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An Encounter With The Terror Police

By Sandeep Pandey

09 September, 2008

Shahbaz Hussain, 32, alleged Jaipur blasts suspect, alleged SIMI activist, was arrested after midnight on August 29 from the house of his father-in-law, Abdul Moid, in Lucknow where he lived with his wife and three children. As my wife Arundhati and I later learned, about 50 personnel from the Rajasthan Police and the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) had raided the house. Their primary object seemed to have been to confiscate all the literature they could find. Everything, including newspapers, even a cheque in the name of Zyna Computers, a training centre Shahbaz used to run. They also took Rs 1,000 from the purse of Shadaf, Shahbaz's wife.

The next day, we got a call from Shahbaz's brother-in-law, telling us the ATS was back and was forcing Moid to sign blank sheets of paper. We rushed there. I asked the officer in charge, Sangram Singh, Deputy Superintendent of the Rajasthan Police, why they were doing this. We were told they wanted to transfer rough maps of the shop and house they had drawn to the papers Moid had signed. Since there were only two maps, we asked what they wanted with the third sheet. They wouldn't say. I then asked whether Moid could be given a copy, and was told it would be no problem; it was then suggested we collect the drawings in a couple of hours from the ATS office, where the copies would be made. We did as asked. When we reached the ATS office, however, we were told Sangram Singh was away. We waited for some time in the hope that he would return. And then I spotted one man who had accompanied the team in the afternoon for the search operation. So I told him that we have come to get the copy of those maps, which were to be drawn on the blank sheets of paper on which Abdul Moid's signatures were taken. Could we have those copies? He said no. They were with the officer from Rajasthan and you will have to wait for him. We didn't know how long that wait would take and so we moved out of the office. I thought I will try to speak to the officer-in-charge; a gentleman in plain clothes met us, but unfortunately I did not get his name. When, while telling him our story, I mentioned the missing Rs 1,000, he went wild, and said we were accusing the police of theft. Matters worsened after this. Finally, he had his men literally throw us off the premises.

The question that comes to me after this is about the ATS, supposedly a very professional service, specially created to counter terrorism. They had already searched Shahbaz's office and his father-in-law's house. What, then, was the need for the second searches? The only conclusion is that they could not find anything the first time.

IWAS SHOCKED to read in The Indian Express that the ATS had retrieved integrated chips and the circuits of a bomb resembling the device used in Surat. When I checked with Moid, he said there was no such thing at the office or at their home. But there is no way he can prove that now, thanks to the investigating team having not made any search memo, a duly witnessed copy of which should have been given to Moid. Again, for a supposedly professional unit, this was in gross violation of all legal protocol.

Muslims across the country have long been saying what other communities, including the mainstream Hindu, are now increasingly beginning to suspect: whatever the media tell us is happening is not based on facts. A pattern in the terror arrests made in Uttar Pradesh: in most of these, the suspect has been arrested from his home, and later been shown to have been arrested from elsewhere.

Again, as reports by human rights organisations show, many of those arrested have no criminal background whatsoever, let alone a history of bearing cross-community ill-well. All of them, in fact, are very young people, and it is highly unlikely that they would be involved in activities of such nature.

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist who was awarded the Magsaysay Award in 2002

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 36, Dated Sept 13, 2008

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