Tribunal Strikes Down SIMI Ban –
But Communalism Continues in Courts


On 5 August 2008, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal headed by Justice Geeta Mittal struck down the ban on SIMI. The judgement was greeted in characteristic fashion by the Hindu Right led by the BJP and a major section of the corporate media, who cried hoarse that SIMI is a terrorist outfit – no matter what the evidence says. However, this was expected from the Hindutva brigade and its corporate propagandists. Mukul Kesavan, in his column in The Telegraph on 7 August wrote-"There is something reassuring about a mainstream judge....resisting the anxieties of the time, to insist that the government meets the standards of evidence set out in the law. The reason this is important is because it allows us to re-invest our faith in the system." Justice Mittal’s verdict was indeed a valiant one considering the tense atmosphere created by the Bangalore and Ahmedabad blasts and with investigating agencies hinting at a possible SIMI involvement(though without any proof) in both the outrages. But unfortunately for Kesavan and others who seek reassurances to “reinvest our faith in the system”, the day before the article was published (presumably after it was written), the Supreme Court reinforced the ban and sought a reply from SIMI – in effect characteristically putting the onus on the accused to prove his innocence, thus turning on its head the judicial norm of “assumed innocent till proven guilty.” The very next day Justice B N Aggarwal, the second senior-most member of the judicial aristocracy refused to hear the Ghaziabad General Provident Fund scam when confronted by senior lawyer Shanti Bhushan after the judge refused to allow proceedings against the accused judges without the permission of the Chief Justice of India. And on 8 August, in line with the anti-people judgement in the Singur land acquisition case by the Kolkata High Court, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead to the Posco and Sterlite projects in Orissa, in spite of overwhelming opposition of the local people. Those verdicts, if anything, reinforced the increasingly anti-people bent and character of the Indian judiciary.  

Subsequently, the state machinery and media have gone all out to pin the blame for the Ahmedabad blasts on the SIMI. It will again take years to prove if this time around, there is any evidence to indict SIMI. 

SIMI is, no doubt, a fundamentalist outfit. We are not called to agree with its views. But the persecution of its members, and branding of them as ‘terrorists’ without a shred of evidence for the last 8 years (since the ban on SIMI by the NDA Government in 2001) can never be condoned. No organization should be banned just because the state wants it banned. There should be sufficient grounds and incontrovertible evidence before an organization is declared illegal. Surely a good place to start is the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, two organizations whose overt involvement in the 2002 genocide in Gujarat is something which they themselves do not deny?

- Supriyo Chowdhury

Communal Assault on Human Rights Lawyer in UP 

Mayawati may claim to have opposed the Nuke Deal because she deemed it “anti-Muslim” and herself the new symbol of ‘secularism’, but the ground reality of the state she rules over tells another tale. This is the reality of fake encounters, surreptitious arrests, endless incarceration, unspeakable torture and unfounded allegations of being ‘Islamic terrorists’. Ah, that catch-all phrase that absolves all state crime, even turning it into national duty. In short, all the makings a Police State.

According to Human Rights activists in the state, there is no clear count of the number of Muslim youth picked up by the Uttar Pradesh police and the dreaded Special Task Force (STF); nor any independent scrutiny of the several encounters staged by the police and STF, where corpses of “HuJI and Lashkar militants” have been displayed to the media. Peoples’ Union for Human Rights (PUHR) tracked the cases of those charged with plotting terrorist strikes in Ayodhya, the CRPF camp in Rampur, the Varanasi blasts etc. They were all invariably picked up by the STF, tortured for a few days, confessions extracted, and then shown as having been arrested with a cache of arms and RDX. But of course, given the prevailing atmosphere of jingoist ‘war on terror’, few paused to question the veracity of the STF/Police’s claims. In 2005, the Varanasi Bar Association passed a resolution, imposing a ban on its members from defending these ‘terrorists’. Several Bar Associations in U.P. clamouring to prove their own nationalist credentials followed suit. Some brave lawyers however were intent on defying this ban. Mohammad Shoaib and A M Faridi were among those. And indeed, Mohammad Shoaib was able to secure the acquittal of Aftab Ansari, who the UP STF and West Bengal CID claimed was a hard-core terrorist of HuJI and had supplied RDX for attacks on the Sankatmochan temple at Varanasi, serial attacks at Gorakhpur, bomb blasts at courts in Varanasi, Faizabad and Lucknow. He was also claimed to have been arrested with 1.5 Kg of RDX. After continuous torture for 22 days, neither West Bengal CID nor UP STF could substantiate their allegations. Instead, proof provided by the mother of the accused in his favour was upheld and he was released. The UP STF and West Bengal CID later pleaded that it was a case of mistaken identity.

If Aftab’s case proved how urgent it was to provide legal aid in these cases, it also brought Mohammad Shoaib and A M Faridi under increased attacks from the communal forces within the judiciary. They were manhandled, abused and attacked for defending ‘Pakistanis’ by a group of lawyers whenever they made their appearances in the court in connection with these cases. In fact, on several occasions, activists from the PUHR had to accompany them to the court to protect them. On 5 April 2008, in Barabanki, Mohammad Shoaib, when appearing in the case of Mohd. Tariq and Mohd. Khalid Mujahid (see Liberation May 2008, ‘STF Terror in UP’) was restrained by a group of advocates led by Pradeep Singh, Secretary of the Barabanki Bar Association, who forced him to withdraw the vakalatnama. In May 2008, in Faizabad, he was again gheraoed, abused and insulted by a group led by the office-bearers of Faizabad Bar Association.

Most recently, on 12 August, Mohammad Shoaib was brutally assaulted by a band of lawyers led by Jitendra Yadav, while he was in the court to appear in the Session Trial 162/ 2008 and 163/ 2008 (Naushad versus the State). It was only at the intervention of others present in the court that he was rescued. His FIR was not registered in the Wazirganj thana. The same day, Advocate A M Faridi was also assaulted in his chamber by a band of lawyers shouting slogans of ‘Pakistan Murdabad.’

On 13 August, he sent a copy of his complaint through registered post to the SSP Lucknow and hand-delivered his complaint to the District Judge. Following this, the same group of lawyers again attacked him in the court premises. His clothes were torn, spectacles broken and he was forcibly paraded throughout the court premises in this state.

Following this humiliation and physical assault, Mohd. Shoaib went to the Collectorate and sent senior lawyers A B Solomon and Harishankar Shukla to a senior High Court Judge, Pradeep Kant, with his complaint. Pradeep Kant subsequently summoned a report on the incident from the District Judge. Mohd. Shoaib had to undergo treatment at the Civil Hospital for his injuries. Shoaib and Faridi remain under constant threat while his tormentors roam free. It is also learnt that the Lucknow Bar Association responded to this attack by expelling Faridi and Shoaib for having defied their whip!

On 21 August, Forum for Democratic Initiatives called a press conference condemning the blatantly communal attacks on Shoaib and Faridi. The Press Conference was also addressed by well-known lawyers and leading Human Rights activists. Former President of PUCL and Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, Justice Rajinder Sachar labelled this attack as contempt of court. He added that the District Judge, to whom Shoaib had personally given his complaint, was duty bound to act on this complaint. K.G. Kannabiran, President, PUCL, clarified that Bar Associations had no rights and powers to pass resolutions restraining their members from taking up any case, and that such bans were reflective of increasing intolerance and fascist tendencies in the country. Vrinda Grover, lawyer in the Supreme Court, added that while such resolutions and whips were by no means absent before, one could see a clear communal pattern emerging today. Prashant Bhushan said that attempts to deny legal recourse to those accused of terrorism will only provoke alienation and distrust among Muslim youth, which will in fact spur terrorism, and not curb it. Colin Gonsalves said that it was also important to remember that such communal and fascist assaults by a section, indeed the majority, of the legal fraternity had been resisted and rebuffed by at least a section of lawyers, be it in Gujarat or in U.P. The Press Conference was also addressed by Kavita Krishnan, CC member, CPI(ML) who said that the incidents indicated the how rare it would be for innocents accused of terrorism to secure justice in such a hostile and prejudiced atmosphere. 

Advocate Ravindra Garia for the Forum for Democratic Initiatives put forth the demand that 

-         All offending lawyers who indulged in the assault be brought to book without delay.

-         Action against Police officers who refused to register Md. Shoaib’s FIR

-         Adequate security for Md. Shoaib to ensure the performance of his professional duties without fear

-         U.P. Bar Council take note of the Bar Association’s illegal expulsion of Mohammad Shoaib and A.M. Faridi and initiate action against the Bar Association.

- Manisha, Radhika, Ravindra


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