Say youths, accused of involvement in Jaipur blasts, declared innocent now
Two-and-a-half years ago, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot announced in a national conference on internal security in New Delhi that the horrifying case of serial blasts in Jaipur on May 13, 2008 — in which 69 persons were killed — stood resolved with the arrest of “radical youths” in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh as well as some Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) members in Rajasthan. He gave credit to the State Anti-Terrorist Squad for cracking the case.
A fast-track court here on Friday absolved 11 of the 14 so-called SIMI members of all charges and declared them innocent. Additional Sessions Judge Nepal Singh held that the acquitted persons had no links whatsoever with the banned SIMI and were not promoting enmity between different communities, far less being involved in any terrorist activity.
Some of the exonerated youths gathered here on Saturday to demand that Mr. Gehlot tender an “unconditional apology” for the pain, trauma and agony that they and their families underwent during the past three years during which they were incarcerated in cramped and dingy cells of the Central Jail here. The jail staff and other hardened criminals tortured them physically and mentally during their imprisonment.
Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's assertion during one of his visits here in 2009 that the Jaipur blasts case was linked with the controversial Batla House encounter of September 2008 reportedly emboldened the jail staff. On Id-ul-Fitr, the day following Mr. Chidambaram's visit, the security personnel dragged them out of their cells and thrashed them when they sought permission to offer Id prayers along with other prisoners.
Narrating their traumatic experiences to journalists, Sohail Modi, 33, and Azam Gajdhar, 31, hailing from Jodhpur, said the torture and humiliation they suffered first at the hands of ATS officials and later the jail staff was something they could never forget. “The regime [in Rajasthan] changed during our imprisonment, but there was no change in the attitude of the government officers,” said an indignant Mr. Modi.
“After the change of government, our family members met Congress leaders umpteen times seeking a review of our case, but they returned empty-handed every time,” said Mr. Modi, whose handicrafts business has been wiped out in the past three years.
The Rajasthan Muslim Forum, which has pledged its support to the acquitted persons, said Mr. Gehlot had consistently rejected its demand for changing the investigating team appointed during the previous BJP regime and accepted “without demur” the ATS claim of having cracked the case. “Our stand has been vindicated. The court has found no evidence against 11 innocent persons,” said Forum convenor Qari Moinuddin.
The acquitted men demanded legal action against the authorities, including former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, former Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria and some police officers, for implicating them in the false case. While they would lodge individual complaints in this regard, the Muslim Forum demanded an assistance of Rs.25 lakh for each of them, even though it would “not recompense for [their] pain and suffering”.
Mr. Gajdhar, who was working with his father on marble, granite and tile fitting before the Special Operations Group picked him up, said a senior police officer who had ordered his arrest and was now in jail in connection with an encounter case had told him that he had acted under the State Government's pressure to “show results” and achieve a certain figure of the accused to depict success in solving the case.
“From the kind of people arrested, it is clear that the vocal and socially active youths of the Muslim community were targeted in the crackdown. The [real] culprits must be mocking at the incompetence of the ATS,” said Mr. Gajdhar's father Adil Gajdhar. He said the family was facing the stigma of being branded terrorist and anti-national ever since his son's arrest.
Kota-based elderly physician Ishaq Qureshi and his son Taufeeq, a unani medicine student, said their family back home faced complete social boycott during their three-year jail term with the denial of bail. “Our medical practice is finished. My son's career is ruined. We don't know how we will pick up the threads of life,” said a dejected Dr. Qureshi.
After the ATS case against 11 persons crumbling in the court, the focus has shifted to three other accused who have been implicated in the Ahmedabad blasts of July 2008 as well and taken to Sabarmati Jail in Gujarat. Their trial in the Jaipur case is yet to start. Muslim Forum member M. Salim Engineer said their trial, as well as the hearing of others in the main blasts case should be expedited so that all the accused can prove their innocence.