REVISITING TERROR: SEVEN CASES, ONE REALITY
Irrespective of affiliation, terror has one reality – it is anti-human. Our society today is brimming with the possibility of turning animalistic unless justice is duly met, writes Sayantan Ghosh.
April 17, 2018 – several individuals, supporters, policemen and media persons had gathered outside the Hyderabad Metropolitan Court where the Mecca Masjid case verdict was being read. The court acquitted Swami Aseemanand and five others. However, this wasn't an exception; in the recent days, there have been three such cases where the accused were given a clean chit. Reports say, India has witnessed seven such cases where the suspects have had alleged ties with pro-religious groups. With the ruling party marred in suspicion, the opposition has capitalised upon this crisis, confidently categorising it as 'saffron terror'.
Mecca Masjid Blast
During routine Friday prayers on May 8, 2007, a massive blast had ripped through the Mecca Masjid, killing nine people and wounding 58 others. According to reports: "After the 2007 blast, the police suspected the role of a Pakistan-based Islamist group, Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI), but investigations over the next few years pointed fingers at the possible role of Hindutva organisations."
Following the blast, the Andhra Pradesh police held more than 200 people, mostly Muslims, according to various reports, for interrogation. Twenty-one of them were duly charge-sheeted. Later, the CBI investigated the bombings for around two years. The CBI eventually admitted to the role of extremist groups in conspiring the Mecca Masjid blast – only after reports of the critical role played by Hindutva organisations in conspiring several other terror attacks was brought to light. NIA finally took charge of the case in 2011.
Devendra Gupta, Lokesh Sharma, Swami Aseemanand alias Naba Kumar Sarkar, Bharat Mohanlal Rateshwar alias Bharat Bhai and Rajendra Chowdhary, were the prime suspects. On April 17 this year, the NIA court in Hyderabad acquitted all five men accused of the Mecca Masjid blast case. Significantly, the judge who read the verdict resigned soon after, on Monday evening, citing unrelated personal reasons.
Naroda Patiya Massacre
According to reports, the Naroda Patiya massacre took place on February 28, 2002 at Naroda, in Ahmedabad, India, at the peak of the 2002 Gujarat riots. 97 Muslims were killed by a mob of approximately 5,000 people – a conglomerate organised by the Bajrang Dal, a wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party which was in power in the state of Gujarat.
The Gujarat High Court on April 20 acquitted former BJP minister Maya Kodnani in the Naroda Patiya massacre case. She had earlier been found guilty of conspiracy by a trial court in the massacre of 97 Muslims. Kodnani's assistant, Kirpal Singh Chabda, was also acquitted. He too had been convicted by a trial court. The court, however, found Babu Bajrangi, a Bajrang Dal leader, guilty, but reduced his sentence from life to 21 years.
Media reports observed, "The communal violence at Naroda was deemed the largest single case of mass murder during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Survivors faced socioeconomic problems; many were left homeless, orphaned and injured. A number of shrines were destroyed and many schools were adversely affected, cancelled exams or closed entirely."
The serial blasts which occurred near the Hamidia Mosque near Bada Kabrastan after Friday prayers on Shab-e-Baraat day in September 2006, killed 37 and injured over 100 people in communally sensitive Malegaon, a power loom town in the Nasik district of north Maharashtra. The bombs were planted on bicycles, ATS investigation had revealed. The reports noted, "The Maharashtra anti-terrorism squad (ATS) and the CBI charge-sheeted nine Muslims. The NIA took over the case in 2011 and filed a charge-sheet against alleged Hindu extremists involved in the case, paving the way for the release of the Muslims accused on bail. The trial is yet to begin."
Samjahuta Express Blasts
Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed inside the moving Samjhauta Express exploded near Dewana railway station in Haryana's Panipat district on February 18, 2007. The explosion killed 68 people, mostly Pakistanis, who were going back home on a train travelling from Delhi to Lahore. The day after the bombing, the police stated that the suitcase bomb attack was the work of at least four or five people with a possible militant connection. "Investigations into the Malegaon blast case (2008) by Maharashtra ATS under Hemant Karkare (who was later killed during the Mumbai terror attack in November 2008) led to the discovery that it was allegedly the handiwork of Hindu extremist organisations. A dozen people were arrested in the case including Pragya Singh Thakur and Lt Col Shrikant Purohit," noted reports.
On December 30, 2010, NIA claimed that they had solid evidence that Swami Aseemanand was the mastermind behind the blasts. He had roped in Sandeep Dange, an engineering graduate, and Ramji Kalsangra, an electrician, to build the improvised explosive devices used in the blasts. On January 8, 2011, Aseemanand reportedly confessed that Hindu outfits were behind the bombing of the Samjhauta Express, a statement his council later stated was obtained under duress. Later, RSS sent a legal notice to the CBI accusing it for deliberately leaking Swami Aseemanand's confession to the media.
Ajmer Dargah Blast
A blast on October 11, 2007, during Ramzan at the Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Dargah in Rajasthan's Ajmer, killed three people and left around a dozen injured. Three more bombs were later recovered from the premises.
Of the 13 accused, three are absconding and another – Sunil Joshi — is dead. The trial against the nine accused ended with the conviction of only three — Sunil Joshi, Devendra Gupta and Bhavesh Patel. Seven accused, including Aseemanand, who was once termed as an alleged Hindu terror ideologue, have been acquitted. Gupta and Patel were sentenced to life imprisonment and consequently imposed with a fine of Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 respectively.
Sunil Joshi murder
Joshi was shot dead on December 29, 2007, while walking back to his hideout in the Chuna Khadan locality of Dewas, Madhya Pradesh. He was the leader of an alleged Hindu extremist group consisting of Pragya Singh Thakur, Lokesh Sharma, Sandeep Dange, Ramji Kalsangra, Rajendra Pehelwan, Dhan Singh, Amit Chauhan and Aseemanand. Besides Aseemanand, several others had assisted Joshi fund his group.
According to the NIA probe, the group had directly instigated most right-wing terror cases. After completing the investigation in the Joshi murder case, the NIA handed over the case to the Madhya Pradesh police stating it had not found any evidence to suggest that his murder was linked to the larger Hindu terror conspiracy.
Malegaon and Modasa blasts (2008)
Twin blasts in Maharashtra's Malegaon and Gujarat's Modasa shook the country on September 29, 2008, during Ramzan and a day ahead of Hindu's Shivratri. IEDs cleverly mounted on motorcycles were planted at both locations, killing eight people. The Malegaon blast occurred near a hotel at Bhikku Chowk in Maharashtra. The bombs were allegedly attached to a Hero Honda motorcycle and rigged to detonate. Both blasts were said to be of a low-intensity.
A cloak of confusion surrounded the cause of the blast, with some suggesting that it was triggered by the accidental explosion of a gas cylinder. But, the police later confirmed that the blast was a terrorist attack.
The Modera blasts, resulting in the death of a 15-year-old boy, while injuring several others, was the result of a low-intensity bomb, again mounted upon a motorcycle that went off near a mosque at the Muslim-dominated Sukka Bazaar. The incident took place around 21:26 when special Ramzan prayers (tarawih) were being offered inside the mosque.
Political analysts believe that these cases are significant because of their common link to alleged right-wing sympathisers. "People like Aseemanand, Sunil Joshi and others were involved in most cases. The investigations found that Aseemanand was the mastermind behind these terror attacks which took place largely between 2006-2008," said a journalist who investigated these cases.He further added that Aseemanand's confession statement, read before a magistrate in a Delhi court, where he disclosed details of the conspiracy and the actual bombings in Muslim places of worship, is said to have helped the NIA greatly in its investigations. Aseemanand later retracted his confession, claiming that it was extracted under duress.
The end note
Terrorism has no religion and all these cases have affected thousands of people and killed hundreds more. The political blame game has only increased with time and now fingers are being swiftly pointed at the judiciary too. For the sake of democracy and justice, no political interest and religious colour should interfere in the process of justice for the innocent. Amid politics, colours of affiliation, castigation and counter attack, the affected families' search for justice is lost. Yet, justice must be met; not only for the victims and their bereaved families, but also for the nation, for the idea of India – the largest democracy in the world.