Bharatiya Janata Party leader L. K. Advani’s reaction to Sadhvi Pragyan Chandrapal Singh Thakur’s affidavit alleging torture in custody is clearly a political response. Considering that he is the BJP’s Prime Minister-in-waiting, Prime Minister Manmohann Singh has set a good precedent by talking to him personally on this issue and asking National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan to brief him on the investigation. This, however, is unlikely to cause any change in Advani’s public posture since there is reason to believe that the entire extended Hindutva family, and not just Sangh Parivar, appears to have decided to make common cause with the Sadhvi and others under investigation in connection with the Malegaon blasts.
Advani’s demand for a judicial inquiry into the Sadhvi’s allegations is untenable. She made the allegations in an affidavit filed in a Nashik court, and it is for the court to examine them and take such action as it deems fit. It is not open to the government to set up a commission to go into a matter which is before a court. If they are not satisfied with the Nashik court’s decision, she or Advani can approach a higher court. In fact, a Shiva Sena functionary has already taken the issue to the high court.
Allegations of the kind that Sadhvi Pragyan Thakur has levelled against the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad have been made by others nabbed by the police in connection with various criminal cases from time to time. However, this is the first time that Advani has demanded a judicial inquiry into such allegations.
This is not to suggest that the Sadhvi’s allegations must be discounted straightaway. Use of torture and other inhuman methods are a part of the tradition of our police forces, which originated in the era of colonialism and feudalism. The Executive has failed to take adequate steps to modernize the forces and free them from their colonial traditions. The Judiciary, the human rights commissions and such other institutions, which have the power to look into such allegations and render justice, do not have a particularly good record in this respect.
There is a strong case for an independent investigation into the allegations made by the Sadhvi as well as others, including the Muslim youths under investigation on terror charges.
Sadhvi Pragyan Thakur’s affidavit
The following is the text of Pragyan Singh Thakur’s affidavit, as reproduced at a blog (http://hindtoday.com/Blogs/ViewBlogsV2.aspx?HTAdvtId=2792&HTAdvtPlaceCode=IND), which, it may be noted, does not vouch for its accuracy:
I, Sadhwi Pragyan Chandrapal Singh Thakur, Age 38 years, Occupation - Nil, residing at 7, Ganga Sagar Apartment, Katodara Road, Surat, Gujarat State do hereby state on solemn affirmation as under:
1. I say that I am a resident of Madhya Pradesh. My parents live in Surat, Gujarat where they shifted residence a couple of years ago. I say that for some years now, I found myself becoming increasingly detached from the material world and correspondingly found tremendous comfort and solace in Spiritualism. Accordingly I decided to renounce the material world and become a Sanyasin. On 30.1.2007, after performing the appropriate Hindu Religious rites and prayers I became a Sadhwi. I say that ever since then, I have been residing in a ashram at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. My life at the Ashram almost exclusively consisted of prayers, meditation, yoga and the reading of spiritual texts. At the ashram I did not watch TV channels and had practically no access to newspapers.
2. I say that apart from my activities at the ashram, I travelled chiefly around North India for the purpose of religious discourses and sermons. In connection with these latter activities, between 23.9.2008 and 4.10.2008, I was in Indore where I stayed at the residence of one Annaji who is my disciple. In the evening of 4th October, 2008, I returned to my ashram in Jabalpur.
3. I say that on 7.10.2008, when I was at Jabalpur Ashram, I received a call from a police officer from the ATS, Maharashtra, called Mr Sawant, who wanted to know about my LML Freedom vehicle. However, I told him I had sold it long back and not concerned with it. However, he insisted me to come down to Surat as he wanted to question me at length about it. I was reluctant to go to Surat by leaving the Ashram and insisted for him to come down to Jabalpur, but he refused and told me to come down to Surat as early as possible.
4. I further say that accordingly I travelled to Surat by train via Ujjain and arrived at Surat on 10.10.2008 early in the morning and my disciple Shri Bhimbhai Pasricha had to receive me at Railway Station and I went to his place at Atop Nagar.
5. I say that here at about 10 AM, I met officer Mr Sawant who had apparently travelled to Surat to trace the ownership of a LML Freedom two wheeler and I questioned him as to what had happened to my vehicle and why you are asking about it. I say that I it was at this point time, Mr Sawant told me that my vehicle had been allegedly planted with the explosives and subsequently detonated in Malegaon in the last week of September. I also say that it was here for the first time, I came to know that my old vehicle had been allegedly used in Malegaon blast, which was completely shocking to me. I confirmed to Mr Sawant that the LML Freedom 2 wheeler of the colour and number, he mentioned had once belonged to me.
6. I say that in Surat during the course of my interrogation with Mr Sawant, I mentioned to him that the LML Freedom two wheeler once owned by me was subsequently sold to one Sunil Joshi of Madhya Pradesh way back in October, 2004 and that Mr Joshi had paid me Rs 24,000/- for the same. I had also signed the necessary TT Form for RTO transfer in October, 2004 itself. I categorically asserted to Mr Sawant that since October, 2004 I had no control over the vehicle or its movements and usage.
7. I further say that in spite of my answers, Mr. Sawant repeatedly asked me how the vehicle reached Malegaon and how it came to be involved in the bomb blast on 29.9.2008. I repeatedly replied that I could not answer his questions as I had no control of the vehicle since October, 2004.
8. I also say that Mr Sawant however informed me that he did not believe me and that I would have to accompany him and his ATS team to Mumbai for further interrogation and he assured me that after such interrogation I would be free to go back to my ashram.
9. It is significant to mention that I was not formally arrested on 10.10.2008. Even though no formal summons to attend as a Witness was served upon me to make my self available for interrogation in Mumbai, and even though I was within my rights to insist that I be interrogated at the place where I reside ie Jabalpur, trusting Mr Sawant and having nothing to hide, I agreed to accompany the ATS team to Mumbai. I say Mr Sawant told me take my father along with me. However, due to his old age, I told him it was not proper take down him to Mumbai and suggested that my disciple, one Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha, in whose very residence my questioning was being done by the ATS. I further say that at 5.15 PM myself, Mr Pasricha and the ATS officer left Surat and reached Bombay on the very night of 10.10.2008. In Bombay I was taken straight away to the ATS office at Kalachowkie.
10. Thereafter for two days I was detained and interrogated by the ATS team in Mumbai. The questions were repetitive and directed at somehow involving me in the bomb blast in Malegaon on 29.9.2008. My answers remained constant throughout.
11. I further say that on 12.10.2008 the ATS changed the mode of interrogation and became extremely aggressive with me. At first they asked my said disciple Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha to beat me with sticks, belts etc, on my palms, forehands, soles, etc. When Mr Pasricha refused to do so, he was severely beaten by the ATS. Ultimately with the greatest reluctance, he complied with the ATS orders but obviously being my disciple, he exerted the very minimum of force on me. He was then pushed aside by a member of the ATS squad knows as Khanwilkar, who then himself commenced beating me severely with a belt on my hands, forearms, palms, feet, soles, causing me bruises, swelling and contusions in these areas.
12. I say that from the 13th onwards, I say that I was beaten during the day, night and midnight. On two occasions I was even woken up in the early hours of the morning at 4 am and questioned about my knowledge of the blasts. On these occasions, I was beaten by a senior officer having a moustache, whom I can identify. In addition I was subject to vulgar abuse and obscene language by members of the ATS team interrogating me. My Guru was abused and my chastity was questioned. I was physically and verbally traumatised to the extent that I wanted to commit suicide.
13. I further say that on 14th taken out for the examination at a far away place from ATS and was brought back in the afternoon and that I day I had no meeting or even knowledge about Mr Pasricha.
14. I say that on 15th October, after noon, both myself and Mr Pasricha were taken by ATS vehicles to Hotel Rajdoot in Nagpada locality of Mumbai and were kept in Room Nos. 315 and 314 respectively and we were made to sign the Hotel Entry register, however, we did not pay or deposit any money with the hotel manager, which was done by the ATS.
15. I say that after putting into this hotel I was asked to make phone calls from mobile No. 94066 00004 and from one more mobile instrument not belonging to me to speak couple of persons including one of my female disciple and I was asked to say that I was in a hotel in Mumbai and hale & hearty and was doing fine. I say that at that time, I did not know why I was made to say so. I would reveal the name of my female disciple at an appropriate time.
16. I say that as a result of the custodial violence/torture, mental stress, anxiety that were developed in the process, I was subjected to, I developed acute abdominal and kidney pains. I lost my appetite, became nauseous and giddy and prone to having bouts of unconsciousness. In view of this, within few hours after putting in Rajdoot Hospital, I was removed from the ATS office and was taken a hospital which learnt it to be Shusrusha Hospital wherein I was kept in ICU. I say that within half an hour Mr Bhimbhai Pasricha came down to Shushrusha Hospital with some ATS men and my Hospital admission forms, and other medical examination forms, etc were signed by him. I say that Mr Khanwilkar deposited money to the hospital management for me, which I learnt from Mr Bhimbhai. I say that after some time Mr Pasricha left the Hospital along with the ATS men and thereafter I have no contact with of any nature.
17. I say that I underwent a treatment over here for 3 to 4 days. I say that as my condition did not improve, I was taken to another hospital whose name I cannot recall. This hospital consisted of a high rise building where I was treated for 2 to 3 days. I say that no female police constable was by my side either in Hotel Rajdoot or in either of the two hospitals.
18. I say that both at the hotel and the hospitals, I was carried on a stretcher and my face was always covered with a black hood to avoid my face from being seen. From the second hospital, I was brought back to the ATS office at Kalachowkie.
19. I say that I was finally arrested on 23.10.2008 and produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Nasik on 24.1.2008. I was remanded to police custody on that date till 3.11.2008. Up to the 24.10.2008 and even sometime thereafter, I was denied access to a Lawyer or any member of my family. A polygraph test was conducted on me while I was in illegal detention prior to 23.10.2008. Thereafter a second polygraph test was conducted on 01.11.2008. On 04.11.2008, after I was remanded to Judicial custody on being presented before Nasik court on 03.11.2008, I also say that a Narco analysis test was also conducted on me.
20. I say that both the lie detector test as well as the Narco analysis test were conducted with out my consent. Never the less all these investigative tests have only established my innocence in the Malegaon bomb blast that took place on 29.9.2008. I finally was allowed to meet my sister Mrs Parthibha Bhagwan Jha on the evening of 02.11.2008, who had brought vakalatnamas of Advocate Ganesh Sovani who was engaged by my sister and her husband Mr Bhagwan Jha and had met him couple times in that week. This meeting was not conducted in private since members of the ATS stood within hearing distance of my sister and myself. I met my Advocate Ganesh Sovani for the first time in the court room of this Hon'ble Court very briefly for 4 to 5 minutes prior to the arguments commencing on my remand application on 03.11.2008.
21. I say that this period of 4 to 5 minutes was too short for me to give complete instructions as to what had transpired from 10th October onwards, about my vehicle, my stay at Kalachowkie, my illegal detention, the ill-treatment mitigated to me by ATS men, the beating job that was forced on my disciple to beat me, but which he carried out reluctantly, without any force, etc. I say that for this reasons, all the details had not reflected in the hand written application that was placed on record by my advocate Mr Sovani, for paucity of time to give all these instructions.
22. I say that on the evening of Wednesday 12.11.2008, I was allowed to meet my Advocate Ganesh Sovani for about 5-6 minutes again in the presence of female staff of Byculla jail. I say that again on 13.11.2008 I was allowed to talk to my said lawyer for 8-10 minutes to give him some more details. Thereafter, on Friday 14.11.2008 evening at about 04.30 PM, I was given nearly 20 minutes to talk to my said lawyer at length, and it was during this period I could narrate my entire ordeal with the ATS which is reproduced hereinabove.
23. I unambiguously state that I am totally innocent of any offence whatsoever. In particular I have no connection with the Malegaon bomb blast of 29.9.2008. While my former ownership of LML Freedom 2 wheeler, which was allegedly used in the Malegaon bomb blast entitled the ATS to interrogate me, that agency was not entitled to subject me to the treatment mentioned hereinabove. Their conduct discloses a blatant violation of statutory provisions of law, custodial abuse and violence, mental and physical torture and prolonged illegal detention. The ATS are fully aware that I am innocent. It appears however that they have a mandate from their political superiors to necessarily implicate me with Malegaon blasts with a view to suggest that Hindu Religious extremists were resorting to terrorism. The prolonged illegal detention, custodial abuse and physical torture were designed to compel me to confess to crimes I had not committed. This attempt of false implication persisted for the entire period between 10.10.2008 and 02.11.2008 . During this entire period I was deliberately isolated from my family and denied access to Lawyers. I say that no arrest panchanama was done after my arrest on 23.10.2008 and I was never asked about the names, addresses and telephone / mobile Nos. details to whom I would like to convey my arrest. I say that attention from my illegal detention was sought to be diverted by the ATS by daily leaking information regarding my involvement which was manifestly false and only indicated the malafide nature of the investigation..
24. I say that While I was thus painted as a sinister mastermind of the Malegaon blasts, a role which has now been subtly reassigned by the ATS to Lt Col Purohit - crippled and vulnerable as I was by the detention, abuse and torture, I could not protest my innocence. Nor was I allowed access to family, friends and Lawyers who could have done so.
25. I say that it is necessary that a detailed enquiry of my illegal detention, custodial torture, etc needs to be done and for which I am ready and willing to get subjected to any such medical test or tests and I also want the ATS officers, who interrogated me, tortured me, etc should also be put to the same tests.
26. I say that the ATS has caused blatant violations of my human rights and I should get a justice and they need to be adequately dealt with as per the provisions of law.
27. In the circumstances I now pray for the following relief:
a) that the ATS be directed to submit an explanation for my detention without authority of law between 10.10.2008 and 23.10.2008;
b). that enquiry/investigation be conducted into my accusation made hereinabove on oath, regarding custodial torture/violence and mental and psychological abuse;
c). that such investigation as referred to in (b) above, include a polygraph test, as well as Narco analysis on me to determine the veracity of my accusations;
d). that such investigation to include a polygraph test and narco analysis on officers of the ATS named by me, and also of those officers whose names, I do not know, but I can identify, for they subjecting me to mental and physical abuse during custody as well as others to be identified by me;
e) that a report be called for from the ATS for the reasons of my admission in two hospitals ( Shusrusha an another) and the medical treatment undergone by me at the said two hospitals;
f) The ATS be directed to disclose the reasons for my stay at Hotel Rajdoot at Mumbai.;
g) For such further and other reliefs as may be fit and proper in the facts and circumstances of the case.
Filed in court on 17.11.2008
Contents Explained to the
Deponent in Hindi &
Confirmed with Deponent.