Framing Innocents: Bias, Suspicion, Incarceration

SHOMA A.CHATTERJI
Thursday, July 13,2017

KOLKATA: Though there is no known data on those behind bars specifically on terror charges, hundreds of youths are believed to be incarcerated as under-trials in connection with alleged terror attacks or terror plots.

Muslims anyways have disproportionately high representation in jails. To be fair, it’s not just Muslims who appear to be at the receiving end of the biased system, about 65% of total jail inmates are Dalits, tribals or other backward community members according to the National Crime Bureau.

This detail was brought forth by Mohammed Reyaz who, besides being a researcher and a columnist, teaches at the Aliah University in Kolkata.

Framing Innocents--Bias, Suspicion, Incarceration & the Muslim youth was a screening-cum-lecture programme hosted by People’s Film Collective. PFC is an independent, autonomous, people-funded cultural-political collective based in West Bengal. Formed in 2013, it believes in the power of films as a weapon of pedagogy as well as alternative media for people.

Reyaz began his presentation through his unfolding of one of the most tragic stories of wrongful imprisonment. Gulzar Ahmed Wani was a 28-year-old PhD student when he was arrested on trumped-up terror charges in 2001. After 16 years of imprisonment, he was finally acquitted of all terror charges by a local court in Uttar Pradesh in May this year.

“What made Wani an easy scapegoat was that he was not only a Muslim but also a Kashmiri. Wani is still lucky to have survived as there are several reported cases of fake encounters. In several other cases, like Akshardham terror attack, the lower court had given death sentences to several accused and life to others (upheld by the HC), but the apex court not only acquitted them of all terror charges but also criticized the law enforcement agencies of wrongly incarcerating them and planting evidence,” Reyaz said.

He added that not that all terror cases are false. But in several recent cases accused incarcerated in jail sometimes for as long as 22 years and such instances are not exceptions but several have been well documented.

This was underscored by the three films screened, specially the two documentary films as they were shot live right through the filming without fictional interspersions. Farooq versus the State' deals with the controversial case of Farooq Mhapkar, one of the key persons who was wrongly accused in the Hari Masjid case, one of the most serious episodes of the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.

Hari Masjid, Wadala, Mumbai, was the scene of a brutal police attack on January 10, 1993. Though Farooq Mhapkar was one of the casualties of indiscriminate police firing, he was charged as a rioter. Farooq versus The State is the story of Farooq's protracted legal battle against an unyielding State in pursuit of justice. Through this case, the film seeks to explore how justice was delayed and denied to the victims and survivors of the 1992-93 communal violence. The film made in 2013, is narrated mainly from the first-person perspective of Farooq who is still fighting his case and is unwilling to give up.

The film takes a neutral stance and allows the visuals and dialogues to spell out the tragic story not only of Farooq Mhapkar but also of many innocent Muslims living in Wadala which used to be a pocket in a busy area of the city with Muslims and Hindus living in complete harmony as the people interviewed repeatedly said.

Abdul Haleem Khan, a resident of Wadala said, “Every other area in Mumbai was affected by the Babri Masjid incident and the city, in 1992, post Babri Masjid was spilling over with police attacks on Muslims. But Kidwai Nagar Colony was completely safe. So, we are puzzled about why and how this outburst by the local police happened suddenly on January 10, 1993.”

The name that comes up again and again right through the film, from some of the surviving victims who were injured but survived and even by former Supreme Court Justice B.N. Srikrishna was that of Inspector Nikhil Kapse. During an interview in the film, he says, “All evidence suggests, prima facie, that the police had opened fire on an innocent, unsuspecting group of namaazis by blocking all the entries and Nikhil Kapse, inspector of the local police station was prima facie guilty of this attack and for leading his team of policemen.”

But Nikhil Kapse went off scot free even after the Shiv Sena-led state government was replaced by the Congress which had promised the victims that justice would be done to them. Since the film was made in 2013, 20 years after the incident, it offers a retrospective and in-depth view of the incident that, placed against the backdrop of the current atrocities against the minorities and wrongful incarceration in new ligh.

Nitin Neera Chandra’s short film The Suspect is about a Muslim man who lands in trouble just because he happens to be a Muslim. Chandra said that the film \was inspired by a real life incident. 26 year old Abdul Rahim Ansari, arrives in Mumbai from Darbhanga (Bihar) to work as Production Assistant trainee a film unit in Mumbai.

Sanjay, his Darbhanga friend has done well and gets a job for Abdul and asks him to come to Mumbai. On the very day of his arrival, Ansari finds himself right in the middle of a terrorist attack.  Out of the blue, every news channel is flashing Abdul as the main culprit. His only source of identity is that he has a beard and wears a taveez on his neck. He hurriedly snips off his beard, takes off his cap and the taveez but cannot escape being captured because he happens to escape to the same lodge where the terrorists are planning their next attack.

Said Nikhil, “Nisar ud din Ahmad’s story shook me from within. I saw a photograph in which he was hugging his mother. He was in prison for 23 years. As a suspect he could not prove his innocence for years. There are times when a judicial system based on witnesses and facts fail too. My story is about such breakdowns.”

What struck me the most about the film is that the victimisation forces the innocent victim to strip, step by step, physical factors that go to build his entire persona such as the beard and the taveez.Can you imagine a man in a democratic republic being forced to strip himself of his faith and even then, trapped in a maze of injustice from which there is no exit?

Every year when this country celebrates freedom, thousands of innocent prisoners in Indian jails, waiting for justice without even a trial. Abdul Nasar Maudany is one such victim. The story of his tragedy forms the crux of K.P. Sasi’s 90-minute film Fabricated.

As a Muslim spiritual leader, he reacted strongly against the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. His house was attacked and he spent nine and a half years in jail. All the charges against him were proven false and even the judgement makes it clear that the case was fabricated. He was released without any compensation. No trial on those who were responsible for such fabrication was conducted.

But soon, Maudany was framed for another series of charges and he is still waiting for justice in Bangalore Parappana Agrahara jail. Maudany became a very popular leader among the Muslims. He founded the People’s Democratic Party and his fiery oratory attracted a massive audience. Several attempts were made on his life and in one bomb blast, he lost a leg. His wife was also imprisoned for no fault of hers and was later let off on bail.

The film clearly spells out that Maudany’s is not an isolated case, but several Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and activists from people’s movements go through similar experiences. The question raised by the film is “why is a person spending so many years in jail in without being proven guilty?” The film portrays the inner dynamics of the manner in which present institutions of the democratic system functions, so that a large number of innocent people can be framed and fabricated with false cases and dumped in jails for long periods, without the provision of basic human rights as per the requirements of Indian Constitution.

K.P. Sasi has directed 25 documentaries, three feature films and two music videos. They stand together in one direction: to implement justice, peace and democracy. “There are thousands of people out there crying loud for justice. All you have to do is to place a video camera in front of them and facilitate them to express themselves. When you record the voices of the voiceless, you become a finer human being.” says Sasi.

Abdul Nasar Maudany spent nine-and-half years in Coimbatore jail and then the judge said "you are innocent". The question is - why did Maudany have to spend nine-and-half years in jail only to hear these words? If this had happened in the United States, Canada, England or Australia, he would have received crores of rupees as compensation. But instead, he was targeted again with fabricated charges and sent back to prison. So far, no judge has ruled that he is guilty.

What about the media? According to Reyaz, “The media plays a diabolical role as it suffers from deeply engrained prejudices and Islamophobia. So while they do report sympathetically when some of them are acquitted, they continue to parrot the version of the police when next time police arrests them the next time and fail to question them. The latter makes “breaking news” and gets over the top coverage, while acquittal becomes an anchor or inside page story.”
 



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