Samjhauta Express Verdict : A shameful instance of travesty of justice

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In our country, people, while being deprived, discriminated against, repressed and persecuted daily and hourly, tend to believe that the judiciary would deliver justice to them. What they miss is that in a class divided capitalist society like ours, judiciary is one of the indispensable and permanent pillars of the capitalist state structure which ultimately protects the ruling bourgeois class. But when it happens that a judge passes  his verdict on a case of horrendous terror act committed nakedly  in the open and at the same time tenders his resignation or laments that he was constrained to acquit all the  accused simply as the prosecution could not and did not provide  vital evidences or witnesses, it reaches the bottom line of  the travesty of justice for even a bourgeois state. A glaring testimony of this has been the recent acquittal of all the accused in the infamous Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express blast case, where it has been witnessed how, in the poetic verse of Rabindranath Tagore, “the irreparable crime of the mighty condemned the verdict of justice to shed mute and secret tears”. 

The Samjhauta Express blast case took place more than a decade ago  on 18 February,  2007. In  this massive terror blast 68 people,  10 Indians and 43 citizens of Pakistan on  board the Delhi-Lahore Samjhauta Express were killed near Panipat. Connecting major cities of two neighbouring countries, it was not just an Express train to help people travel.   As the name Samjhauta signified, it also aimed at building up understanding and cordiality among people of  the two countries, their rulers being virtually in constant vicious attrition. The blast was clearly an affront upon that purpose. One Swami Aseemanand (alias Naba Kumar Sarkar) and three others (Lokesh Sharma, Kamal Chauhan and Rajinder Chaudhary) were arrested for the heinous crime, who have been recently let off apparently for  want of evidence.

Before going into further detail of the case, a few more relevant issues need to be looked at. Incidentally, or rather, not just coincidentally, the Samjhauta express blast was one of  a few more  blasts which had occurred in a series between 2006 and 2008. In Malegaon, a town in Maharashtra, there were blasts on 8 September 2006 in the vicinity of a mosque killing 40 people, as also on  29 September 2008 killing 9. There was another blast incident in Mecca Masjid (mosque) in Hyderabad on 18 May 2007 leaving sixteen  dead and still  another major blast in  Ajmer Dargah Sharif (another Muslim religious place) in Rajasthan which killed three persons  and injured many on 11 October 2007. On 29 September 2008, there was also a blast in Modasa in Gujarat. In all these cases, there was an attempt to link some of the Muslim organizations with the terror acts as the culprits. But ultimately even the court had to admit that those charges were fabricated. All these blasts were found to have been perpetrated by a Hindu fundamentalist group Abhinav Bharat, of which Aseemanand was the key figure, the lynchpin or the common brain behind such dastardly acts, as per the charge-sheets. A detailed statement by none other than Aseemanand which he had made in 2010 before a magistrate, elaborated the planning and execution of some key terrorist attacks between 2006 and 2008. These were chalked out by him and his group Abhinav Bharat to avenge incidents such as the Akshardham temple massacre of 2002. Undisputedly these were Hindu-fundamentalist counter terror, attesting to the fact that terror knows no religion and fundamentalism of any brand is a deadly enemy of humanity.

But the drama did not end in the happenings. The blasts and arrests took place during the rule of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. After the BJP government came to power, the scenario changed distinctly. Gradual and systematic attempts were mooted to dilute the prosecution of these cases. Yet, it must be admitted that the Congress-led UPA government’s role was also not beyond question, as it will be indicated later. Be that as it may, the accused who were nabbed, were acquitted and released. Even the master-mind, Aseemanand, who had been accused repeatedly,  was acquitted in due course. His confession in the court was brushed aside as he later retracted on the plea of being under pressure in custody.  Things came to such a pass that  heads of the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s premier terror investigation body, made public comments that  “there was no such thing as Hindu terror”. The CBI, too, was tied in the same rope. Often it initiated the investigation ending in indecisive, rather misleading cues. It appeared that these agencies as also powers-that-be acted collaboratively to mess up the investigation to reach a pre-determined end of letting the real culprits free. 

Even during the Congress rule the Samjhauta Express case was handed over to the NIA in July 2010. Thus there was quite a long gap of time between the blast in February 2007 and the NIA given the charge in 2010. Even according to the bourgeois jurisprudence ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.  So why was this delay? Was there any apprehension towards antagonizing majority community vote-bank, by holding the branded Hindu fundamentalists responsible for the blasts? In reality, with this inexplicable delay there was hardly any way for the NIA left to collect evidence even if they had wanted to. With time, most of the vital evidences must have already been hushed up or manipulated by then. Over and above it, instead of putting in required and desired effort to diligently investigate whatever evidence that was left, the NIA apparently moved sluggishly and purposefully without direction.  The evidences given in the charge sheet were highly inadequate. For any case of this type, concrete scientific evidence becomes the key, because witnesses are likely to turn hostile under pressure from the lobby of the accused. In this case, with investigation turning wayward and meaningless, politicians were found to be engaged in blame-game. People were left in confusion as well as were befooled.

As indicated above, in the Malegaon blast, the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) initially tried to implicate activists of the SIMI, a Muslim student organization. But the move was frustrated as it came out that the charges were fabricated and the arrested victims had to be released. The NIA had subverted the prosecution also in the Mecca Masjid blast case in Hyderabad. There too, Aseemanand was a key accused and an important part of the evidence emerged from his meeting with another jail inmate to whom Aseemanand confessed to his role in the blast. In that case, the judge acquitted Aseemanand, partly on the ground that the prosecution could not bring evidence that the other jail inmate was at all present in the jail at that time. All that was needed was the jail register to prove that Aseemanand and the said other inmate were present in the jail at the same time. But even this elementary evidence was not presented by the NIA.In sequel to these the Judge of the NIA Court K. Ravinder Reddy had to acquit all the accused in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast case. At the same time, within hours after pronouncing the verdict, he submitted his resignation, too. Referring to it, a former judge of the Hyderabad High Court pointed out it was the first instance in the history of the High Court and the resignation spoke for itself. He said that a judge “would not quit from post unless and until he feels guilty about his verdict.”  

The Samjhauta Express case represented the culmination of these processes as apprehended. The 160 page judgment from the special judge, Jagdeep Singh, who tried Swami Aseemanand and his accomplices in that case, laid bare the shoddy manner of investigation into the case. It held that the NIA failed to provide logical evidence that would have nailed the perpetrators of the crime. The judgment noted, with surprise, the NIA’s failure to produce CCTV footage and railway station dormitory records, and its inability to conduct a relevant test identification parade to tie the accused to the crime. All of these should have been done in normal course, which in turn would have helped in cracking the case one way or another.

Even personalities like N R Wasan, formerSpecial Director General, NIA, or Ranjit Randhawa, retired judge criticized ‘the poor job’ and delaying tactics by the NIA officials. Similar was the reaction of a Senior High Court advocate who underlined that the credibility of investigation agencies was  put  at stake when such judgments, like that of the Mecca Masjid blast verdict, come out, acquitting all the accused for lack of clinching evidence. Ajai Sahni, Executive director, Institute for Conflict Management, categorically pointed out that the NIA performance in the Samjhauta Express case not only disgraced that organization itself, it even tended to encourage  the cycle of hate and retaliation that the pervasive politics of communal polarization feeds into. Obviously these were not simply unprofessional, lack of competence on the part of the country’s premier anti-terror agency. These indicated deliberate attempts to weaken the case against the accused. The apprehension gains ground when one recalls that after the BJP came to power in 2014, former special prosecutor Rohini Salian said in 2015 that the NIA had asked her to go soft in the 2008 Malegaon blasts case where people associated with the aforesaid Hindu fundamentalist group were accused. At the same time it attests to the fact that  the so-called loud calls for fight against terror by the ruling combine of RSS-BJP were not really against terror, but  were selective in pretended opposition, which ultimately levelled the charge against or pointed finger at a particular community for  this heinous crime.

On such a background, the special judge, Jagdeep Singh  acquitted  the accused in the Samjhauta Express case on 20 March 2019. However, his verdict was accompanied by a stringent note in which he expressed that “I have to conclude this judgment with deep pain and anguish as a dastardly act of violence remained unpunished for want of credible and admissible evidence”. In his judgement, he said, that he was constrained to acquit all the accused as the prosecution failed to examine or present, rather  even ‘withheld’ both the ‘best evidence’ as well as ‘key witnesses’ from the trial. Some of the independent witnesses were never examined or sought to be declared hostile when they chose to not support the prosecution’s case. In consequence, as  Judge Jagdeep Singh had to spell out : “There are gaping holes in the prosecution evidence and an act of terrorism has remained unsolved. Terrorism has no religion because no religion in the world preaches violence. A court of law is not supposed to proceed on popular or predominant public perception or the public discourse of the day and ultimately it has to appreciate the evidence on record …”. How true Judge Singh’s apprehension about the performance of the NIA  and the fate of the case, was, comes out vividly when the Union Home Minister made a public statement even before the full judgment was made public that “the prosecution may not appeal in a higher court”. How?  Was he aware of  what verdict the Judge was supposed to pronounce?

Such a blunt admission and lamentation by the Judge in charge of the Samjhauta Express terrorist case, including the background in which the accused were let free in similar terror acts by the ‘Hindutva terror’ and last but not the least the comment of the Union Home Minister, only prove the wretched condition to which vital institutions have been brought down. Trampling all norms and values underfoot, these institutions of the Indian capitalist state are used in giving shape to the rabid communal agenda of the ruling RSS- BJP combine. The latter is frantically trying to establish its faithful subservient character to the ruling monopolists, the capitalist class.   In their ulterior effect these shameless acts are designed to save the Hindutva terror, drag toiling people into confusion and vertically cleave them into mutually hating, even warring communities.  For that the ruling combine need persons like Aseemanand and his accomplices, all in a gang. They are the devices to breed disunity in people. And it is this precipitated disunity of toiling people that prevents the latter from fighting united against the capitalist system, the root of all these treacheries and travesty of justice. In the long run, it helps run this ruthlessly oppressive and utterly corrupt capitalist system uninterruptedly and keep their subservient forces decorating the parliamentary arena while enjoying power and pelf in their turn. The Samjhauta Express case leaves these lessons in its trail. (Sources:Deccan Chronicle 17-04- 19;The Print 29-03-19; The Wire 29-03-19; Times of India 01-04-19)

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