Identical is the story of Irfan Ali, 34, who lived in a joint family with his older brother Majid Ali. The two brothers ran a readymade garments shop in Narsinghgarh. On the night of April 2, the police picked up Irfan from their home and booked him for sedition. When the police filed a chargesheet against him, they applied another charge: being a member of a terrorist organisation. “We filed for a bail application before the High Court but our lawyer was very pessimistic so we withdrew it,” says Irfan’s distraught brother, Majid.
Not one person in this group seems to possess the resources to mount any defence beyond the local courts. It seemed beyond both their intellectual and financial capacity to take the battle to the High Court, leave alone the Supreme Court. For most, while one earning family member has fallen off, there is now the additional burden of sustaining his family and paying his legal fees. Tabrez, whose three brothers are in jail, has been driven mad. He loses the strands of his thought in the middle of his speech, like an old man given to hopelessness after a long run of misery.
Meanwhile, the proceedings before the SIMI tribunal in Bhopal turned out to be in a class of their own. In the earlier hearings at Thiruvanathapuram, Bangalore, Udaipur and Hyderabad, the Centre brought as witnesses police officers who had had led investigations in the various cases. Jawahar Raja, the counsel for ex- SIMI president Shahid Badr Falahi, had fully used such opportunities to launch a scathing cross-examination of those officers, often catching them on the wrong foot, and making them admit their procedural failures such as in effecting seizures. But in Madhya Pradesh, only one investigating officer was brought by the government to depose before the tribunal. All others were senior officers who said they were deposing from their knowledge of the documents. A typical conversation went like this:
Jawahar Raja: Did the police apply for a search warrant before a magistrate?
Deponent: I cannot say. I am not the investigating officer.
Jawahar Raja: Is it true that the police carried its own stock witnesses?
Deponent: I cannot say. I am deposing from records.
Raja: I suggest to you that the police claim is false.
Deponent: The suggestion is denied.
And so forth. •