On the morning of 31st October eight male Muslim undertrials- Amjad Khan, Mehboob alias Guddu, Zakir Hussain, Mohammad Salik, Akeel Khilji, Mohammad Khalid, Mujeeb Shaikh, Majid- all accused in SIMI related cases, were brutally shot dead by the Madhya Pradesh (MP) Police. As per the police, the eight had allegedly escaped from Bhopal Central Jail, were armed and dangerous, and the police had no option but to take them out. The facts recounted by the police about the jail break have since been disproved or are at the very least highly contested. How could eight inmates scale a 30 feet wall? How could they evade the surveillance of watch towers and security cameras? The absence of arms, of bullets; photographs of the undertrials with arms raised in attitudes of surrender; of policemen shooting at the fallen men, contradictory statements from authorities, bullet injuries primarily above the waist -are only some of the questions that give the lie to the official story, and point towards a cold blooded custodial killing. The MP Police and state and central governments, however, have literally held on to their guns, justifying the police action.
Apart from the patently false claims regarding the ‘encounter’, there are connections between the killings, which point towards a nefarious design, an escalation in the MP police’s anti-Muslim actions using SIMI. Recent events suggest that to the earlier use of UAPA, membership of banned organisation and circulation of banned literature, has been added the dimension of fake encounters, building on allegedly attempted or successful jail breaks. The following are illustrative.
A Prelude- the Khandwa Jail Break
Of the eight killed, three were part of the six SIMI undertrials- Abu Faisal, Aijajuddin, Aslam, Amjad, Mehboob alias Guddu, and Zakir Hussain - who escaped in the nefarious Khandwa jail break of October 2013.
Since their escape in October 2013, the five absconding (Faisal was rearrested soon after) Khandwa jail break undertrials had been among the favourite bogeymen of the MP police, ATS and NIA. They had been touted as accused in investigations of terror crimes, or terror threats across the country, with an astounding regularity, in crimes ranging from plans to kill RSS and BJP leaders; blasts in Pune, Bengaluru, to explosions in Bijnor, UP; to the Chennai railway station; to armed robberies in Karimnagar, Satna (MP) to name just a few.
By October 2016 all five had been shot dead. Aslam and Aijajuddin were shot dead by the ATS in Nalgonda in April, 2015, days before five Muslim undertrials being taken to court were killed in the police vehicle when they allegedly tried to overpower their seventeen strong police escort. The killings significantly occurred in the same month just before 17 SIMI accused were acquitted in the Hubli case.
The three other surviving Khandwa escapees -Amjad, Mehboob alias Guddu, and Zakir Hussain- rearrested from Rourkela in Orissa (together with Mohammad Salik who too was killed) in February 2016, too are dead by 31st October, 2016.
Who are the dead? What are the stories of these ‘notorious terrorists’?
While PUDR has been able to recover only four of the stories, and these too remain incomplete, there are patterns in common that highlight our concerns about the targetting of Muslims, the politics of terror and the complicity of the police agencies.
The three infamous Khandwa jail escapees- Amjad Khan, a wage labourer with no police record, had his first encounter with the police in 2007 when he became a witness in a case of a local skirmish. First arrested under UAPA in 2008 for storing SIMI publication, he was finally acquitted in early 2013. In the meantime however, Amjad was named with fourteen others for allegedly hatching a terror plot in Akeel Khilji’s house in Khandwa on the night of 13th June. Ten were arrested; five fled. A few days earlier, his family had filed a plea about illegal detention. The police finally did not list a charge against Amjad. Notably, the 13th June case made headlines in September 2015 when nine of the accused were acquitted, including Akeel Khilji, another of the dead. However, Amjad continued to be in jail as he had also been implicated in the murder of an ATS Constable in November 2011.
The case against Mehboob, a tailor from Khandwa, who took up stitching work from shops, also dates back to 2008 in the wake of Hindu-Muslim altercations in their locality. Mehboob was arrested for inciting communal hatred. He was acquitted in the 2008 case, but was accused of involvement in the murder of ATS Constables in 2009 and 2011, and planning attacks against RSS-BJP functionaries.
Following the arrest of people from his locality in 2008, Zakir, a mason, fled. June 2011 was a crucial year for Zakir, a construction worker with no prior record, as well. He was picked up allegedly from the Ratlam railway station after sustaining a bullet injury in a shootout. He was arrested under UAPA, and accused in serious cases including planning to murder RSS- BJP leaders to avenge Muzzafarnagar. The police case against Zakir was based on a confession which according to his lawyer, he hadn’t signed.
An important SIMI operative, Akeel Khilji- The pattern of arrests under UAPA, acquittals, slapping of more cases, continuing incarceration and finally custodial killing, ie, the witchhunt being carried out against Muslims in the guise of the SIMI terror cases, and the lawlessness of the MP police, is perhaps most vividly illustrated in Akeel Khilji’s case.
In the 13th -14th July 2011 raid mentioned above, on a banned meeting in his house, ten people were arrested under S. 153 (A) IPC, S 3, 10, 13 (membership of a banned organization) of the UAPA and Sections 25 and 27 of the Arms Act, while five others escaped. The police was categorically on the lookout for Khilji as he was said to be an important SIMI functionary. Akeel Khilji was arrested in Maharashtra in March 2012 on the basis of his nephew Khaleel Khilji’s police confession elicited in the course of a staged encounter. Khaleel Khilji was shot at and badly injured by the Maharashtra ATS on 26th March 2012, near Aurangabad. After the initial bungling over names, as the police was not sure who it had killed and who it had injured, it maintained that the injured Khaleel Khilji (it had killed Azhar Qureshi), was as dreaded as his uncle, Akeel Khilji. Interestingly, when this “encounter” was presented before the 2014 Tribunal, the investigating officer, AS Nandedkar, had to admit that he had nothing by way of proof, to show that Khaleel Khilji was a SIMI member.
Akeel Khilji was first arrested in 2001 during the nation-wide crackdown, following the first ban on SIMI by the then NDA led government. He was arrested on charges of anti-national activities and booked under S. 153 (A) and S. 13 of the UAPA, even though the supposed SIMI activities included four calendars of SIMI printed before it was banned, a pamphlet and three press clips against the ban on the organization. Subsequently Khilji was charged for other offences, in 2006, in 2008 and, of course, in 2011. Despite his multiple offences, he was acquitted in the first case (of 2001) in October 2012 by a Khandwa court as the judge could not find anything objectionable in the literature recovered from him. On 30th September 2015, he was acquitted a second time. He had however, other cases against him and was not discharged. A year later he has been killed.
Why had these undertrials outlived their use by date?
An answer can perhaps be sought in the fact that with their deaths, several ‘SIMI terror cases’ have either closed or fallen apart. All those facing trial in the parking lot explosion of the Faraskhana PS, Pune of July, 2014, being investigated by the ATS, are now dead. The Bijnor (UP) case of 2014, of an explosion in a house while making a bomb, handed over to the NIA in 2015, in which it was yet to file a chargesheet too now seems destined for closure, as all six accused, ie, the five Khandwa escapees, and Mohammad Saliq, also killed in the recent encounter, are all dead. The encounter killings seem to have come rather opportunely for the MP police and NIA, already infamous for filing fake cases, resulting in acquittals.
The violations are that much easier in MP as other mechanisms to safeguard human rights have been completely subverted. The MP Human Rights Commission has asked the DIG to submit a report on the encounter while the focus of its inquiry remains only on the security lapses. This is hardly surprising given that earlier headed by a retired Supreme Court judge or a High Court Chief Justice, the office of the Chairperson of MP Human Rights Commission is currently occupied by a retired IPS officer. The other rights’ watchdog, ie, civil society groups are also facing the wrath of the State. On 2nd November, while holding a protest on the Bhopal killings, Rajeev Yadao, and Shaqeel Kureishi, office bearers of Rihai Manch- an organisation fighting for rights of Muslims wrongly accused in terror crimes- were brutally beaten and detained by the police in Lucknow.
These cases in their entire unfolding, are proof of the targetting of Muslims through their rearrests in different crimes, the use of bans for incarceration, and the complete arbitrariness, prejudice and impunity of the police. The 31st October Bhopal encounter has taken it to a new low, with the Chief Minister asserting that all eight were dreaded terrorists who were consuming state resources (“chicken biryani”) due to extended trials and they deserved to be eliminated. The government has pitted the ‘sacrifice’ of the policeman killed against the alleged ‘sympathy’ for ‘terrorists’ exhibited by those raising questions, with state sponsored nationalism once again taking over rule of law and constitutional guarantees. For our government and law enforcement agencies to be not just complicit but active perpetrators in such acts is more dangerous than any crimes that terror organisations could inflict. Because the guilty here are also the keepers of the law, the judge and the jury.
- Immediate independent investigation into the so-called encounter killings
- Punishment of all guilty
- Lifting of the ban on SIMI
- Release of all SIMI detenues as they are completely unsafe in police custody
- Compensation to all those killed in fake encounters
Deepika Tandon and Moushumi Basu