| Human Rights | Law |

Jail is the rule, Bail an exception for Madani

P N Venugopal

Abdul Nasser Madani
Abdul Nasser Madani

Parappana Agrahara central prison, more than an hour's drive from Bangalore city, on an average has more than 4000 inmates against a capacity of 2000. Abdul Nasser Madani was one among them till about a month ago when he was released on bail. The Islamic scholar and spiritual leader, who is also the chairman of Kerala based People's Democratic Party (PDP) is an undertrial, 31st accused in the 2008 Bangalore bomb blasts case, which has 31 accused in all. One person was killed and several injured in the serial bomb blasts. Madani, who is a physically challenged person having lost his right leg in a bomb attack allegedly by RSS, has been languishing in the jail for the past four years. The bail was granted for treatment of several ailments including acute diabetes, failing eyesight, prolapsed disk, cervical spondylosis..on the condition that he will not leave Bangalore. The bail was extended for another 15 days on August 12 and the bail petition is to be heard again on August 22 for Karnataka government to file their counter, as it is opposing the bail.

It is for the second time that the 48 year old Madani is serving prison term as an under trial. He was in a Coimbtore jail for nine and a half years as an accused in the Coimbtore bomb blasts case. The trial dragged on and finally he was released unconditionally as he was found not guilty.

Abdul Nasser Madani, a persuasive and powerful orator in Malayalam founded the Islamic Seva Sangh (ISS) in 1989. The demolition of Babri Masjid served as a stimulant and Madani spared no words in criticizing the mindless act. The ISS was banned along with the RSS in 1992. Subsequently he formed the PDP, envisaged to be a political platform for the Muslim, Dalits and backward communities. The party never really took off, perhaps due to the strangle hold of Muslim League over the Muslim population of the state and the long incarceration of Madani.

'Madani was never a terrorist or an extremist,' says Dr Sebastian Paul, former MP, lawyer, and the chairman of the Justice for Madani Forum', an organization of human rights activists and prominent citizens. 'But he was a firebrand who could galvanize people.' The Forum coordinates the legal support required by Madani both in the Karnataka courts and the Supreme Court. 'Money for legal services is not much of a problem as there is tremendous goodwill for Madani,' says Sebastian Paul. The media in Kerala as well as all the political parties, except the BJP are in full support of Madani, as was the case during his captivity in Coimbtore.

The trial is no doubt a long drawn out process. There are nine related cases and 300 witnesses. Each witness has to depose separately in each of the nine cases. So 2700 depositions. However, the court is set up in the Parappana Agrahara jail itself. So there are no hassles of taking the accused to the court. The judge does not deal with any other case, as it is a special court set up only for the blasts cases. So even 2700 depositions is not as long and tedious, as it may sound. 'But what happens is when the hearing starts in the morning, most of the witnesses scheduled for the day do not turn up, and the case is adjourned for the day after a couple or few hours,' says Paul. And this continues day after day.

'Speedy trial is a constitutional right for an Indian citizen,' he continues. However that does not happen unless the prosecution is really keen to get on with things. Maybe the BJP government which was in power, when the charge sheets were filed and the hearing began, was not interested in disposing off the case speedily, but what about the Congress government which followed? The court proceedings would speed up was the feeling in Kerala when the government changed. But nothing positive happened, despite his meeting Sidharamayya, the present Chief Minister, says Paul. 'We never expected nor did we demand any toning down of the charges, but only for speeding up the trial.'

What according to the Forum are the prospects of Madani coming out clean and free? It is 100 percent, according to Sebastian Paul. According to the charge sheet Madani does not have any direct or physical involvement in the explosions. The only charges are that he had contacts with T Nazir, one of the prime accused and that he knew about the plan and that he attended a training camp organized by Nazir at Coorg. There are only four prosecution witnesses arraigned against him. One of them who is supposed to have deposed to the police at Kannur, was in the Intensive Care Unit of the Medical Trust Hospital, Ernakulam on that date and that person died the next day at the hospital. Another is supposed to have seen Madani getting out of a car at Coorg where the terrorists were conducting a training camp. The witness could not recognize the one legged man with the dark glasses and so he enquired to a passerby, who said that he was a 'Madani' from Kerala. Most unreliable deposition because during all those days Madani was being given protection by the Kerala police and two policemen were his constant companions and so he could not move a foot without their recording it and their accompanying him. The third witness is supposed to have overheard Madani and T Nazir one of the prime accused discussing at Madani's house at Ernakulam and heard the word 'explosion' being spoken when he went to the house. The fourth is T Nazir himself, who according to the police has confessed that he had discussed the explosions with Madani. But according to the Forum he has retracted this statement as a canard of the police and this will be denied by him in the court.

Madani is waiting for these witnesses to be produced in the court, so that they can be exposed. But this just does not happen because the prosecution has their own priorities.

'Bail is the rule, jail an exception' said a Supreme court bench of justice GS Singhvi and justice HL Datt while granting bail to five executives in the 2G spectrum scam in 2011. 'Deprivation of liberty must be considered a punishment. When the undertrial prisoners are detained in jail for an indefinite period, Article 21 of the Constitution is violated,' the judgment went on. How does this reconcile with the continuous denial of bail to an undertrial despite his failing health, when news comes in that the Gujarat High Court grants bail to the former state minister Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi who were sentenced to 28 years imprisonment in the Naroda Patya riot case?

And how does it happen to the same man twice over? "Unfortunate conspiracy of circumstances," is the only response Sebastian Paul has, straining to retain his faith in the Indian legal system.

For a man who has spent more than one fourth of his life behind bars (13 + years in 48 years) for charges that have never been proved, Madani is remarkably at peace with his mind, optimistic and never indulges in self pity.

And now excerpts from a telephonic interview with Abdul Nasser Madani.

Q: You were being denied bail repeatedly. Do you have the feeling that the courts are biased against you?

Madani: I do not think that the courts are biased against me. It becomes very difficult to obtain bail when a person is put behind bars on charges under the cruel black laws which are supplemented by cooked up evidences and false witnesses

Q: But one is presumed to be innocent until proved guilty as per the Indian legal system. Bail is the general rule and not an exception.

Madani: In cases charged under the stringent laws concerning national security, it is difficult to get bail. In most of such cases the onus is on the accused to adduce evidence and prove innocence. Otherwise you rot in jail. However in many parts of the country, there are many young men, who misunderstanding Islam have taken to some or other disruptive activities. And so when one is wrongly charged for similar activities, the courts seem to take it for granted that he is a culprit until proved innocent. But for this, the trial has to take place and the case disposed off in minimum time. I know that I'm 100 percent innocent in this case. I also know that the people of Kerala, politicians and the media share my confidence. But that is not enough and I have to prove it. For this the case has to be heard and decided up on, as early as possible. Just as now, I was trapped in the Coimbatore serial blasts case and I languished in jail for nine and a half years. The hearing in the case began only in the fifth year and it went on for another four and a half years. The prosecutors changed, six or seven judges came and went. I was weighing 108 kilos when I was remanded and I was 48 kilos when I was released after proving my innocence.

Q: Almost the same scenario is being repeated now?

Madani: Yes. The very same conspiracy against me. Very similar fate for the case too. So far no witnesses directly related to me, have been produced. No progress made. I used to read five newspapers and other books daily and also watched tv. But in the prison my eyesight has dropped. I can't read a line. My right eye is fully damaged and my left eye is almost fully damaged. I have cervical spondylosis, the discs of my backbone have prolapsed, I've a condition of prostrate and above all, my diabetes levels are not under control. I was not getting proper treatment in the jail. The only hope was a speedy trial.

Q: Is it that the prosecution is not taking interest?

Madani: the prosecutor gives the list of witnesses to be produced, and the judge passes it on to the police. But they don't take sufficient efforts to ensure that they are present when the hearing resumes. I had taken the services of two eminent advocates paying huge fees. But when they reach the court set up in the Parappana Agrahara jail- it takes nearly two hours to reach there from the city in the morning traffic-the witnesses are not present and their day is spoilt. Finally they opted out and I now rely on advocate Asokan from Kozhikode who travels from there for this purpose. Now I'm also suffering from asthma. So one crisis to another. But I still trust in our legal system.

Q: So you continue to be optimistic?

Madani: I believe in god and I trust the court will deliver me justice.

Q: Have you ever felt that your past has come back to haunt you? that is your life before the Coimbtore case and the imprisonment?

Madani: There is no point in blaming my past. It can be said that certain misconceptions about me created by vested interests based on my past is haunting me. It is a fact that I used to talk about the discriminations and communal riots in rather strong terms. But unlike many other leaders, I have never questioned the religious beliefs of the Hindus, I've never denigrated lord Sriramachandra or Srikrishna. The Magistrate Court in Karunagappilly in Kollam had discharged me in eight cases absolving me of promoting religious animosities. Yes, I had spoken against Umabharati, Sadhvi Rithvambhara and Advani in the aftermath of Babri Masjid demolition, but not against Hindus. I have also apologized to the people of Kerala if the style of my oratory or my strong words had hurt them.

Please note that after I returned from the Coimbatore jail I went to the Kollam Fast Track court and gave it in writing that I pardon those who attacked me with explosives. Though I lost my right leg I did not want to proceed with the case. I made this announcement also in a public meeting attended by the then Kerala home minister. If I was communal in my attitudes and approaches, I would not have done any of this. Despite all this I am being hunted down sighting my early life.

Q: Despite all your handicaps, you are in a position to defend yourself against great odds and there is the glimmer of hope, even if distant. But there are innumerable unfortunates in the prisons of India languishing as under trials, with nothing proved against them. Is there not something seriously wrong with the Indian legal system?

Madani: yes, there are thousands who are waiting interminably for justice. In the case in which I'm implicated, there is a young man who was jailed just after he turned 18. He was learning mobile repairing in a mobile shop, when the shop owner was arrested for alleged involvement in this case. Soon after this boy was arrested just because he had made phone calls to the owner. He has been in the jail much before I was brought in. He is a physical and mental wreck now, not knowing what for he is being kept a prisoner. I've had opportunities to study this case in detail and I believe that more than 50 percent of the accused -I don't say 100 percent-are innocent. I remember an old man who was there in the Coimbtore jail. He had no job, no money and very hungry. He picked up a banana from a fruit shop and the owner handed him over to the police who dumped him in the jail. No one to release him on bail. Years in prison for a banana. Miserable life. But I also came across instances of accused involved in massive frauds getting VIP treatment and bail within 24 hours.

But few individuals or small organizations cannot make any impact. The entire system has to undergo massive changes.

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