Victims of persecution narrate their ordeal in online discussion organised by the Indian American Muslim Council, in collaboration with Hindus for Human Rights and other organisations
WASHINGTON — Various victims of persecution of the Indian government and global human rights activists on Wednesday declared that Indian judiciary has allowed itself to become an instrument in the hands of the Narendra Modi government to oppress minorities and deny them justice.
While speaking at a panel discussion on “Indian Judiciary: Complicit in Religious Persecution,” they said the starkest representation of judiciary’s decline could be seen in its failure to perform as a counter-majoritarian court.
Abdul Wahid Shaikh was in the prime of his youth at the age of 28 when the Police falsely implicated him along with 12 others in the 7/11 Mumbai train bomb blast case. He was acquitted by the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act court nine years later as the police failed to prove him guilty of the charges levelled against him. During the panel discussion, Abdul Wahid, now 42, shared his experiences from those horrifying nine years and disappointing role of judiciary as he witnessed.
“Muslim in India face the harsh brutality of the police administration in one hand and the biased approach of the courts on the other. It seems being a Muslim in India in itself has become a crime,” said Abdul Wahid who wrote a book titled Begunah Qaidi (Innocent Prisoner) documenting his experiences of nine years in prison.
Abdul Wahid said that during every court hearing he and other accused used to complain about police torture but they fell on deaf ears. “We were assured that we would be able to prove our innocence in the courts of law. But the judiciary acted like a stooge of the administration with almost no concern for truth and justice.”
He highlighted the hypocrisy and double standard of the Indian judicial system in granting bail to Pragya Singh Thakur, an accused in serious terror charges, while denying bail to many Muslims who were accused in anti-CAA protest cases.
Abdul Wahid explained that human rights violations of religious minorities underway in India, cover a broad spectrum, from illegal detention, torture and fake encounter killings of detainees, to open assault against individuals, their sources of livelihood and in many cases their places of worship.
“All the special laws which have been enacted over the years, have become instruments in the hands of police to falsely implicate Muslim youth and keep them behind bars for years without any hearing,” Abdul Wahid concluded.
Akashi Bhatt who is the daughter of whistleblower Sanjiv Bhatt, spoke in detail how her father was jailed by the Hindu nationalist BJP government in Gujarat under bogus charges. Sanjiv Bhatt is a former Indian Police Service officer of the Gujarat cadre who filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India against the then chief minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi about his alleged role in the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat pogrom.
“My father was the only police officer who deposed before the commission investigating the Gujarat riots. After Modi became Prime Minister in 2014, my father was dismissed from service on frivolous ground,” Ms. Bhatt said, highlighting that her father is the only man who can link Indian Prime Minister Modi to 2002 Gujarat pogrom.”
She said her family wants “a fair trial and that’s all we have been pleading for.” “As many as 33 people who had nothing to do with my father’s case were called as witnesses. But we were not allowed to call any single defence witness and it was time to defend the defenders.” added Ms. Bhatt.
Avani Bansal, advocate, Supreme Court of India, told the audience that the challenge before the Indian judiciary was that “there seems to be a lack of predictability, uniformity and procedure being followed in the way it is supposed to be followed.”
“At least the perception is that the same judges are not uniformly applying the rules. That means that the old adage of the justice system that justice should not only be done but should also be seen to be done, has been terribly shaken. And that is bad news,” she said while giving real time examples of how the Supreme Court adopted different methods and its lack of action invoked criticism from people.
Bansal gave instance of the Apex court allowing a Hindu religious gathering at Jagannath temple at the peak of pandemic despite nationwide furore over Tablighi Jamaat gathering at the beginning of the pandemic. Similarly, she mentioned exceptional use of review petition by the Apex Court to review its own verdict on Sabrimala case which had questioned prohibition of menstruating women’s entry in Sabrimala temple.
She mentioned how no FIRs were registered against BJP leaders like Kapil Mishra and Anurag Thakur who delivered inflammatory speeches in the run up to the anti-Muslim pogrom in Delhi in February. But 3,500 people, mostly from the Muslim community, were booked in false and fabricated cases. “A lot of criticism the Apex court invited, is due to lack of action or very slow action which practically amounts to no action.”
Matias Perttula, the director of advocacy at International Christian Concern, expressed his concern over increasing cases of persecution against Christians under the Narendra Modi government.
“India has become a trouble spot for Christians after Narendra Modi took power in 2014. Christians are regularly marginalized and discriminated against, and their churches and property attacked. Anti-blasphemy laws and anti-conversion laws are being used to target Christians,” he said.
Sukhman Dhami, Director, Ensaaf, talked about human rights violations that included custodial killings and enforced disappearances, in the Indian state of Punjab. “India has been plagued by mass atrocities. From Punjab to Kashmir to Assam, there are many stories of atrocities. The response of the judiciary most of the time has been to overlook these atrocities.”
The discussion was organised by the Indian American Muslim Council, in collaboration with Hindus for Human Rights, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, Dalit Solidarity Forum, India Civil Watch International and International Christian Concern.