POTA Victims Seek Justice

On March 13 and 14, POTA victims from all over the country deposed at a People’s Tribunal on POTA and other central security legislations held at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi. Participants included victims of POTA and other security acts from several states – Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur and Bihar. Several advocates and human rights activists who are fighting for their cases also deposed before the Panel of judges for the tribunal.

In his opening remarks, Colin Gonzalves said that “POTA is clearly being used for the extortion and intimidation of movements for civil liberties and human rights.” POTA is currently in operation in 10 states, and there are several separate security legislations for each state, like the Arms Act, Gangster Act, Explosives Act, Goonda Act, and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Nasir Mulla, father of one of the accused in the Ghatkopar bomb case, testified as to how his son and other members of the minority community were systematically humiliated and tortured, and one of them was beaten so brutally in the lock-up to extract a confession from him, that he vomited blood and died.

10 year-old Om Prakash from Sonebhadra district of Eastern UP, spoke of howw he was picked up when a student of Class 5. The police, who charged him with 3 criminal cases of murder, landmine blasting and rifle-snatching, refer to him as a ‘dreaded naxalite’. One of his brothers was accused of conspiring in the murder of a local landlord, branded as a naxalite and shot dead by the police in cold blood in a staged éncounter’. He recounted how he was illegally detained in a hotel for a 2 days, beaten up with chappals and threatened with electric shocks if he did not confess to being a naxalite. He spent 6 months in a juvenile prison. “In UP, tribals and dalits who are engaged in movements for land reform, against bonded labour and eviction are booked under POTA and other security legislations. They easily earn the label of ‘naxalites’”, said Roma, a social activist from the area.

In Jharkhand too, it is the same story of POTA being used to terrorise those involved in radical movements. Nitai Rawani, a member of PUCL who was part of a fact-finding team that had visited Jharkhand in 2003, described how the police come in huge contingents and raid the villages, forcing villagers to flee, and booking anyone left in the villages. 3200 people, mostly adivasis, dalits, poor peasants and women have been registered under POTA in that state. Sanjay Mahto, a teacher deposed before the panel, that he was accused of being the commander of a terrorist group, detained illegally, torturedand made to sign blank papers and also lost his job. The case of POTA against him was withdrawn due to a public outcry, but other criminal cases continue. 16 year-old Roopni Khari of Gumla district was charged under POTA due to her active role in the women’s movement.

In Gujarat, POTA was first invoked after the Godhra incident. 287 people were booked under POTA in a single year, every single one of whom is a Muslim. Most of them were doing small jobs like electricians, radio or TV repair mechanics, drivers, teachers, shopkeepers, were below thirty years of age and were the sole breadwinners. They were subjected to third degree torture, including electric shocks in the private parts, moving rollers on their bodies, making them drink urine and so on. They were threatened that their families would be killed if they did not confess to the crime, and their families were also threatened with encounter killings. Rashid Machiswala, whose son Anis is in Sabarmati jail, said he was threatened while coming to depose.

Kumudini Pati of CPI(ML) Liberation spoke on behalf of 14 TADA detenues from Jehanabad, Bihar. She recounted how in 1988, 26 CPI(ML) leaders and supporters including 5 children were booked under TADA. The 5 children could not be tried since there was no juvenile court in Jehanabad, 2 of the accused died in jail, a few were set free after a long jail period, and 14, including Shah Chand, the Mukhia of Bhadasi and a senior member of the Waqf Board, were recently sentenced to life in a special TADA court. The only shred of ‘évidence’ was the statement of a single SI (all other police witnesses had turned hostile), and even he had never seen the accused before the day of the attack, yet claimed to have recognised them from behind “as they were fleeing”. She pointed out how the Laloo- Rabri Government had no qualms about using TADA to settle scores with CPI(ML) leaders, and to warn people not to join the movement.

The depositions ended with the video clipping of a young Manipuri girl on a hunger strike in custody for the past 4 years against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Manipur.

Panelist Arundhati Roy described POTA as a “law being used by a fascist government for fascist ends”. Another panelist, RamJethmalani regretted having supported POTA before, and said that he had “no doubt now that it must go lock, stock and barrel”.

The Panel will prepare its judgement within the next month.