Parappana Agrahara central prison, more than an hour’s drive from Bangalore city, has, on an average, 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, the 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 orchestrated by the RSS, has been in this jail for the past four years. On 14 July 2014, bail was granted to Madani for treatment of several ailments including acute diabetes, failing eyesight, prolapsed disk and cervical spondylosis, but on the condition that he will not leave Bangalore.
The bail was extended for another 15 days on 12 August and the petition is to be heard again on 22 August for the Karnataka government to file its 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 detained in a Coimbatore prison for nine and a half years between March 1998 and August 2007 as an accused in the Coimbatore bomb blasts case. The trial dragged on and finally he was released unconditionally, as there was nothing to prove him guilty.
Who is Madani?
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 criticising 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, Dalit and backward communities. The party never really took off, perhaps due to the stranglehold of the 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 organisation 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, have shown full support for Madani, as was also the case during his captivity in Coimbatore.
The Bangalore trial
The trial in the Bangalore case is no doubt set to be a long drawn process. There are nine related cases and 300 witnesses. Each witness has to depose separately in each of the nine cases, which requires a massive 2700 depositions in all. However, the 2700 depositions may not prove to be as long and tedious as it sounds given that the court is set up in the Parappana Agrahara jail itself. So, there are no hassles of transporting the accused to the court. The judge, too, does not deal with any other case, as it is a special court set up only for the blasts cases.
‘But what happens is that 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 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 of the case speedily, but what about the Congress government which followed?
The general feeling in Kerala had been that court proceedings would speed up once the government changed. But nothing positive happened, says Paul, despite his meeting with Siddaramaiah, the present Karnataka Chief Minister. ‘We never expected, nor did we demand any toning down of the charges, but only for the trial to be expedited.’
What according to the Forum are the prospects of Madani coming out clean and free? It is 100 per cent, in Sebastian Paul’s opinion. 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 the date of deposition and 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. This 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.
The latter appears to be somewhat unreliable, because during those days Madani was being given protection by the Kerala police and two policemen were his constant companions and he could not move a foot without their recording it and accompanying him.
The third witness is supposed to have overheard Madani and Nazir in conversation at Madani’s house at Ernakulam and claims to have heard the word ‘explosion’ being uttered in that discussion. The fourth is T Nazir himself, who according to the police had confessed that he had discussed the explosions with Madani. But according to the Forum, he has since retracted this statement as a canard of the police and will deny that in court.
Madani is waiting for these witnesses to be produced in the court, so that they can be exposed. But this does not happen because the prosecution has its 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.
Questions have naturally been raised on how the above judgment reconciles with the continuous denial of bail to an undertrial despite his failing health in another 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.
In talks with a patient and hopeful Madani
For a man who has spent more than a fourth of his life behind bars (13 plus years in his life of 48 years), for charges that have never been proved, Abdul Nasser Madani is remarkably at peace with himself, optimistic and never indulges in self-pity. This would be evident from the following excerpts from a telephonic interview with him:
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 of 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 upon, 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 weighed 108 kilos when I was remanded and was at 48 kilos when I was released after proving my innocence.
Q: And almost the same scenario is being repeated now?
Madani: Yes; the very same conspiracy against me and a very similar fate for the case too. No witnesses directly related to me have been produced so far. No progress has been made.
I used to read five newspapers and other books daily and also watched TV. But in the prison, my eyesight has deteriorated. 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 blood sugar levels are not under control. I was not getting proper treatment in the jail. The only hope was a speedy trial.
I also suffer from asthma and so, it has been a journey from one crisis to another for me. But I still have trust in our legal system.
Q: Is the delay due to the fact 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 these witnesses are present when the hearing resumes. I had employed the services of two eminent advocates paying huge fees.
But when they reach the court set up in the Parappana Agrahara jail – and it takes nearly two hours to reach the jail 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 for this purpose.
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 Coimbatore case and the imprisonment?
Madani: There is no point blaming my past. It can be said that certain misconceptions about me based on my past, created by vested interests, are haunting me. It is a fact that I used to talk about discrimination 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 Sri Ramachandra or Sri Krishna.
The Magistrate Court in Karunagappilly in Kollam had discharged me in eight cases absolving me of promoting religious animosities. Yes, I had spoken against Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambhara and LK Advani in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, but not against Hindus. I 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 in view of my early life.
Q: Despite all your handicaps, you are in a position to defend yourself against great odds and there is a glimmer of hope, even if distant. But there are innumerable unfortunate individuals in the prisons of India languishing as undertrials, with nothing proved against them. Is there not something seriously wrong with the Indian legal system?
Madani: Yes, there are thousands who wait 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 afterward, this boy was arrested too, just because he had made phone calls to the owner.
He has been in the jail since much before I was brought in. He is a physical and mental wreck now, not knowing why 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 Coimbatore jail. He had no job, no money and was 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. There was no one to release him on bail. Years in prison and a miserable life, all for a banana. But I also came upon instances of people allegedly involved in massive frauds getting VIP treatment and even bail within 24 hours.
A few individuals or small organizations cannot make any impact in terms of changing all of this. The entire system has to undergo a massive overhaul.