‘They just want Muslim boys to always be in jail’

TEHELKA’s investigation reveals that across India, police repeatedly and deliberately list some accused as “absconding”, so that they can be easily picked up when the heat is on the police for some case. That’s what was said about Billah in myriad cases since 2001. But Billah was no absconder. Until 2004, he was studying BE in civil engineering at the local Deccan Engineering College, when he dropped out in the third year. He regularly participated in community events. He regularly used a mobile phone, the recordings of which could easily prove his whereabouts.
ANOTHER TACTIC the police regularly use against SIMI activists is to implicate them in older cases with retrospective effect. The day after Maulana Nasiruddin’s arrest in 2004, angry Muslims had pelted stones at the police as Billah’s brother’s coffin had wound its way to the cemetery. The police had promptly registered another case. Billah wasn’t an accused in that case for over three years. But after his arrest on March 5, 2008, police included his name in that case as well.
When he was produced in court, Billah told the judge that he had made no confessions to the police and was forced to sign a blank paper by them. But his prospects look grim: his “confession” submitted by the police says he was networked with the alleged SIMI leader, Safdar Nagori, who was dramatically arrested in Indore on March 26, 2008 and is the police’s latest fall guy, vilified in the media as a big terror mastermind though his trial is yet to even begin.
Curiously, none of the police cases against Billah ever claimed he is a SIMI member, saying only that he was the brother of a SIMI member (which too both the family and SIMI deny), or that he was a “sympathiser” of SIMI or “associated” with SIMI members. But one of Hyderabad’s senior IPS officers, Amit Garg, categorically asserted before the tribunal (assessing the ban) that Billah was a SIMI member. This reflects either Garg’s prejudice or a deliberate attempt on his part to mislead the tribunal. As the point person of the Andhra Pradesh police for all SIMI cases before the tribunal, Garg swore an oath that he had no, repeat no, personal knowledge of the cases and was deposing entirely from documents given him by various investigating officers. Yet, none of the documents except his says Billah is a SIMI member.
All the allegations against Billah seem to flow from prejudice. The police have been smarting since 2006 when Billah mocked them with his bold decision to assist SIMI’s legal team in hearings by the previous tribunal. “Policemen came to me and said, ‘Why the hell have you come here if you are not with SIMI?’” Billah recalls. “They said I was making a terrible mistake.”