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The randomness of death that terror brings strikes cold fear in all of us. The policing that follows terror attacks, held up to close scrutiny, might well evoke cold fear of another sort—of needless ensnarement in the pitiless labyrinth of a terror investigation, with interrogation, torture, confinement and, worst of all, a name to live down.
Most of the time, the journey from arrest to trial is incomprehensible to the larger public. A close study of terror arrests is rare. Now, at a time when fresh arrests are being made in Karnataka, comes a detailed report that is an eye-opener. Titled ‘Framed, Damned, Acquitted: Dossiers of a Very Special Cell’, the 200-page report brought out by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association documents 16 cases in which people arrested mainly by Delhi police’s special cell as operatives of terrorist groups like Al Badr, HUJI and LeT were later acquitted by the courts. The report shuns the usual rhetoric associated with activists. It’s a spare but revealing account, drawing chiefly on court documents, a sad testimonial to lives destroyed. What is worrying is that it exposes not police ham-handedness but deliberate planting of evidence, followed by claims that a case has been cracked.
The special cell of Delhi Police is one of the premier terror investigation agencies in the country. It was recently behind the arrest of journalist S.M.A. Kazmi and has long been a target of human rights activists. The case against the investigators becomes stronger if we go by what judges have said in various courts. There are records of courts pulling up the cell on numerous occasions. Says JTSA president Manisha Sethi, “Courts have clearly indicted the special cell for setting up innocents, violating due process, concocting evidence... (they have) ordered a CBI probe against the cell and directed the filing of FIRs and initiation of departmental inquiries. Yet, not a single officer in the operations described here has suffered any consequence. Instead, they get promotions and gallantry awards.”
But what of the lives destroyed? Many of the “dreaded terrorists” were possibly just people with the wrong name at the wrong place at the wrong time. Once an individual gets sucked into the terror dragnet, getting out can be a struggle and the stories of the arrests, the police case and how it fell apart after years, they are all documented. Even well-connected individuals like journalist Kazmi have discovered how hard it is.
The individual stories in the JTSA report, which is yet to be released, are sad pointers to the enormous deformities in our system. This is an issue on which liberal activists and traditional Muslim groups have begun to campaign. On August 28, the Supreme Court admitted a petition of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind seeking a judicial probe of all terror blasts since 2002 and compensation for innocent Muslim youths implicated, put behind bars for several years but later acquitted by courts.
Cases of ‘terror’ arrests that ended in acquittal, from the JTSA report