The Catolic Secular Forum

Reporters as police stenographers

As 16 terror cases end in acquittal the English press is guilty of giving in to the dubious claims of the infamous Special Cell. The writer wonders why reporters never question police claims.

Will the English press ever again report verbatim what the Delhi Police’s Special Cell tells them?

The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association’s just-released report on 16 cases of terror filed by the Special Cell that ended in acquittal, is an indictment not just of the functioning of the Special Cell, but also of the English press. The report cites examples of reports in national newspapers such as The Times Of India, The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Hindustan Times, which carried verbatim, often without the use of the word “alleged”, the version given by the Special Cell at press conferences where often, the arrested innocents were produced as “hard core militants’.

Among the many paraded this way was 24-year-old Kashmiri Imran Kirmani, an aeronautical engineering graduate who had just landed a job in Delhi. His background came handy for the Special Cell to describe him as “part of an LeT module” planning to carry out a “9/11 plot”. “Prize catch” was the caption given by The Hindu to his picture on page one, surrounded by Special Cell plainclothesmen.

Four years later, the judge acquitted Kirmani. “And when I was released, there was no media, no cameras waiting to tell the world that I was innocent. It wasn’t a story,” Kirmani told the Kashmir correspondent of The Indian Express Muzammil Jaleel.

The JTSA report cites only the Express as having bothered to talk to Kirmani. But The Telegraph’s Muzaffar Raina did so too. The paper carried the story on page one.

Not that this in any way compensated for Kirmani’s trauma. “My dream (of becoming an aeronautical engineer) has died,” he said more than once to Jaleel. “Who will give me a job now?”

It wasn’t just Delhi’s Special Cell that ruined this blameless young man’s future. The English press also played a part.

This columnist has tried for years to find an answer to the question: why do reporters implicitly believe the police when they claim breakthroughs in “terror” cases? Because the police bear the authority of uniform? They are the ones who should know?

Even when the country’s first big terror strike took place on March 12, 1993 in Mumbai, there were doubts whether everyone picked up was part of the conspiracy. At that time, the lawyer of one of those arrested approached me with his client’s story. His client claimed that his only offence was that he had rented out a scooter, something he did everyday to strangers. How was he to know what it would be used for? (It was used to plant a bomb.) The TOI refused to publish the story, which was based entirely on the lawyer’s plea filed in court. The man was eventually discharged after spending three years in jail.

This was just after the 92-93 Mumbai riots, wherein the Mumbai police had shown just how aligned its men were with the Shiv Sena. The Times’ reportage of the riots had exposed some of this and earned it the abuse “Times of Pakistan” from the RSS. But riots were one thing, simultaneous bomb blasts across the city, killing random innocents, were a different kettle of fish. Would publishing that story have made the Times look like it was supporting the terrorists? Is that what stops newspapers from expressing doubts about police claims?

April 2006 should have been a turning point for investigations into bomb blasts. That was when the Nanded blasts took place and the RSS hand in the bomb blasts became clear. But even after Nanded, the police stuck to its only-Muslims-are-terrorists theory. Given the well-known anti-Muslim prejudice of the police, that was understandable. But what prevented the press from questioning this theory after April 2006?

Indeed, what prevents the press till today from picking holes in theories put out by our investigative agencies when it comes to crimes allegedly committed by Muslims? Why do reporters become “police stenographers” as the JTSA report calls them?

After the 2006 serial train blasts in Mumbai all newspapers faithfully reported the theory given out by the ATS. The seven bombs were assembled in a tiny room in a Govandi slum, open to all passersby. Then, from the north-east of Mumbai, they were carried to the north-west, to Bandra. They were kept in pressure cookers. These pressure cookers were kept in train compartments. Whatever you say, sirs. Never mind if the final charge sheet in the 2006 serial train blasts case has no mention of pressure cookers. Pakistan was involved, said headlines. Never mind that when it came to actually presenting evidence to Pakistan, the ATS developed cold feet.

The most bizarre aspect of the 2006 train blasts is that another branch of the Mumbai police, the Crime Branch, discovered in 2008 that quite a different set of persons were behind these blasts. The ATS had laid the blame on SIMI’s door. But an alleged Indian Mujaheedin member arrested for a series of blasts in 2008, reportedly “confessed” to the Crime Branch, headed by the legendary Rakesh Maria, that it was the IM that was behind the train blasts. Both police units stuck to their respective claims. In 2009, this man who “confessed”, Sadiq Shaikh, was discharged by the court on an application filed by the ATS which said he had no role in the train blasts, a crime to which he had reportedly “confessed”!

And these are the agencies we blindly trust. Among them is the Delhi Police Special Cell, as high profile as Maharashtra’s ATS, and, as the JTSA report shows, as dearly beloved of the Delhi press.


On September 23, 2007, The Times of India carried a news item titled: “Indian Intelligence informer spills the beans”. The report was sensational. It quoted a letter from Tihar Jail by an ex-IB informer detailing how IB, working with the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, plants its own “jehadi maulvis” to lure Muslim youth to commit terrorist acts. The CBI, directed by the Delhi High Court to investigate the case in which this informer was arrested by the Special Cell as an Al Badr terrorist, had corroborated the most important accusations made by the informer, said the report.

In November 2008, the CBI filed a closure report in the case, gave the two accused a clean chit and recommended legal action against three sub-inspectors of the Special Cell: Ravinder Tyagi, Vinay Tyagi, and Subhash Vats, for “fabricating and planting evidence to implicate” the accused “for an oblique motive.” In its closure report, the CBI revealed that the mobile phone records of one of the accused showed that he was in constant touch with IB officers.

Despite the Times following this story, these sensational findings were not widely reported in the English press. Even the Times did not do any larger article based on this “mind-numbing” report. (This phrase was used by the Times to describe one of the many so-called terror conspiracies solved by the Special Cell.) However, subsequent developments in the case were reported, including a complaint by CBI officer Santosh Kumar that one of the indicted Special Cell men had threatened him. So it can be safely said that the entire English press was aware of the CBI’s findings against the Special Cell.

In February 2011, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat, acquitting seven alleged Kashmiri terrorists, ordered an FIR to be registered against the Delhi Police Special cell’s Sub Inspector Ravinder Tyagi and three other sub-inspectors for framing the accused. He also ordered the Delhi Police Commissioner to
Hold an inquiry against the four policemen, who he said, had “brought shame and disrepute to the entire Delhi police force”.

Both the Asian Age and The Indian Express reported this judgment, with the latter even interviewing the Kashmiris who were acquitted. But again, there was no follow-up on this indictment by the court against such high-profile policemen. By this time, Ravinder Tyagi had won a President’s medal; his name had also figured in the infamous Batla House encounter.

In January 2012, Amir Khan was acquitted after spending 14 years in jail for a total of 19 cases foisted on him. Almost every paper published the story of his frame-up by Delhi’s Special Cell and his acquittal in 17 of them.

Yet, despite being aware of all these indictments and irregularities, when the Delhi Police Special Cell arrested journalist Syed Kazmi in March this year for the bomb attack on the car carrying an Israeli diplomat’s wife in Delhi, all newspapers faithfully reproduced the police version with the word “alleged” featuring occasionally–the moped left in Kazmi’s house by the bomber; the $ 5000 first installment received by Kazmi from the bombers… The team in charge of the case included many familiar names whose earlier cases had ended in acquittal. But no scepticism was voiced.

Kazmi’s son’s version was of course reported a few days later.


Again, in December 2010, when two alleged Hizb-ul-Mujaheedin members were arrested from Dehradun, reports speculated whether the Indian Military Academy was the target. None of the reports bothered to mention that not even a year earlier, four youth arrested for allegedly planning a terror strike on the IMA had been honourably acquitted.

There appears to exist a marked sympathy towards the Special cell, which emerges in the frequent use of words such as “Special Cell dealt a blow” or “Special Cell resurrects with triple hit” (this from TOI). This report rejoiced at the return of ACP Sanjeev Yadav to the Cell. Yadav features in many of the cases documented by the JTSA report.

When courts and respected investigative agencies accuse the same police unit more than once of framing innocents, and the press, instead of highlighting these indictments, plays them down, how can the victims so framed get the publicity they deserve? Two cases cited in the JTSA report on the acquittal of Ayaz Ahmed shah, an alleged Kashmiri terrorist, are important here.

An acquittal does not mean that the accused is innocent. However, only after going through the judgment can you conclude whether the acquittal was based on technicalities or there was just no case against the accused. Quoting the judgment, the JTSA report shows that Ayaz Ahmed Shah was acquitted after the prosecution’s story was found riddled with holes. The depositions of Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, the inspector gunned down in the Batla House encounter, and other members of the Special Cell team who arrested Shah, were found riddled with discrepancies and contradictions. Shah had been picked up on the basis of a tip off from an informer. But under cross-examination, the policemen admitted that the informer had neither revealed the suspect’s name nor description!

Yet, Midday reported on Shah’s acquittal with this headline: “Another terrorist goes free”, while The Telegraph described Shah as an “outlaw” who “slipped through”.

However, newspapers do follow-up on acquittals. Tehelka specially, does so regularly. Doing so is neither compensation nor a favour to those released. What is needed is simply news exposing the way our police have made it their dharma to frame innocent Muslims with terror charges.

Post Script:

The Delhi Police Special Cell in a rebuttal to the JTSA report claims that “six cases out of 16 referred to in the compilation have actually ended in conviction, while one case is still pending trial”.(Reported in The Hindu, September 20).

However, responding to this, the JTSA has listed out each of the 16 cases and pointed out that only in one of them were four out of the ten accused convicted of terror charges. The convictions that have been secured in other cases have been under the Arms Act or the Explosives Act, not on the charges of terrorist conspiracy or waging war against the State. “Courts have clearly held that there was nothing to prove that the accused were members or activists of terrorist organizations, or that they intended to carry out terror attacks,” says the rebuttal.

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SC stays Veerappan aides’ hanging for 6 Weeks

Hanging of four aides of sandalwood smuggler Veerappan has been further delayed with the Supreme Court on Wednesday extending its interim order staying the execution of death sentence imposed on them for killing 22 police personnel in a landmine blast in Karnataka in 1993.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir said it was keeping the matter pending since another bench, which has heard an identical plea, has reserved its judgement.

“In our view, the proper course of action is to adjourn the matter until another bench renders its judgement on similar matters. Therefore, accordingly we adjourn the hearing of this matter for six months to enable another bench to deliver the judgement in another pending matter.

“As a consequence, the interim order staying the execution of petitioners (Veerappan aides) passed on February 18 shall continue” until further orders, the bench also comprising justices A R Dave and Vikramajit Sen said.

The bench noted that the subject matter of the petition was relating to the right of the death row convicts to get their sentence commuted to life imprisonment on account of delay of execution of their death sentence.
“This is the main question involved when this matter was taken by us. It was brought to our notice that other writ petitions involving the same issue were heard by a bench of two judges in which senior advocates Ram Jethmalani and T R Andhyarujina were requested as amicus curiae,” the bench said.

Veerappan’s elder brother Gnanaprakash and his aides Simon, Meesekar Madaiah and Bilavendran were awarded death sentence in 2004 in connection with a landmine blast at Palar in Karnataka in 1993 in which 22 police personnel were killed.

Their mercy petition was rejected by President Pranab Mukherjee on February 13 and they are presently lodged in a jail in Belgaum in Karnataka.

A TADA court in Mysore had in 2001 sentenced them to life term which was enhanced to death sentence by the apex court.

Gang leader Veerappan was killed in an encounter with the Tamil Nadu Police in October 2004.

The apex court also noted that the judgement in the writ petition heard by another bench on the issue was reserved on April 19, 2012.

The bench said it has been informed by Additional Solicitor General Haren Raval that while considering the two writ petitions, of Devender Pal Singh Bhullar and M N Das, the other bench had the occasion to consider similar matters in which the mercy petitions were pending before the President.

The CJI said that since another bench has already heard and reserved its judgement on the issue, there is a possibility that the pleas of Veerappan aides can be heard by the same bench also.

The court is hearing two petitions, out of which one was filed by the four convicts and the other by advocate Samik Narain, on their behalf.

Urging the apex court to intervene, the four death convicts pleaded that a decision on their mercy petition has been delayed by nine years and as per its earlier order they are entitled to seek remedy for undue long delay in the execution of the sentence of death.

“Nine years delay in disposal of the petitioners’ mercy petitions has given them a right to approach this Court or the High Court to seek a commutation of the sentence of death,” the petition said.

On the last date of hearing, the court gave Narain the liberty to amend and rectify the petition after objections were raised on its maintainability by Attorney General G E Vahanvati who was asked to assist the court.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the four convicts, had said their execution should be stayed as another apex court bench had reserved its order on a plea for commuting death sentence to life imprisonment on the ground of delay in deciding mercy plea.

Gonsalves had referred to the petitions filed by the two condemned prisoners, Bhullar and Das, on whose plea for commutation of capital punishment to life term on the ground of delay, the apex court reserved its verdict in April last year.

The bench earlier had said that hearing this matter may also have a bearing on the petitions filed by the death row convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case against the rejection of their mercy petition.

The apex court had on May 1 last year had decided to adjudicate itself the pleas of Rajiv Gandhi killers — Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan alias Arivu — against their death penalty due to the delay of over 11 years in deciding their mercy petitions by the President.

The Madras High Court had earlier stayed their hanging and had issued notices to the Centre and the Tamil Nadu government.

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Lawyers for change

To recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of the vulnerable.

A three-day meet brought together 80 young lawyers from across the country to recognize the importance of safeguarding and extending the rights of the vulnerable.

The Centre for Social Justice & National Dalit Movement for Justice, a socio-legal NGO, organized a National Meet of Social Justice Lawyers as part of its “Lawyers for Change” Fellowships programme at New Delhi from the 28-30 April, 2012 at Navinta, Okhla-New Delhi.

It comprised of sessions where eminent personalities shared experiences on use of law as a tool of social change, human rights interventions, court room practice and public interest litigations.

The opening speech was made by Mr. Gagan Sethi, Vice Chairperson of Centre for Social Justice, who spoke about the Centre’s journey of engaging with lawyers. The Lawyers for Change Program had been a dream of Gagan and is the first systematic effort of bringing young lawyers from across the country for social justice lawyering.

Ms. Farah Naqvi from the National Advisory Council, in her inaugural speech spoke powerfully about the need for an army of social justice lawyers both inside and outside the courtroom. She articulated the worry she faces in doing her work on changing public policy, because of the stream of new laws being passed by Parliament, but the abysmal lack of implementation its existing laws. She urged the young lawyers to challenge the system through their lawyering, and appealed to them to humanize the legal system, and dignify every victim who approaches them.

Professor Babu Matthew in his keynote address congratulated Mr. Gagan Sethi for creating a space for young law graduates to involve in social sector. Using the labour law sector as an example, Prof Matthew directed attention to the unique, old model of development existing in India, which was rights-based, and which was destroyed with the advent of neo-libralism. According to him, to advance in the field of social justice lawyering, is to return to the old model of development. He ended by emphasizing the importance of a community of Lawyers for Change in this journey.

Mr. Tridip Pais, advocate from New Delhi, speaking on the topic of “Sensitive Lawyering – Integrating response to human rights within mainstream practice” began by sharing how he devoted 75% of his time to mainstream cases and 25% to what he broadly categorized as “free cases” – social action litigation. In his opinion, a lawyer has a responsibility, in his free cases, to represent clients who don’t have the option of another lawyer.

Maneka Guruswamy, who practices in the Supreme Court echoed the importance to have access to a decent standard of living as well as do interesting work and simultaneously making a difference and bring craft and quality lawyering to the courtroom, as well as maintaining a level of professional detachment. She also voiced her concern about the extraordinary gap between the world of legal scholarship – reading, writing and critical thinking – and actual legal practice, and the need to bridge the same.

In the Post-lunch session Ms. Geeta Ramaseshan, Senior Lawyer, Madras High Court speaking on “Experiences from the Civil Liberty Movement.” shared her experiences from the 1980s. She spoke about the different kinds of strategies used on behalf of victims of oppression to get them justice. And stated how she found Public Interest Litigations to be very risky. This is because with the dismissal of the case, the court washes its hands off it, making the political process around it much more challenging. So use PILs cautiously and as a last resort. She also shared her misgivings about the use of media for litigation. And ended by asking the young lawyers present to rise to the occasion and practice social justice and build a constant repository of knowledge in the process.

Ms. Vrinda Grover, a Human Rights Advocate from New Delhi talked about the inextricable linkage of law with politics and her experiences regarding communal violence and Kashmir. She stressed on the need for every lawyer to work bottom-up, from the lower-most courts as those were the actual arenas of human rights work. However, lawyering in her opinion needs to be done both within the courtroom and outside it, and research and writing are as important an aspect of human rights lawyering as practice. Moving on to ethics, Ms. Grover expressed her problem with the second-rate lawyering done in free cases of public interest, and the express accountability of lawyers to each and every client they represent.

Mr. Prasad Sirivella and Mr. Paul Divakar from NCDHR took the last session on Dalit Rights. Mr. Sirivella presented a statistical analysis of atrocities taking place on Dalits across the country, and how they are affected not only by non-implementation of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act but also by other social welfare legislations. Mr. Divakar, apart from caste-based violence, spoke about gender-based violence and drew parallels between the two. He concluded by speaking about the transformation taking place within the legal system, and the hope for better legislations and implementation in the future.

The second day started with the Joint Registrar (Law) of the National Human Rights Commission Mr. A. K. Parashar. He spoke about role of lawyers in ensuring Human rights. He talked about NHRC, its role, powers and functions and its association with 40 young lawyers. He emphasized that all human rights are connected with dignity and as lawyers we have the responsibility to preserve them. He also shared some gross violations of Human Rights in different states and the interventions done by the NHRC. The NHRC provides platform to young lawyers in the form of internships, funding individual proposals for awareness programmes, sensitization programs etc. He also talked about having started the “Open hearing” concept which is going to take place at different states including Gujarat, Ahmedabad on the 14th May, 2012.

Ms. Sudha Bhardwaj from Raipur/Chhattisgarh talked about “The legal face of corporate land grab”. She shared her experiences of working with the trade Unions and fighting cases for them. She talked about the Janhit’s model which was providing legal aid to “Sangathan’s” and not individuals as we can reach out to a mass of people, which creates a snowball effect. She emphasized the importance of ground work and getting it linked with the court room lawyering. Ground and court work together as two legs. She said that as young lawyers it’s our responsibility to help people to go to the right forums with right legal sharpness to decide where and where to intervene for justice.

Ms. Shruti Pandey, Programme Officer, Ford Foundation, talked about Policy Formulation – Challenges and Learning. He spoke about using law as a tool for social justice and not the end in itself. Some major challenges in implementation are related to financial resources, human resources, knowledge, grip and lack of mechanisms of accountability. She advised that if we are Social Justice Lawyers, we have to understand policy from start to the end process with a political understanding.

Ms. Kajalbhardwaj, spoke on “Intellectual Property Regime and its impact on the vulnerable”. She suggested that as lawyers and advocates we can bring up HIV patients etc. into patents office, give legal training and empower them, approach courts on right to health, intervene in cases where companies sue government to remove health safeguards etc. and discussed some landmark cases.

Justice S. Murlidhar talked about “Practical Legal Strategies for Ensuring Human Rights”. He started with his journey of being a student of law. He urged the young lawyers not to start a special practice but be a generalized lawyer initially and see how courts function. He said, people see law as negative and a tool for oppression. It is our responsibility to change this perception. He highlighted the art of listening, honesty to the clients and lawyers towards each other, the importance of written communications, the quality and the importance of a good drafting, and last but not the least the importance of reading and hard work for a lawyer. He raised his concern over slum dwellers and suggested interventions by doing survey’s about the people there, their problem relating to health, education, work etc. and then argue for their rights, seeing an issue holistically. He ended up saying our efforts and advocacy should be such as to make the bench listen to you.

The first person of the 3rd day was Abusaleh Shariff, Executive Director, US India Policy Institute. He said in the actual practice the citizenship rights have not reached to all people and therefore as Lawyers you have to reach out and change the system and utilize the Constitutional rights to ensure justice to all the citizens of the country.

Ms Veena Gawda a practicing Feminist Advocate in the Bombay High Court spoke on the challenges in her experience of lawyering as feminist. She wants to ensure any rights for women whatever they are by use of law all through. To be a lawyer is a very challenging choice of profession in a cosmopolitan city in our Indian society today and so she urges the young lawyers to take up as the challenge for the cause of justice for the people especially women.

Mr. Amitabh Behar Executive Director, National Foundation for India said, it is very important for the advocates to understand and take part in the grassroot level right from the village gram sabhas to the district level and then bring impact to the approach paper in front of the planning commission of India. As in the process of decentralize planning it could of immense help.

Mr. Arvind Narrain, Founder of Alternative Law Forum spoke on the Rights of Sexual minorities and to fight for injustice in the communities as group of social lawyers for change. The provision of law needs political intervention. The notion of morality is constitutional morality.

Wajahat Habibullah Chairperson, National Commission for Minorities India said, “When the justice is denied to the vulnerable there is where lawyers are to be there and fight in groups as lawyers for justice.” The question whether the muslims in Gujarat enjoy the right to life? Many lives were taken away in the name of the religion. He asked, Can a country like India have within the whole community internal disparities? Kashmiri Pandits internally displaced, the Christians of Kandhamal did not get back to their homes deprived from schools, hospitals, and jobs etc.

The 3 day meet closed with a fire in the hearts of young lawyers now ready to take up social justice lawyering.

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