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04 May, 2010

Praveen Swami's defence and JTSA's rejoinder

The following is the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association's rejoinder to Praveen Swami's reply to its statement "Praveen Swami’s Not So Fabulous Fables":

We are greatly surprised and also, one may add, a little amused at this display of victimhood on the part of Praveen Swami and his friends. It appears that we are to forget that Swami churns out one column after another in a national daily, week after week, giving detailed expositions of the guilt of those who are still awaiting trials. Ms Annie Zaidi in her letter to the editor of countercurrents, the website where our statement first appeared, seems so exercised by our accusations against Mr. Swami, but it does not concern her when her friend and ex-boss writes, to give just one example, about Abu Bashar, a poor maulana from Azamgarh, as a jihadist. (“Islamism, Modernity and Indian Mujahideen”, March 22, 2010, The Hindu) Does she not realize that Bashar’s trial could be vitiated and prejudiced by Swami’s public indictments?

Our humble email campaign is being pitted as a grave injustice to Swami’s journalistic integrity, but the inequality between JTSA and the might of the Hindu group (and Swami’s clout within it) is apparent to anyone not ‘blinded by faith’. We may add here that Swami is an absolute non-entity for us. JTSA was formed in the aftermath of the Batla House ‘encounter’; when a group of teachers at Jamia Millia Islamia felt that the police story about the ‘encounter; was riddled with holes, and we came together to campaign for truth and justice. Our fight is against the State and its agencies, and the fact that it refused any free and fair enquiry into the ‘encounter’ strengthens our conviction that the State does not wish the truth to be revealed. Our limited interest in Swami is only because he appears to be an apologist for the State. We have no personal interest in Swami, we assure his friends and well wishers. However it is entirely reasonable and justified for anyone to issue public statements against someone’s politics—and Swami’s politics is clearly Statist and strangely unquestioning for an investigative journalist. It is no crime to raise doubts about a certain kind of reportage which merely parrots the investigators’ claims; surely Swami is not alone in pushing the Home Ministry’s agenda, but he certainly is the undisputed king of this. To fear that one’s writings would be ‘challenged by those who don’t agree’ is intellectual dishonesty and crass arrogance at the least.

As for the Swami’s defence, we would like to submit the following:

I
Swami says that it’s no one’s business who the source of his story is; fair enough, though he shouldn’t baulk when he is criticized for consistent reliance on investigators and their dossiers alone. It is the accuracy of information, he says, which should be the issue. Very good! Except how do you measure the accuracy of statements such as these?

a) “Bored by the religious polemic, though, Bashar’s students [alleged IM bombers] turned instead to Anurag Kashyap’s movie Black Friday…” (“Islamism, Modernity and Indian Mujahideen”, March 22, 2010, The Hindu)

b) “Early in the summer of 2004, investigators say, the core members of the network that was later to call itself the Indian Mujahideen met at Bhatkal’s beachfront to discuss their plans. Iqbal Shahbandri and Bhatkal-based cleric Shabbir Gangoli are alleged to have held ideological classes; the group also took time out to practice shooting with airguns. Bawa had overall charge of arrangements — a task that illustrated his status as the Bhatkal brothers’ most trusted lieutenant.” (The Rebirth of the Indian Mujahideen”, 19th April 2010, The Hindu)

One could provide a n endless list of such assertions that Swami makes. The only source of this supposedly accurate information can be chargesheets (which to repeat what we said in the last post, are only chargesheets, not proven guilt) or custodial confessions.

On the question of the new footage, why does the Pune Police continue to be unimpressed with ATS’s naming of Bhatkal? Why do they say that the ATS is after “usual suspects’? (see http://epaper.mailtoday.in/Details.aspx?
boxid=2310463&id=35313&issuedate=1242010
)

II
On the Batla House ‘encounter’, Swami responds thus:
The National Human Rights Commission studied the same evidence I did—and more which was not available when I wrote. It says: “…swabs which were taken from the right hands of Mohd Atif Ameen and Modh Sajid by the doctors at the time of post mortem in AIIMS were sent in sealed bottles to CFSL for dermal nitrate tests in the laboratory. The same were found to contain gun shot residue. This conclusively establishes that Mohd Atif Ameen and Mohd Sajid had both used fire arms at the time of incident”. [5] Unless it believes that the NHRC is an intelligence agency, the allegation made by the JTSA is untrue.

We have maintained and reiterate it even more strongly now, after the publication of the post mortem reports, that the National Human Rights Commission studied the evidence placed before it selectively, and willfully ignored all contrary evidence. The only so-called clinching evidence against the two slain boys is the presence of gun shot residue on their right hands, which in NHRC’s words quoted by Swami, “conclusively establishes that Atif and Sajid had both used fire arms at the time of incident.” However the presence of Gun shot residue (GSR) is hardly ‘conclusive’ evidence. For several years now, forensic scientists have cautioned against the enthusiasm of prosecutors to push for GSR as crucial evidence, for these reasons:

1) GSR is like a cloud of invisible particles, which can be inadvertently shaken off by the shooter with the shake of a hand, even a single swift movement or rubbing of hands etc. It easily transfers to clothes or car seats etc.

2) It is entirely possible for non-shooters to be contaminated by GSR. Police vehicles are particularly prone to GSR contamination and non shooters can likely acquire GSR traveling in vehicles ferrying shooters, or in which shooters have previously travelled. Indeed, experiments conducted by forensic scientists have revealed that even those non-shooters who entered a room a few minutes after there had been firing acquired GSR.

3) Particles that are ostensibly peculiar to GSR can be produced in ways other than fire shots, for example particles similar to GSR can be found in brake linings.
(Among others, see New Scientist, 23 November 2005, magazine issue 2527/ http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18825274.
300-why-we-cannot-rely-on-firearm-forensics.html?full=true
)

So really, GSR is hardly the kind of clinching evidence that the NHRC, and following it, Swami would have us believe. Indeed, as the post mortem reports clearly demonstrate, the two boys were shot from a close range, making it that much easier for GSR to be deposited on their on their bodies.
Second, he responds to our charge of refusing to comment on the Batla House ‘encounter’ in light of the post-mortem reports:

I didn’t. I still don’t. Having studied the available evidence, the NHRC concluded: “In such circumstances, the action taken by the police party in which Mohd. Atif Ameen and Mohd. Sajid received fatal injuries and died is fully protected by law”. [6] Parenthetically, I note that members of the Facebook group I believe the 2008 Batla House encounter was FAKE insist that “not only the JTSA report, but also NHRC (a statutory body of GOI) says that the encounter is fake”. [7] Either these people have not read the NHRC report—or are lying.

At the cost of repeating ourselves, we would like to place the following facts:

The NHRC’s ‘available evidence’ consisted of the statements of senior police officers:

1) R.R. Upadhayay, Additional Commissioner of Police, Vigilance;

2) Satish Chandra, Special Commissioner of Police (Vigilance), Delhi;

3) Neeraj Thakur, DCP (Crime & Rly.), Delhi;

4) Karnail Singh, Joint Commissioner of Police, Special Cell, Delhi.

These are the very same people who were being supposedly investigated. Not a single neighbour from Batla House or family member of the deceased was called for deposition to verify or cross check the police version despite them having filed applications wishing to testify before the Commission; the NHRC did not even bother to visit the site of the ‘encounter’. Mr. Swami may not find it of interest that the NHRC did not deem it necessary to investigate the presence of non-firearm ante-mortem injuries; neither did it exercise the NHRC that the two boys did not receive a single bullet injury in the frontal region of their bodies—or that such evidence does not square with the statements made by the senior police officers’ descriptions of the sequence of events in their notes to the NHRC.

III
On our raising of Swami’s linking of Bhatkal and IM to the Bangalore stadium blasts, Swami says:

Leaving aside the minor irony here—the JTSA’s great faith in an embarrassed BJP politician—there are two facts that need to be recorded. In pursuit of the government’s “betting mafia” story, the Karnataka Police arrested five Uttar Pradesh suspects. Those suspects were cleared of any involvement in the attacks by the Uttar Pradesh Police. [8] Second, I clearly identified that suspicions directed at Mohammad Zarar Siddi Bawa, a.k.a. Yasin Bhatkal, were based on what investigators were telling me. Similarity in bomb design is quite evidently reasonable ground for suspicion—though it is not of course proof. Since I have no independent expertise in bomb forensics, the information was clearly attributed to investigators. Its up to readers whether they want to believe them or not.

No body expects Swami to have independent expertise in bomb forensics, but independent reporting certainly. There were other journalists who were not buying the investigators’ story that the presence of easily available samay clocks could be proof alone of the omnipresent IM’s hand.

“But as far as the suspects are concerned, it is turning out to be an old game for the Karnataka police. They have zeroed in on Riyaz Bhatkal and Bilal—who have been blamed for any terror attack on any part of the state for the past four years.

The police do not have any evidence to link Bhatkal to the Bangalore blasts. The only premise on which their argument is based is the “similarity in planning the attacks”. Karnataka police's inability to make a breakthrough in the case has drawn flak.

“It is highly intriguing that the police have not made any major breakthrough. They are trying to find scapegoats and hence naming the usual suspects," said Rakesh Para, a former intelligence officer of the Karnataka police.” (http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/93651/India/
IPL+betting+mafia+behind+twin+blasts:+K'taka+HM.html
)
There were also others who were willing to cite alternate theories:
“Sources in Bangalore said the Indian Mujahideen is being linked to the April 17 bomb episode outside the cricket stadium largely on account of the presence of the clocks. “But as these clocks are easily available all over the country it is not easy to corroborate only on this basis or the usage of ammonium nitrate gel as the explosive,” said the sources.

Karnataka DGP Ajai Kumar Singh said: ‘We are looking at the similarities between these blasts and blasts in other parts of the country. There are however a lot of dissimilarities between these blasts and the July 25 serial blasts in Bangalore’.”(http://www.indianexpress.com/news/clock-in-
stadium-bombs-points-at-im/609027/1
)
It is of course up to the readers to decide whether to believe the investigators or not, but surely by obfuscating other view points, Swami is telling his readers that the investigators information is the sole authoritative version of affairs.

On the link between SIMI and IM and terrorism, he further writes:
I’m a little uncertain here about precisely what the allegation is here—but think the JTSA has some problem with my suggesting that SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen are linked to terrorism. I’m in good company, I think, in this belief. Javed Anand had a must-read article on the issue some time back. [9] Yoginder Sikand had some good background earlier. [10] If you’re willing to fork out a few bucks for more detail, do read C. Christine Fair on the subject. [11] This is just a tiny part of a mass of literature—not including charge-sheets, trial records and so on—on the subject. You don’t need access to the Intelligence Services to access it—just a few hours in a good library
Yes indeed, we have a problem with Swami’s linking of SIMI and IM’s connection with terrorism, but in particular with his linking of these groups to the stadium blasts. And we are not in bad company either. In August 2008, Justice Geeta Mittal, who headed the High Court Tribunal on the ban on SIMI asked the Centre to produce any “fresh material” to “connect” the organisation to “bomb blasts, riots, destructive activities”. She said: “You say that SIMI is connected to bomb blasts, riots, destructive activities. Place specific material before me, you (Centre) cannot presume their involvement.” JTSA finds SIMI’s ideology abhorrent, particularly its views on women, but that does not mean that we are willing to let them be hanged on charges of terror when there is no evidence to prove it.

Second, the IM’s links with SIMI are tenuous. The DGP of Gujarat, P.C. Pande provided a semantic link between SIMI and IM: “You remove S and I from ‘SIMI’ and you get IM, for Indian Mujahideen.” (Ahmedabad, Aug 16 2008, IANS) Well, it could as easily be argued that if you remove ‘B’ from IB and supplant it with ‘M’, you get IM.

The only proof of this shadowy organisation’s existence are the dubious emails sent in the aftermath of the blasts claiming responsibility, and the lengthy chargesheets filed by the various police departments.

We did not see any link between the life story about a supposed IM operative and the stadium blast, neither did Swami provide any in his rejoinder. As for trial records, Tehelka has done a series on SIMI which can be cited and which prove Swami’s confident assertions utterly wrong. These are also easily accessible on the Internet. Moreover, none of the IM trials have even begun for Swami to cite. As for forking out a few bucks for detail, don’t bother, because Christine Fair approvingly cites among others, Praveen Swami himself! Talk about friends in need, friends indeed!

We cannot speak for either the Facebook Page I Believe the 2008 Batla House Encounter was fake or the page, Shut up Praveen Swami as none of us are members of either of the pages, but cannot help noticing that the ‘Shut Up Praveen Swami’ page was hacked into and destroyed on 28th April 2010. When its creator, re-started the page on the same night, it was again hacked into on 30th April 2010.

PS: a member of the JTSA did indeed email the release to the Hindu on this email id openpage@hindu.co.in on 27th April 2010. We would be grateful to the editors of the Hindu were they to publish the entire text of the exchange, including our rejoinder to Swami’s response. It is a little unfair to ask us to circulate Swami’s email, as the Chief of Bureau asks us to in the name of ‘fairness’, when they have a newspaper and a weekly magazine at their disposal, which has always given Swami a free run.

Released by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (www.teacherssolidarity.org)

Distributed by Countercurrents.org

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