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An Indian court has recently acquitted all accused in Samjhauta Express terrorist attack of February 2007 that claimed 68 lives, including lives of 43 Pakistan citizens, 10 Indian citizens and 15 unidentified people. This latest verdict came after the acquittal of these and other accused who had confessed to a series of bomb attacks on Muslim targets including Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Ajmer sufi shrine. These attacks claimed many innocent Muslim lives. The latest acquittals are a continuation of prior shameful judgements by Indian judges in Afzal Guru death sentence and Babri Masjid cases. These trends pose a serious existential threat to India's rule-of-law, democracy and economy.
Samjhauta Express Attack:
Immediately after the Samjhota Express attack in 2007, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as some Indian media organizations blamed Pakistan for the attack. Later, an investigation by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) concluded that the attack was carried out by four men - Swami Aseemanand, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma - linked to the Hindu far-right group Abhinav Bharat which has close ties to Narendra Modi's Hindu Nationalist BJP party.
In 160 page verdict, Special NIA court judge Jagdeep Singh said that the “best evidence” was “withheld” by the prosecution and was not brought on record. He said some of the cited independent witnesses were never examined or sought to be declared hostile for cross-examination when they chose not to support the prosecution case. With ‘anguish", the judge said that a ‘dastardly act’ has gone unpunished for lack of evidence.
In his order, the judge further said: “There are gaping holes in the prosecution evidence and an act of terrorism has remained unsolved. Terrorism has no religion because no religion in the world preaches violence. A Court of Law is not supposed to proceed on popular or predominant public perception or the political discourse of the day and ultimately it has to appreciate the evidence on record and arrive at final conclusion on the basis of relevant statutory provisions and settled law applicable thereto.”
Afzal Guru Execution:
Mohammad Afzal Guru was a Kashmiri who was convicted for his alleged role in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack. He was sentenced to death in a controversial judgment and executed on February 9, 2013.
In upholding the death sentence, the Indian supreme court acknowledged that the evidence against Guru was circumstantial: "As is the case with most conspiracies, there is and could be no evidence amounting to criminal conspiracy." But then, it went on to say: "The incident, which resulted in heavy casualties, had shaken the entire nation, and the collective conscience of society will only be satisfied if capital punishment is awarded to the offender." This shameful Indian Supreme Court verdict to approve Guru's execution is a great miscarriage of justice with few precedents in legal annals.
Babri Masjid Case:
In a majority verdict in 2010, India's Allahabad High Court judges gave control of the main disputed section, where Babri mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus.
This verdict set a dangerous precedent, raising alarms about hundreds of other mosques in India which are claimed as ancient temple sites by the violent Sangh Parivar. L.K. Advani and other major Hindutva leaders, including then Gujarat Chief Minister and now India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, welcomed it and vowed to build "Ram Temple" on two-thirds of the disputed land awarded by an extremely unwise and politically motivated decision of the Allahabad Court.
In his Ayodhya opinion, Justice S.U. Khan, the only Muslim judge in the three-judge panel of the Allahabad High Court, made a reference to the Treaty of Hudaibiya as follows: "When prophet Mohammad entered into a treaty with the rival group at Hudayliyah(sic), it appeared to be abject surrender even to his staunch supporters."
This quote from Justice Khan shows how defeated and marginalized even the very few well-educated and well-placed Indian Muslims feel at this point....something reflected throughout his verdict. He basically threw in the towel and gave in to the likes of Justice DM Sharma, the most unabashed pro-Hindutva judge on the panel who "established that the property in suit is the site of Janm Bhumi of Ram Chandra Ji" in his opinion.
This is the evidence of absolute Hindutva fascist dominance of India's "secular democracy" on the streets and in the courts of India. It has dramatically increased social hostilities against Indian minorities, according to a Pew Survey. It does not augur well for either democracy or secularism in India.
India's Justice System:
The recent court judgements raise the following question posed by India's Economic Times editors: "If a judge feels that the prosecution is waffling on purpose, why should he or she deliver a verdict? Why should the legal system not allow the judge to express dissatisfaction with the conduct of the prosecution and seek correctives before proceeding to conclude the hearing?"
Independent justice system is essential for Indian democracy which is facing an existential threat from Prime Minister Narendra's government pushing Hinduization of the country. It is also bad for India's economy as top economists have been warning New Delhi against rising intolerance, bigotry and violence in the country.
Prime Minister Modi's Re-Election:
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term as Prime Minister pf India in this year's general election. Some believe that his divisive policies and hateful rhetoric against Pakistan and Indian Muslims are designed to solidify the support of his Hindu Nationalist base. Will he succeed? And if he does, how will it impact India's future? Ashok Swain, professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University, Sweden has argued in a recent op ed that "India might not survive another five years of Modi". Here's an excerpt of what he wrote:
"India, a country of huge size and immense diversity, needs a functioning secular democratic structure to survive itself. The South Asian giant becoming a religious authoritarian state is not only a threat to its 172 million Muslims but also to the country’s unity and integrity. Indian polity can possibly be ripe enough to go through a peaceful secular democratic revolution in a period of five to ten years to overthrow an authoritarian leader, but the real risk is that a violent civil war might precede the popular revolution, and that India as a country most likely can’t afford".
An Indian court has recently acquitted all accused in Samjhauta Express terrorist attack of February 2007 that claimed 68 lives, mainly Muslims including lives of 43 Pakistan citizens, 10 Indian citizens and 15 unidentified people. This latest verdict came after the acquittal of these and other accused who had confessed to a series of bomb attacks on Muslim targets including Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Ajmer sufi shrine. These attacks claimed many innocent Muslim lives. These latest acquittals are a continuation of prior shameful judgements by Indian judges in Afzal Guru death sentence and Babri Masjid cases. These trends pose a serious existential threat to India's rule-of-law, democracy and economy.
Why have the world leaders warmly welcomed India's Modi back after shunning him for years for his role in Gujarat 2002 Massacre of Muslims? Celebrated Indian writer and rights activist Arundhati Roy explains to Mehdi Hasan of Aljazeera