Innocent lives matter: Justice for those jailed on false terror charges
Thousands of people from different parts of India have been implicated on false terror charges, says the newly constituted group, that aims to work across the country to ease the struggle of such people. Photograph: (Getty)
"Initially, I was unaware that cops had arrested me. I thought I had been kidnapped. It was only after reaching the police station that I realised I was in police custody," 45-year-old Syed Wasif Haider recalls.
"The arrest was followed by three days of continuous torture. I was made to sign confession statements and blank papers. Eventually, when I was produced in front of a district magistrate and I ended up saying that I had gone to Kashmir Valley to attend a (militant) training camp, " he adds.
A software engineer by profession, Haider, who hails from northern Indian city of Kanpur, was arrested in the year 2000 Kanpur bomb blast case over charges of rioting leading to the death of additional district magistrate of the city, Chandra Prakash Pathak.
Nine years after he was accused of the terror charges, he was acquitted by Allahabad High Court in 2009.
It was not only him, however, who bore the brunt of the false terror charges. His daughter back home, who was told that his father had gone abroad for a "better job", often faced hateful comments by classmates for being a "terrorist's daughter".
Seven years have passed since Haidar's acquittal. He, however, still claims to be living in social isolation.
'Reform' and 'support'
Over the years, thousands of people from different parts of India have been implicated on false terror charges, says a newly constituted group, Innocence network, which aims to work across the country to ease the struggle of such people.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement that originated in the African-American community and campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people, Innocence Network is a group of 50 'socially responsible' individuals from different parts of India, who were once falsely implicated on charges of terror, but later proven innocent in court.
The Innocence Network aims to bring judicial and policing reforms in India and rehabilitate the people who have been acquitted of terror charges
The members say they empathise with the suffering and pain of the people acquitted in terror cases because of their personal experience.
The founders of the Innocence Network divide their work in two categories -- 'reform' and 'support'.
The group members aim to bring 'reforms' in the current judicial system in order to ensure that the miscarriage of justice can be minimised.
Also, they plan to work on initiatives to 'support' the people acquitted in terror cases, in order to rehabilitate them.
Sharib Ali, the founder of Delhi-based social organisation, Quill Foundation, and a co-founder of the group, Innocence Network, tells WION: "The network will also try to seek reforms for each of the contributors to wrongful conviction, laws that do not comply with international human rights standards, false confessions and torture, non-functioning legal aid, invalidated and improper investigation approaches, government misconduct and inadequate defence, and post-release surveillance."
The network also has a tribunal that consists of prominent Indian personalities ranging from the field of art and cinema to Indian judiciary.
At the moment the jury of the tribunal is Justice AP Shah , former chief justice of Delhi High Court.
The group organised its first 'Peoples' Tribunal on Acquitted Innocents' on October 2 in the Indian national capital, New Delhi, on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who is considered to be the key figure of Indian independent struggle.
Individuals prosecuted for terror, from all parts of the country, came to New Delhi to participate in the inaugural meeting of the network and shared their experiences.
Dr Farookh Makhdoomi (accused in Malegaon Blast,2006), Shoeb Jagirdar (accused in 2007 Mecca Masjid Blast in southern Hyderabad state), Mohd Nisaruddin ( 1993 Mumbai train bombing), among several others.
Manisha Sethi, renowned Indian activist, who is also part of the network, told WION: "The innocence network is an all India collective of individuals and organisations working for the rights of those who have been wrongfully prosecuted or convicted, under charges of terrorism. Led by the exonerees themselves. the network seeks reform at the criminal justice level to prevent the practice of unjust incarceration.It also aims to establish a support mechanism for exonerees to help rebuild their lives post-release."
Tales of torture
The acquitted individuals, while speaking to the audience at the inaugural function of the network, blamed the justice system for ruining their lives and the lives of their families without even compensating them for the monetary and social losses they suffered.
Mohammad Amir Khan, arrested on charges of planting bombs in Delhi and neighbouring states, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana during the 1990s, described his ordeal to the audience saying: "I left a happy family behind when I was picked up (by police), but 14 years later when I was acquitted, there was no one left in the family except an ailing mother, who had sold everything at her disposal to secure my release."
"In the initial days of my arrest, I was subjected to brutal physical torture. Later, I faced a different kind of discrimination in different jails, owing to my religious identity. I was not allowed to mingle with inmates. I was kept in solitary confinement for years and was not allowed to complete my degree programme from jail. I suffered all this for no reason," adds Amir.
Similar tales of torture and apathy were narrated by other individuals on the occasion.
Mohammad Nisaruudin, who was arrested in the 1993 Mumbai train bombing case, spent 23 years in jail before being acquitted.
He asserted that there was a need to bring a clear and well-defined law that confessional statement in police custody cannot be admitted under any provision of the law, as they are obtained through torture.
"What is important is that through this platform (Innocence Network), we campaign for laws which bring an end to witch-hunting of people whether they are Muslims, Dalits or from other oppressed communities. We need to ensure that a law is introduced where confession statements secured by police is not taken into cognizance by the court," Nisaruudin said.
However, more than their own sufferings in the past, what also troubles these people is that if policing and judicial reforms are not introduced soon in India, the witch-hunting that they faced will continue unabated.
Meanwhile, the network jury headed by former justice AP Shah, highlights: "There is a need to make police accountable for wrongful investigations in terror cases. Acquittals in terror cases are different from acquittals in other criminal cases. It has been seen that in terror cases, police misleads the investigation deliberately, and thus it is important for courts to initiate proceedings against them and hold them accountable. Besides, it is also important for India to develop a legislative framework in order to compensate those who have been acquitted of terror charges."