On 28th February, the Bombay High Court admitted appeal petitions against conviction, filed by two of the 2006 Bombay blasts case accused – Mohammad Majid Shafi and Mohammad Sajid Ansari. The petitioners claim in their appeals that they are innocent and have been falsely incriminated in the case. The petitioners are among the 13 accused in the infamous ‘7/11’ blasts that shook the country, when bombs went off in quick succession across the city’s suburban railway network. First class compartments of seven suburban trains were, within a span of five minutes, ripped apart by powerful blasts on the evening of 11th July 2006, leaving 187 dead and 829 injured. The hearing on the appeals is set for tomorrow. Narratives of disputed arrests and brutal custodial torture expected to pour out. A GX report.
Pakistan-based terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Toiba were held responsible for the attacks, and the police alleged that the attacks were conducted in collaboration with the banned Indian organisation Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). After a trial that lasted almost 9 years, the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) Court convicted and sentenced all except one of the accused, to death or life imprisonment. Majid and Ansari are among those currently serving life sentences. The Bombay High Court will hear their petitions on coming Friday. Earlier, the court had admitted their parole applications based on grounds of critical health conditions of several family members, and rebuked the Government of Maharashtra for denying them parole over the years, even after repeated applications from the petitioners.
It was alleged that Majid brought in ‘Pakistani terrorists’ through the Bangladesh-West Bengal border and arranged for their accommodation in Kolkata before sending them to Mumbai via Gujarat. He allegedly also arranged to ensure their safe passage back to Bangladesh. The 7/11 accused have alleged that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) fabricated evidence and tortured them, and also that the police forced them to sign on ready-made confessions. In his petition, Majid also alleges that witnesses were tutored by the police. ‘Witness number 70’ – the only witness of Majid’s alleged ‘role in the attacks’ – Mohd. Shakil was Majid’s business partner and a friend once. According to Majid’s family, they had a falling out because of business and personal reasons. It is alleged that Shakil was kept in Mumbai for 10 days before being produced in court, and that he stayed in the office of the ATS and enjoyed the hospitality of Kalachowki Police Station.
The prosecution also failed to prove that Majid was in any way connected to SIMI, even though their entire case was based on this alleged connection. The prosecution failed to produce in court the seized mobile phones or call records. No ‘objectionable’ materials or literature were recovered from Majid; the entire case of the prosecution was based on the ‘confession statements’, which Majid claims were neither voluntarily given nor true. Majid and his family have accused the police of brutal custodial torture, forcing him to sign on false confessions. All the accused in the 7/11 case had retracted their confession statements as soon as they were transferred to judicial custody. The language and words used in Majid’s ‘confession’ for instance, are pure Hindi words which Majid does not use; he is a native Urdu and Bengali speaker.
Arrest and Torture
“I was not in a position to bear anything more because of the mental and physical torture till that time, therefore, I signed on all the papers”
Majid’s family comprises of his wife Fiza, his daughter, mother, seven brothers and four sisters. Their family owns two shoe shops in Kolkata, run by the brothers. On 28th September 2006, the ATS picked up Majid from his shop with the help of local police and took him to the Narkeldanga Police Station in Kolkata. When his family, friends, and people from his locality gathered at the police station to ask why he was picked up, they were lathi-charged.
Later that night Majid was taken to the airport, flown to Mumbai the next morning and produced in court. He was taken to ACP Tawde later that evening. “He made me sit at his feet and started beating me by feet. I asked him why he was beating me and he told me that I would soon come to know about it. When I started arguing with him, he called 2-3 constables, handcuffed my hands behind me and by making me lie down on the floor started beating me [with] belt on my back and legs,” Majid had alleged during his trial. The ATS asked him when he had gone to Pakistan for training and when he had gone to Bangladesh, to which Majid replied that he had not gone out of Kolkata. “They said that I would soon know what I have done.” Majid alleges that after this the police removed his clothes and made him lie face down on a bench, handcuffed his hands below the bench, after which two people sat on his back and legs and others started beating him with belts. They continued till he fell unconscious. After he regained consciousness, they asked him to stand on a stool and jump onto the floor. His legs had swollen because of the beating. “The two officers then started telling me the story that they had prepared. They told me that I had crossed the border and gone to Bangladesh and had brought some Pakistanis with me and those persons are involved in the Mumbai train blasts. I told them that I had not done any such things and that they are making false allegations. They took my statement till late night,” he said.
Majid spoke of the brutal custodial torture he was subjected to, and the toll it took on his body, during his trial. He could not even sit in the bathroom. “I was taken for medical examination, but no treatment was given and my thumb impression was only taken,” he alleged. Majid named one Vijay Salaskar, who even administered electric shocks to his private parts. He also named Inspectors Phadke, Alaknure and Dalvi among his torturers. He was repeatedly stripped naked, handcuffed behind the back, blindfolded and veiled, and brutally beaten on the hands and legs by sticks. His thighs were swollen because his legs were stretched apart. His legs too were swollen from the beatings. He was threatened against divulging any of this during the mandated check-ups, or to the judge during the hearings. He would, they said, be beaten even more if he complained about any of this. “My thumb impression was obtained and my face covered by a veil was not shown to the doctor. The doctor did not examine me,” he alleged. Even as he was produced before the court, a constable stood behind him, repeatedly reminding him not to say anything. The ATS did not allow him to meet his family members. All the while, his health was deteriorating because of the beatings and lack of sleep. At one of the check-ups, Majid finally told the doctor the reason for his deteriorating health. However the doctor allegedly did not write anything because of the presence of ATS officers. He spoke of being tortured in the Kalachowki ATS office, under the supervision of an officer called Jaijeet Singh.
Few days later Majid was taken to Bangalore for a narco test. The doctor allegedly asked him to say that he had gone to Bongaon border and had brought Pakistanis from there to Kolkata. Majid told her that he had not done such a thing and would not say it. Majid was slapped and his earlobes pinched by pliers for refusing to corroborate the police version of event. “She then told me to say that I had not gone to the Bongaon border and that I had not brought Pakistanis from there. I repeated these things,” he told the court [emphasis: GX]. After this Majid was taken outside and made to lie down on a bench, where he saw a bearded person also lying there being tortured in the same manner as he was. “I realized during the judicial custody that the said person was the accused no. 13,” Majid said. On the video recording of the narco test, the negative statements Majid had made were converted to positive statements by editing out the negative signifiers, according to allegations. He was beaten and tortured when he argued about this and he was asked to sign on some written and blank papers. When he refused to sign, Inspector Salaskar allegedly threatened that he would bring his wife and child there within two hours and molest her before him. “I was not in a position to bear anything more because of the mental and physical torture till that time, therefore, I signed on all the papers,” Majid said.
Majid accused a DCP of forcing him to sign on ‘confession statements’ written by the investigating officers. When he refused, saying that it is written in Hindi, that he doesn’t know Hindi, that he did not know what was written on it, and would not sign it, the DCP allegedly beat him and threatened that if he does not sign, he would suffer more than he had suffered up until then. The DCP allegedly threatened to kill his brothers in encounters when they visit Mumbai to meet him in the court. “I was already frightened and could not bear any more trouble to my family, therefore, I signed on all the papers that he gave me.”
Majid was eventually transferred to the Arthur Road jail and kept in the high security barracks. He alleges that a number of ATS officers tried to persuade, threaten, or force him to cooperate with the narrative concocted by the police. He was offered his own acquittal in exchange. He was threatened with torture while in prison, and with false cases on the family members. When Majid was produced in the court on 9th November 2006, he informed the judge of what had happened during police custody. The judge allegedly told him to tell this to his advocate. He also told the judge that he had not given any confession statement during his police custody, that ACP Patil had not interrogated him during police custody, and that he had not stated to him that he wanted to make a ‘voluntary confession statement.’ Several of the co-accused also raised complaints against Swati Sathe, Superintendent of the Arthur Road prison, accusing her of judicial torture. No investigations were conducted into these allegations.
Fiza and Majid’s daughter was 38 days old when Majid was arrested. Fiza claims that the local police officers who took Majid away to the Narkeldanga police station were regulars at their shoe shop, and that they knew Majid and his brothers well.“They know Majid, what he does and who he is. How can they take him away like this?” asked Fiza. On being asked why she thinks Majid was singled out, Fiza said it is possibly related to the fact that their family has relatives in Pakistan, and there would be calls made once in a while. “They must have noted calls to and from Pakistan, and fixed their gaze on Majid,” she said.
The police officers refused to give the family any information as to where they were taking Majid. “He would be produced in court tomorrow”, is all they were told. Accordingly, the family made rounds of Sealdah court, Bankshal Court, etc., hoping to see Majid. Only later did the family learn that Majid had been flown to Mumbai and was being produced at a court there. “Majid, or anyone in the family, had no idea about the blasts. We were watching World Cup football that day. We saw on a news channel, that bombs went off in Mumbai trains,” said Fiza. The family made repeated trips to Mumbai after this, first to locate Majid, and then to arrange for legal counsel. They were refused legal help by every lawyer they approached since it would look as if they are defending a ‘terrorist.’ Finally, Advocate Shahid Azmi took up Majid’s case pro bono. He said that even if the MCOCA court doesn’t acquit him since they are under public pressure to produce convictions, the charges won’t stand in a higher court. Shahid Azmi was murdered eventually in 2010 by ‘unknown gunmen’ in his office. Majid and the other accused were convicted by the MCOCA court in 2015, with the exception of Abdul Wahid Shaikh who was acquitted of all charges.
According to Majid’s family members, no raids were conducted either at their residence or at their shops to recover ‘evidence’ for Majid’s involvement in the 7/11 attacks. They were also not interrogated by the ATS about Majid’s alleged role in the blasts. His wife Fiza and one of his brothers were called to the Narkeldanga police station a couple of times, where they were asked to provide basic information. No one from the Mumbai ATS ever contacted them.
“Majid, or anyone in the family, had no idea about the blasts. We were watching World Cup football that day. We saw on a news channel, that bombs went off in Mumbai trains.”
The family raised disturbing allegations of the MCOCA trial being biased. They pointed out several contradictions and inconsistencies in the testimonies of police witnesses during the trial. No documentary evidence was produced in court that could support the allegations. The family members spoke of the brutal torture that Majid was subjected to under custody. Fiza was allegedly threatened with rape unless Majid plead guilty and corroborates the police version on the other co-accused. “The accused in this case did not even know each other before they were all arrested,” said Fiza. When Fiza finally got a glimpse of him at one of the court hearings four months later, his face was blackened, he was unable to walk properly, he couldn’t even wear slippers because his feet had swollen from the beatings. The courtroom was filled with armed officers in black clothes, creating a terrifying space for the accused and their family who were there to follow the trial. Majid was not allowed to interact with his family members during these hearings. Majid’s brother was threatened by the police with arrest and torture because he tried speaking to Majid. Not just Majid’s family, but all the families of the accused went through harrowing experience. One family member of another accused in the case was allegedly arrested by the ATS when he asked an officer why they had arrested his relative. Allegedly, this person was kept in illegal off-record custody for weeks and tortured, before he was let go without a case. Family members of one of the other accused in the case described how they were stripped naked together, and made to stand in front of the accused as the ATS threatened him to sign on false confessions.
On 5th January 2019, Ataur Rahman Shaikh, father of two brothers accused in the 7/11 blasts – Faisal Shaikh and Muzammil Shaikh – died of a heart attack. His sons were not granted parole to visit their dying father. They were not even granted parole to attend their father’s funeral. Majid’s wife Fiza is herself bed-ridden. Both her kidneys are failing and she has to undergo dialysis thrice a week. She has lost vision in one of her eyes and suffers from critically high blood pressure. The family has repeatedly applied for Majid’s parole so he may visit his ailing wife. However, his parole application was rejected based on reports filed by the Calcutta police, who claimed that Majid’s family does not have a “good reputation” in the area, and that Majid should not be allowed to visit them. “The police said these are hajis [euphemism for ‘religious extremists’]. For a hundred years our family has been living here! Everyone here knows who we are and what kind of people we are!” Fiza exclaimed.
Majid’s family has waited for 4 years after the conviction to file this appeal. On being asked about the delay, they said they were advised by the lawyers to wait for an ‘unbiased bench.’ Five of the accused – Kamal Ahmad, Mohd. Faisal, Ehtesham Siddiqui, Naveed Hussain Khan, and Asif Bashir Khan – were sentenced to death by the MCOCA court. Abdul Wahid Shaikh was acquitted. The remaining accused, including Mohd. Majid and Mohd. Sajid Ansari, were sentenced with life imprisonment.
Majid has been kept in an anda cell [solitary confinement] since he was imprisoned. Fiza last saw Majid in prison in December 2017. She complained that her letters and money orders were not reaching Majid. Their daughter, who is 13 years old now, has seen her father only once. The entire family spoke of the social boycott and vilifications they have had to endure for years after they were branded by the police as a ‘terrorist family.’ Majid’s mother is also on the death bed, but he wasn’t allowed to visit even her. His elder brother recently underwent a major heart attack. Fiza’s family has gone into an acute economic crisis, having lost an earning member, and with sky-rocketing medical costs. Just the cost for dialysis is Rs 4000 per week. The family received no support from the political leaders or civil society in getting their words out to the public, political or legal domain.
GroundXero contacted Abdul Wahid Shaikh for his comments on the High Court admitting the appeals by Mohd. Majid and Sajid Ansari, particularly their appeals for parole. Abdul Wahid, who himself obtained a degree of law after his acquittal in 2015, says that while it is too early to judge the outcome of the appeals filed, it is definitely “a step towards justice for the innocent that the Court has taken, a step that has been long due.”