The Maharashtra Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) must be ruing the day it agreed to persecute Sadhvi Pragya, Lt. Col. Srikant Purohit and others on grounds of ?Hindu terror.? That the case was patently cooked up became visible from the moment the initial shock and surprise wore off, and with every passing day, as repeated police remands, narco-analysis, brain-mapping and lie detector tests failed to yield any half-credible evidence, the ATS found itself painted into a corner.
Its covert political puppeteers withdrew further into the shadows, and as ATS invoked the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) against the accused on 20 November 2008, things began to go rapidly downhill.
On Friday, 21 November 2008, a group of Delhi intellectuals led by the redoubtable KPS Gill, the nation'smost gallant and successful police officer, presented a memorandum against the ill-treatment meted out to Sadhvi Pragya on the basis of her sworn affidavit in court. Member, Mr. Justice G.P. Mathur, who met the delegation assured appropriate and speedy action in accordance with Commission procedures.
On Tuesday, 25 November 2008, the National Human Rights Commission issued notice to the Maharashtra Government regarding allegations of custodial torture of Sadhvi Pragya.
A day prior to this, the MCOCA special court dealt it a near lethal blow by denying ATS any further remand of Sadhvi Pragya, Lt. Col. Shrikant Prasad Purohit and Ajay Rahirkar. Instead, Special Judge Y.D. Shinde remanded all three, along with four others (Shivnarayan Gopalsingh Kalsangra, Maj (retd) Ramesh Updhayaya, Jagdish Chintaman Mhatre and Shyam Bhawarlal Sahu) to judicial custody till 3 December 2008.
In her sworn affidavit presented in the Nashik court on 17 November 2008, Sadhvi Pragya had alleged that 1] she was illegally detained for 10 days and shifted from one place to another; 2] she was physically assaulted and mentally tortured in custody; 3] she was robbed of her dignity by the ATS which questioned her chastity? 4] no female police constables were present during her interrogation and transfer from one place to another and 5] she was denied the right to contact her family and her lawyer.
So immense was her trauma that she even contemplated committing suicide. She was subjected to narco-analysis and brain-mapping tests without her consent; these methods of interrogation are used to make accused persons incriminate themselves, and they were continued even though they repeatedly failed to achieve this objective.
The affidavit was so damning that the NHRC – that should have taken suo motu notice of the case the same day – could not sit silent once matters were presented before it in black and white. The absence of female constables from Sadhvi Pragya'sdetention ordeal remains un-denied to this day, though we have been subjected to new dramas in the form of death threats to the Mumbai ATS. Give me a break!
In the MCOCA special court, Sadhvi Pragya made even more shameful revelations: ?My interrogators (ATS officials) threatened to strip me and hang me upside down if I did not confess to my involvement in the Malegaon blasts? They also made me to listen to an obscene audio tape (involving another accused Ramesh Upadhyay)? I was so disturbed that I was in no mood to eat food for a couple of days.?
To the ATS? further chagrin, Lt. Col. Purohit said investigating officials had threatened to plant RDX at his home so it would be easy for them to finish him in an encounter. ?In their bid to extract confession from me, the ATS officials hung upside down from a rod with my hands tied to two poles. After they did all this to me, I lost sensation in my wrists and fingers,? he said.
Ramesh Updhayaya alleged that he was directly threatened by State Director General of Police A.N. Roy on 26 October 2008. He said he was tortured by Additional Commissioner of Police (ATS) Parambir Singh and Sukhwinder Singh: ?Parambir and Sukhwinder physically abused me and then threatened to parade my wife and daughter naked in the police station and get them raped by all the officers here.?
These allegations are too shameful to be commented upon. Mercifully, the NHRC has taken cognizance of matters and asked the Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johny Joseph and Director General of Police A.N. Roy to submit a factual report on the situation within two weeks.
While we are gratified that our small initiative has borne fruit, it is painful for a woman writer to confess that the National Commission for Women was less than helpful in the matter of Sadhvi Pragya'sillegal detention, ill-treatment, and absence of women constables during an interrogation period that spanned 23-24 days!
I am ashamed to admit that some concerned citizens rang up Chairperson Girija Vyas for an appointment, only to learn that she was on leave the entire week, and was probably helping the election campaign of a political party (though naturally the office would not put this on record). We then sent email petitions, and petitions by courier, to Members and Chairperson.
Then, on 21 November 2008, riding piggy back with the visit to the NHRC, we took a signed petition to the National Commission for Women, personally interacted with a Member who was present, and got our petition received in the complaint cell. Since it is inconceivable that the Commission would not have informed Ms. Vyas about the petitions and our visit, it was truly shocking to find her stating on television on Monday evening (while surfing channels) that she had received no complaints regarding Sadhvi Pragya!
Within the country, the impression is fast gaining ground that the entire sequence of arrests and alleged Hindu terror theory was a gigantic conspiracy to weaken the institutions of the state which were joining hands and combating terror fairly competently. The votebank aspect of such a conspiracy is too obvious to need stating. What remains to be done is a thorough probe into the entire investigation to unveil the conspirators and their devious game-plan.