Enquiry into Parliament Attack Sought Again (Dec.12, 2006)

Enquiry into Parliament Attack Sought Again
By Our Correspondent

New Delhi, December 12  Well known Gandhian and Member of Parliament Nirmala Deshpande has demanded the government to institute an enquiry into the December 13, 2001 Attack on Parliament. Speaking at the launch of the book titled "13 December: A Reader---The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament” at the India Habitat Centre (IHC) in New Delhi on December 12, she said people had a right to know what actually happened on the day of the Parliament Attack and in the Mohammed Afzal case.

Her statement actually set in motion the panel discussion. Present at the launch of the book, most contributors stressed the need for an enquiry into the entire case. Speaking on the occasion, Supreme Court lawyer Indira Jaising, whose piece "Meeting Afzal" is included in the book, said she decided to revisit the records of the case, and there was "clear evidence that Afzal was not being represented by a lawyer."

The court appointed Neeraj Bansal to represent him, and subsequently anti-terrorist lawyer Seema Gulati, who then withdrew because she was representing some other accused.

"Justice Dhingra then asked Neeraj Bansal to represent Afzal as an amicus curae, or friend of the court. So he was sentenced to death without proper representation. So I was unable to refrain from seeking mistrial," she said.

Indira Jaising alleged that the very trial was, in fact, not conducted according to the court of law. According to her, if a senior lawyer believes there has been a serious lapse of justice, the lawyer may file a certificate seeking a miscarriage. And that is what she proposes to do. She said: "I am filing a petition in favour of Afzal and I hope that this time the Supreme Court admits its monumental mistake of awarding death sentence."

Author-activist Arundhati Roy too made an impassioned appeal for a re-investigation into the case of Mohammad Afzal Guru, the man awarded a death sentence by the Supreme Court for his involvement in the attack on Parliament.

Arundhati Roy, who has written a 14-page introduction for the above mentioned book, published by Penguin Books, said: "Today in itself is a political occasion, a political victory, because there have been people who have fought a pretty long, a pretty frightening and pretty lonely battle for many years, and now finally, it is out in the open and out in the mainstream."

Stating that she wanted to talk about why this case is important, Arundhati Roy said: "It's not just about the attack on Parliament, it’s not just about Afzal, all those very specific issues have been raised here... but really it is about what kind society would we like to live in, now and in the future? What role do we see for ourselves? In this Parliament attack we see very clearly the part played by the police, by the security apparatus in Kashmir, by the mainstream media, by the mob, by all of us, in our silences, and in our speaking out.

"I have to say that the media has played an extremely coercive part in the build-up to the death sentence being handed out to Mohammad Afzal. But also, it is true that all the articles in this book have been published in the mainstream press. It is that space that we are seeking to expand. We are today being run by the judiciary. I don't think there is any country where there is so much news about the judiciary. So, we have a judiciary that micro-manages our lives. We have a system in place now which is turning parts of India into a police State. We have the highest number of custodial deaths in the world. India has refused to sign any international covenant on torture. So we're becoming a militarised police society. In such a situation, what kind of a role do we play? How do we expand the democratic space?

"When the special cell arrested S A R Geelani a day after the Parliament attack, from that day on, there was such a deadly game that was played out. The special cell put out propaganda of the most abominable sort, which was disseminated even by the most respected mainstream newspapers and television channels in this country. And then followed a sort of parallel game, where you build up national hysteria by telling these lies again, while the judicial system never looked at these reports, which never come under judicial scrutiny. This allows the courts to function in a completely unaccountable way. Because apart from the fact that Afzal did not have legal representation, the fact is that there is not a single piece of evidence which withstands legal scrutiny.

"So, the courts have admitted that there have been instances of fabricated evidence that has been tampered with, phone records that are false; seizure memos, arrest memos, material discrepancies---all these are admitted, but nothing is done about it because ideologically, there is this parallel war going on in the press and the public.

"Eventually the Supreme Court says it has no direct evidence against Afzal, it has circumstantial evidence, it says there is nothing to connect him to a terrorist organisation, but in order to satisfy the collective conscience of society, he must be hanged. And then you have opinion polls based on people who are influenced by this.

"Is this the kind of society that we look forward to becoming? Recently on the television channels you had a police officer who came out and said in detail how he had tortured Afzal. He has gone on record saying he used electrodes and all that.

"On that programme there were senior lawyers, senior policemen, senior journalists, and no one had anything to say about a man coming out and saying 'I torture people because it is my national duty'. He more or less said that. No human rights organisation has taken suo moto notice of this, it has become a part of the texture of our lives. In Chile, 3,000 people were killed during the reign of (Auguste) Pinochet over 17 years. We can do much better than that in India. Even the official statistic in Kashmir is 45,000.

"We have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, where, forget capital punishment, summary execution is allowed by non-commissioned officers. A huge population of this country is hostage to this. In the whole trial of Afzal, apart from what is going on in court, you have a whole family being hostage to what the STS can do."

Arundhati Roy said when she was asked whether she believed the attack on Parliament was an 'inside job' she had said, "I don't think we can even know whether it was an inside or an outside job, because we have a system of layers now, at the bottom of which are organisations like the special task force, the Special Operations Group in Kashmir, shading into the Ikhwanis who are the renegades, shading into surrendered militants, and there is an exchange of bodily fluids that goes on, and we don't know what's inside and what's outside anymore."

"Even if there were a parliamentary enquiry, I don't think we would come out with blueprints and plans and bombs planted under somebody's bed. I think the only thing we can hope for is that some journalists will start to pull the threads, and the knit will unravel at high speed. Because if you are in a relationship with someone, and that someone begins to tell lies, then you want to know why they are lying. And there have been plenty of lies that have been told in this case, from beginning to end."

Also addressing a larger perspective was columnist Praful Bidwai. Terming the verdict and the case as a ‘throwback of the Bhagalpur syndrome,’ he said: "This has a lynch mob asking for revenge. It is a representative of the new vengeance in the air post the 9/ 11 attack where several alternatives have been made in policy making across the world. Human rights have been evaded in the name of fighting terrorists and security."

Alternative media expert Shuddhabrata Sengupta was of the view that there should be extraordinary care in reporting such cases. According to him, when a person was arrested for his alleged role in any case, the use of the word ‘alleged’ was a must. He questioned as to how a person before trial and judgement could be termed a ‘terrorist’ or ‘criminal’?

The panel discussion ended with Delhi University Professor Nirmalangshu Mukherji saying the book exposes the series of lies regarding the case. On this occasion, a question-answer session too continued for over an hour.

It is to point out that the introduction by Arundhati Roy contains 13 questions for December 13. She says in her introduction: "In a criminal investigation, it is vital for the police to show how the evidence gathered at the scene of the attack led them to the accused. How did the Police reach Mohammed Afzal? The special cell says S A R Geelani led them to Afzal. But the message to look out for Afzal was actually flashed to the Srinagar Police before Geelani was arrested. So, how did the special cell connect Afzal to the December 13 attack?"

The six men were spotted getting out of the same car by CCTV, but when the big battle ended that day and the Police announced its success, there were just five dead terrorists in the Parliament Complex. The question of the sixth man was soon rejected, forgotten and dropped from public memory. This despite the entire attack being recorded on closed-circuit TVs installed around Parliament House and the then Delhi Police Commissioner signaling towards a possible sixth man and his escape.

Meanwhile, Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting and Parliamentary Affairs Priya Ranjan Das Munshi told reporters on December 12 he was not aware if his government had taken any steps to probe the presence of a sixth man in the December 13, 2001 Attack on Parliament. Das Munshi was one of the first politicians who, after the December 13 attack, had claimed that six, and not five persons were involved in the attack. Then he was Congress Parliamentary Party chief. In that capacity, he spoke of the confusion regarding the details of the event. Recalling his statement, he said he had made his statement after seeing the CCTV recordings in the room of the then Lok Sabha Speaker GMC Balayogi along with the then Home Minister L K Advani and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan. He had then said: "I counted six men getting out of the car, but only five were killed. The closed-circuit cameras clearly showed the six men."       

The 255-page book reproduces 15 pieces from different newspapers and magazines written by 13 lawyers, academics, journalists and writers: i. Nandita Haksar, ii. Shuddhabrata Sengupta (2 pieces), iii. Syed Bismillah Geelani, iv. Tripta Wahi, v. Arundhati Roy, vi. Nirmalangshu Mukherji (2 pieces), vii. Praful Bidwai, viii. Jawed Naqvi, ix. Ashok Mitra, x. Sonia Jabbar, xi. Mihir Srivastava, xii. A G Noorani, xiii. Indira Jaising. The book has come out commemorating five years since Parliament was attacked on December 13, 2001.


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