The Pune Police has been brandishing letters ostensibly extracted from the hard disk confiscated from activist Rona Wilson during the raid on his home on June 6. Computers have come handy for the police to produce virtually anything, quite like Satya Saibaba’s vibhuti, to implicate anyone and to harass them for a number of years as dreaded criminals, without an iota of misdoing. Even the inventors of computer systems could probably not have imagined that their creations would find such a vile application in the hands of the unscrupulous Indian police to destroy the lives of innocent people.
The case of activist Arun Ferreira who was arrested in Nagpur in May 2007 and projected as “the leader of the propaganda and communications wing of the banned CPI (Maoist)” in 2007, but was acquitted of all charges in 2014, is a case in point. The current episode of “urban Maoists” can be seen as a rehash of that script. At the time, the police said they had recovered a pen drive from Ferreira. This device was projected in the media in a manner such that gullible people would believe it was a deadly weapon. It helped the police to construct a story that Ferreira with his co-accused were plotting to blow up the grand stupa at the Diksha Bhumi in Nagpur.
Since he was working among Dalit slum dwellers, the narrative was aimed at creating hatred for him in the minds of Dalits. By the time the police filed their charge sheet, this accusation had evaporated. Instead, Ferreira was implicated in many cases already filed in earlier FIRs. In these FIRs, the police had typically named a few known Maoists and “other unknown people”. In many cases, Ferreira was, after his arrest, said to have been identified as one of those unknown people. Even though there was no evidence of any kind to incriminate him, he had to undergo severe torture under the euphemism of interrogation, suffer dreadful conditions in jail and fight his cases in all kinds of courts for years.
When Ferreira was acquitted in all the cases and was coming out of the jail in September 2011, the police had rearrested him, slapping on another set of cases. He was thus kept in jail nearly for five years. A talented writer and cartoonist, Ferreira published his saga in a remarkable book titled Colours of the Cage, which is a strong indictment of the lawless police system in India.
Few asked why Ferreira had been arrested in the first place. What happened to the “conclusive evidence” that he had been plotting the explosion at Diksha Bhumi that police confidently told the media about? Why was he tortured and kept in an airless cell without any evidence whatsoever? What happened to the results of the narco analysis test he was made to undergo, which involved injecting him with a so-called truth serum that the authorities said would make it difficult for him to lie when being interrogated? It was reported widely that during the narco analysis test, Ferreira revealed that Bal Thackeray, the leader of the Shiv Sena, funded Maoist activities in Maharashtra. What action was taken on these revelations? Why was Bal Thackeray not even interrogated? Who was responsible for the destruction of Ferreira’s reputation and the loss of a precious part of the life? Who was responsible for the trauma suffered by his parents and wife or the loss of the love of a father by his child?
The system will never have the answers to these genuine questions a citizen could ask in a democracy. The police who enacted this entirely false drama might have been rewarded with promotions and awards. Acquittals and convictions are normal in the process of justice delivery. But when the process is starkly manipulated with malafide intent, with the misuse of discretionary powers by the police, it should make anyone sit up and rethink the system.
The police have devised a strategy to create an excuse to raid the homes of their targets in order to get hold of their computers. A school child could explain how easy it is to insert documents into a hard disk at specified places by tinkering with the time clock of a computer. I say this with the authority of a practitioner and teacher of Information Systems. During the 1990s, I worked as a CIO of Bharat Petroleum and was adjudged among the top 20 people who contributed to India’s information technology sector for three consecutive years.
Any such fabrications can be caught. But that is not the point for the police. The point is that they use these fabrications to arrest innocent people under the dreaded Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and can incarcerate them for years. They can even mislead the lower courts to punish these people with life imprisonment as in the case of Dr Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh and thereafter Delhi University professor GN Saibaba and his co-accused. This modus operandi by now is well known and rampantly practiced.
Bhima Koregaon case
The present case involves riots that took place on January 1 in Bhima Koregaon, near Pune. The police insinuation that the violence had been sparked by inflammatory speeches the day before at a meeting in Pune being funded by the Maoists was merely to develop an excuse for raiding the homes of activists to get hold of the activists’ computers. In an earlier time, the police would have to plant physical objects in the premises of their targets to produce as incriminating evidence. But now, computers have come handy to produce tons of documents that can be brandished as “conclusive evidence”. They may not be stand up to judicial scrutiny but they serve their crucial purpose of incriminating people.
The real organisers of the meeting in Pune, Justice PB Sawant, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, and Justice BG Kolshe Patil, a former judge of the Bombay High Court, have been saying right from the beginning that the gathering, called the Elgar Parishad, was their idea and no one else had much to do with it. The two organisers are no ordinary people. Despite this, the police consistently ignored them and went ahead with their strategy, which is obviously linked with the political calculations of the ruling party. Having gained control over the computers, the police began producing preposterous letters that have been trashed by numerous experts including Ajay Sahni, Executive Director, Institute of Conflict Management, the think thank that is supposed to be the repository of knowledge on terrorism, Maoism, and other such subversive activities. But the police, emboldened by the vocal support from their political masters, persisted with their mendacious theories.
These letters, written in an essay style in chaste English, providing detailed information of the plots against the state, using the full names of real people, some with their telephone numbers, woven into half-imaginary information. I have been implicated based on a letter that the police read out at a press conference. The letter is constructed on the basis of my having attended a conference organised by the American University in Paris with the information that was available on the institution’s website.
The conference was attended by among other international scholars by two Indian-American scholars, Shailaja Paik and Anupama Rao. Anyone connected with social sciences know these prominent scholars of caste, class and gender issues. The letter refers to them as “comrades” and says that they have promised to organise similar conferences for me. NDTV did a programme and informed that it sought information from them but they had not responded to the channel until then. Who in their senses would deal with such trash?
There was another name, Etienne Balibar, a well-known scholar who delivered the key note address at the conference. Right from seeking my acceptance to attend to the bearing of all travel and lodging expenses to the reimbursement of even minor taxi expenses in Goa as well as Paris, my participation in the conference is well documented to establish beyond doubt that the letter was fabricated purely with malafide intent. But still the police raided my house on the Goa Institute of Management campus in our absence on August 28 in a manner that conveyed that I was a fugitive and dreaded criminal.
The question is how these letters are to be considered by the public and judiciary. Consider, for instance, a case in which the political masters of the police ask them to incriminate some people who are inconvenient to them. These people could well be judges, ministers, bureaucrats or capitalists. It is not hypothetical because I myself fall into the last two categories, having been spent my career in capitalist enterprises, having held many bureaucratic positions in them and thereafter in academics, having taught capitalism to the future would-be industry leaders through prestigious institutes like IIT Kharagpur, and the Goa Institute of Management. Now, what needs to be considered is this:
The police produce such a fabricated letter addressed to “XXX” by some Central Committee member of the CPI (Maoist), distorting information in the public domain as they did in my case, and implicate “XXX” as an “urban Maoist” and get on with their “due process of law”. Substitute “XXX” with the first names of a cabinet secretary in the government of India or of a judge of the Supreme Court or of a police commissioner or of a big industrialist. Then, merely because their name has been mentioned in a fake letter, their homes could be raided, their books by well-known publishers confiscated along with their phones and computers. They could be arrested, publicly defamed as urban Maoists, and incarcerated for years without bail.
This scenario is not an exaggeration. If a person with my extraordinary antecedents could be implicated by this police fabrication, there is no one in the country who can theoretically escape this. There is no need to prove any misdoing. All these consequences follow from the discretionary authority and the lack of accountability of the ordinary police official.
Will the cabinet secretary, the judges of the Supreme Court, the ministers, police officers, the politician, the industrialist wake up to consider this scenario that negates all our constitutional claims of the rule of law?