On 30th September 2015, a local court in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, acquitted 14 persons who had been arrested on 14th June 2011 on charges of being members of SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) and for holding a banned meeting in a residential house in Khandwa town. The police raiding team said that it had recovered seditious literature and arms and, Sub Inspector, Hardev Singh Gaur, claimed that he heard the members talk of “continuing Jehad despite arrests of SIMI members”. Since SIMI and IM (Indian Mujahideen) are interchangeable, the case was highlighted in all the major news dailies of the period as a police breakthrough and particularly drew attention to the noted SIMI ultra, Aqueel/Akhil Khilji, in whose house the meeting allegedly happened. While the police arrested 10 members “from the spot” and 5 others escaped, a case was launched under S. 153 (A) IPC, S 3, 10, 13 (membership of a banned organization) of the UAPA and S 25, 27 of the Arms Act. Interestingly, among the accused was one Sikh, Jaspal Singh, and a Christian, Bablia Lokash/Lukas Dominique. The case was major enough to be listed as an important instance of SIMI’s clandestine continuance before the 2012 Tribunal headed by Justice Shali and formed part of the Central Government’s Gazette notification, dated 3rd February 2012.
So, why did the case collapse and why did the Khandwa court acquit 14 of the accused? According to press reports, the court stated that Sub Inspector Gaur’s testimony could not be relied upon as it was not corroborated by any other police personnel. Constable Safida, who did the translation of the seized documents, admitted that she had read Urdu till only Class X and was not competent to do the translation. Another constable admitted that he did not understand either English or Arabic, the language of the CDs. The lawyer of Jaspal Singh stated that his client’s name had been misspelt and was written as “Raspal” in more than one place. In short, in its zeal to show its efficiency, the police had fabricated the contents of the case.
More importantly, the families of the accused had an entirely different tale to tell. In an investigation done in 2013, journalist Shazia Nigar showed how nine families asserted that their family members were picked up for questioning before the alleged incident, between June 10 and June 12, and never returned home. This was amply proven by the fact that the families produced court applications before the date of arrest which said that the police had illegally detained their family members. Further, one of the key witnesses, Akash Yune, committed suicide as he was harassed by the police for contradicting the official version of the banned meeting. In all, most of the accused belonged to poor families, particularly Lokash/Lukas whose father worked as a daily labourer.
The case of Akhil Khilji is important as the police was really on the lookout for him as he is said to be an important SIMI functionary. Since they could not find him, the police picked up his 17 year old son, Jamil Khilji instead. His nephew, Khaleel Khilji was shot at and badly injured by the Maharashtra ATS on 26th March 2012, near Aurangabad. After the initial bungling over names, as the police was not sure who it had killed and who it had injured, it maintained that the injured Khaleel Khilji (it had killed Azhar Qureshi), was as dreaded as his uncle, Akhil Khilji. Interestingly, when this “encounter” was presented before the 2014 Tribunal headed by Justice Kait as evidence, the investigating officer, AS Nandedkar, had to admit that he had nothing by way of proof to show that Khaleel Khilji was a SIMI member.
Akhil Khilji was arrested in Maharashtra in March 2012, on the basis of his nephew’s police confession elicited in the course of the above mentioned staged encounter. But, Khilji was first arrested in 2001 during the nation-wide crackdown, following the first ban on SIMI by the then NDA led government. He was arrested on charges of anti-national activities and booked under S. 153 (A) and S. 13 of the UAPA, even though the supposed SIMI activities included 4 calendars of SIMI printed before it was banned, a pamphlet and three press clips against the ban on the organization. Subsequently Khilji was charged for other offences, in 2006, in 2008 and, of course, in 2011. Despite his multiple offences, he was acquitted in the first case (of 2001) in October 2012 by a Khandwa court as the judge could not find anything objectionable in the literature which was recovered from him. Now, in October 2015, he has been acquitted a second time. However, he has other cases against him and will not be discharged easily. Khilji’s is a fit case for understanding how the police has acquired a habit of arresting and re-arresting the same individuals for different “crimes”. Clearly, the police’s hope rests on the fact that despite acquittal, the accused will remain embroiled in a number of cases for a very long time.
The recent Khandwa acquittal, of September 2015, is only the tip of the iceberg. The acquittal of 17 accused in the Hubli conspiracy case in April 2015 revealed the sordid story of judicial delays and police inefficiencies. Initially presented as a much hyped terror case in 2008, in April 2015 the case showed that the accused had spent seven years in custody without evidence. The trend of acquittal has been repeatedly noted in recent years and has constantly drawn attention to the preventive detention nature of the UAPA. Exactly, what is the purpose of anti-terror law which has, since its inception, only produced terror and notoriety? PUDR has long maintained that the UAPA is a political weapon which has given the police a lawless power to arrest and damn countless Muslim men and youth on fabricated charges of anti-national activities. Notwithstanding the small concessions made by the 2014 Tribunal, the role of Tribunals in aiding and abetting the police and the government in maintaining the UAPA as a terror law is well illustrated in PUDR’s recent report on the functioning of Tribunals (Banned and Damned: SIMI’s Saga with UAPA Tribunals. http://www.pudr.org/?q=content/banned-and-damned-simis-saga-uapa-tribunals)
Besides demanding an immediate and unconditional repeal of the UAPA, PUDR demands that:
- In each of the cases which have resulted in acquittal, the police must be charged and convicted for wrongfully incarcerating people in the name of preventing unlawful activities.
- Compensation be paid to all the accused for wrongful confinement.
Megha Bahl and Sharmila Purkayastha
14th October 2015