.

The author, a retired Professor at the IIT-Bombay, is currently associated with the Centre for the Study of Secularism and Society, Mumbai.

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