Madhya Pradesh Police Has a Tarnished Record in Dealing With Terror Cases

A 2013 report by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association revealed several lapses in the functioning of the police with regard to terror cases.

Police officers and Special Task Force soldiers stand beside dead bodies of the suspected members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Credit: Reuters

Police officers and Special Task Force soldiers stand beside dead bodies of the suspected members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). Credit: Reuters

The news of a ‘jail break’ by eight terror accused associated with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and their subsequent ‘encounter’ met with mixed responses. While government officials and spokespersons for the Madhya Pradesh police admitted to a serious lapse in security at Bhopal central jail, even as they hailed the police action, many civil society activists and a section of the opposition questioned the credibility of events that led to the encounter.

With questions being raised on the efficiency of the state police and its actions – unverified videos showed some police personnel vengefully killing the escapees – it is pertinent to dig deeper into the state police’s role in handling terror-related cases over the last decade.

Guilt by Association, a 2013 report published by the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, documented a number of cases that pointed to grave failures on the part of the police in ensuring the proper delivery of justice.

The report examined a number of cases in which alleged SIMI members were arrested in Madhya Pradesh, all under the charges of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). It contended that in most cases Muslim youth were picked up on flimsy evidence, which the state police used to establish their connection to SIMI. They were then invariably shown to be hatching a terror plan against the state. Despite the fact that SIMI was banned in 2001, the report noted that the police had failed to back up their charges with relevant evidence.

“In most cases, the only ‘proof’ that the investigating agency is able to demonstrate is to associate the accused to a proscribed organisation and his or her participation in unlawful acts is inferred through the alleged recovery of banned and seditious literature from the custody of the accused,” the report said.

“It is remarkable that there have been no incidents of terror attacks in Madhya Pradesh for the last many years. In fact, the only incident of actual violence was a shootout in Teen Pulia area of Khandwa district on November 28, 2009, in which three people, including an ATS constable, Sitaram Batham died. The local police alleged that the motorcycle-borne assailant was a member of the outlawed association, SIMI. Except for this solitary incident – where the veracity of the assailant’s link to SIMI or even whether this shootout was indicative of any terror activity rather than being an instance of ‘ordinary’ criminality, was not established – there have been no other incidents reported. For a state with such a history, the number of cases in which the accused were charged with furthering the activities of an unlawful association under UAPA is fairly high,” the report added.

The report also said that while cases were registered against several people – former SIMI members, their friends and acquaintances, or even people without links to former members – none of the accused were involved in any instance of violence. The charges were that of association and not actually committing a crime.

“Nonetheless, the invocation of the tough anti-terror law was widespread. In almost all the cases, the accused are alleged to have been pasting SIMI posters or possessing SIMI literature…The allegations as recorded in the FIRs are that the accused were standing in public places and shouting slogans in favour of the banned organisation SIMI and vowing to take forward the cause. They were carrying posters and pamphlets as if waiting for the police to arrest them with proof of their guilt,” the report said.

Instances of abuse of power

The report also elaborated on how the charges and narratives of SIMI cases in the state were similar and sometimes even the same.

“For example, FIR No. 537/00 and FIR No. 663/00 were registered in police stations Talliya and Shahjanabad respectively, on October 22, 2000, against the same set of accused: Sorab Ahmed, Maulana Arsad Ilyas Ahtesham, Abdul Razzaq, Mohd. Aleem, Muneer Uz Zama Deshmukh, Khalid Naim. The six were accused of pasting provocative posters. The six then appeared in many other FIRs filed in the two thanas in various combinations and permutations,”

The report also added that in many other cases old FIRs were brought out and the facts of the case simply copied on to a new FIR. “The FIR No. 101/08 in which the accused, Aman, was screaming slogans in favour of SIMI at the Sarvate bus station when the police apprehended him is an exact replica of FIR No. 251/01, a case registered the day after SIMI was banned,” says the report. The details of these cases are mentioned in detail.

Similarly, the report showed how in many cases the evidence of guilt is identical. For instance, the same copy of a magazine had been produced in at least four different cases across the state, and the same receipt of contribution to SIMI funds had been produced as evidence in two different cases. The police also used the fact some of those arrested were in possession of newspaper cuttings related to SIMI stories as ‘incriminating material’ to establish the terrorist connection.

The JTSA report mentioned the Pithampur case in the communally-sensitive Dhar district as one of the classic instances of the state police’s role being far from honest. It noted that two days after 13 leading SIMI activists were arrested, the senior superintendent of police, Dhar, on March 29, 2008,  had allegedly “shot off letters to various districts of Madhya Pradesh asking for registration of similar cases,” in an unprecedented move.

According to the report, these letters immediately set off a chain reaction, resulting in 18 cases within one month and another four over next six months. Such was the impact of the letter that explicit references to it were made in many FIRs related to terror cases. For instance, in FIR No. 180/2008, P.S. Neemach, April 8, 2008, the investigating officer of the case, B.P.S. Parihar, produced 18 of these letters in the SIMI UAPA tribunal in 2010.

In what can be understood as blatant violation of law, the report also said that some of the accused arrested in the Pithampur case – Safdar Nagori, Hafiz Hussain, Amil Parvez, Shivli, Kamruddin, Kamran and Ahmad Baig – were then “implicated in different cases across the country, including in the Ahmedabad serial blasts case of 2008, despite the fact that they were in jail at that time.”

Many questions remain

Three of the accused killed in the police encounter on Monday – Aquil Khilji, Khaleel Ahmed and Amjad – were arrested in Khandwa and were allegedly involved in the Khandwa jailbreak a few years before.

In a recently released statement, the JTSA noted:

“Cases against Aquil Khilji, one of those killed, were regularly registered from 2001 onwards, right from when SIMI was banned. Most of the cases pertained to possession and distribution of ‘unlawful’ literature. In June 2011, the Khandwa police claimed that they had raided Khilji’s house at midnight and busted a SIMI meeting where Khilji and others were planning a terror strike. Among those ‘arrested’ were Khaleel and Amjad, also killed in the ‘encounter’. It might be interesting to note that while the police preened through the media about this midnight raid carried on the intervening night of June 13-14, families of Khaleel and Amjad had moved applications in the CJM’s [chief judicial magistrate] court complaining that the police had picked up and detained their sons between June10 to June 12, failing to produce them before the magistrate even after the lapse of 24 hours.”

The JTSA said that the city Kotwali police in a response submitted to the CJM said that “though Khaleel had been called to the police station on June 10, he had not been detained thereafter. The police also claimed that Amjad had not been traceable and could not be questioned. These responses are dated June 13.”

“So, these foolhardy and senseless ‘SIMI’ activists had decided to convene a meeting the same night – in the middle of being questioned and searched by the police – to plan a terror strike,” the JTSA said.

The 2013 report provides a contrarian perspective but throws considerable light on the conduct of the police in Madhya Pradesh over the years. Unsurprisingly, the ‘jailbreak’ and ‘encounter’ story narrated by the state police is being received with a pinch of salt. Whether the encounter was fake or not; why were all the eight lodged together in the jail; who was their resource person; why were no weapons found with them despite police claiming the contrary are some of the questions being raised in public debates. With its image tarnished, the Madhya Pradesh police has a lot to answer for in the coming days.