Kolkata: The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) and Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR) along with leading politicians, civil rights activists and organizations from India and the United States urged Supreme Court of India in an online press conference to grant immediate bail to former Indian police service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt. The two organizations and the leading personalities from India term the conviction of Sanjiv Bhatt in a murder case, wrong and based on fraudulent evidence.
The personalities include Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, renowned documentary filmmaker and human rights defender Anand Patwardhan, human rights activist and artist Mallika Sarabhai and Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey. All criticized Bhatt’s conviction, and claimed that it would not stand under judicial scrutiny, urged the Supreme Court to set him free immediately in order to uphold the rule of law.
The Supreme Court of India has scheduled a bail hearing for Bhatt on January 22. Under Indian law, courts can grant bail to those convicted of various crimes, including murder, pending their appeal at higher courts. Bhatt was convicted in June 2019 for the death of a man in 1990. His defense was not allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses during the brief trial, nor was it allowed to present its own witnesses or submit evidence. India’s human rights groups have called it a sham trial.
Shashi Tharoor, a member of Parliament and formerly an Undersecretary General at the United Nations, said he was “outraged by the injustice meted out” to Bhatt, whose “conscientious service to society” and “indomitable capacity for speaking truth to power” had put him in jail.
“Sanjiv’s case is a reflection of the grim times that we live in, where constitutional values and fundamental privileges that have been granted by the constitution to all Indians appear in many cases to be diluted and in many cases perhaps even supplanted by illiberal forces,” Tharoor said. “All Indians with a conscience like Sanjiv Bhatt’s must stand up and fight back against such challenges that threaten to undermine the very foundation of our republic.”
Filmmaker and human rights defender Anand Patwardhan said Bhatt had been jailed “for no other reason than the fact that he opposed the massacre in 2002” and spoke against it. Patwardhan said the civil society “should build a movement for Bhatt’s release.”
Human rights activist, classical dancer and actor Mallika Sarabhai said there was a “definite agenda” not only in the retribution against Bhatt but in the case of most critics of the Modi government.
“I hope that today we will be able to appeal to the better sense of our great courts to say what is being done to Sanjiv is wrong and needs to be corrected immediately,” she said.
Gandhian activist and Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey said Bhatt was the “most courageous” of all police officers as he filed an affidavit stating that Narendra Modi had “chaired a meeting in which the police officers were told to go soft on the Hindutva brigade which was rampaging against the Muslims.”
Pandey said that “manipulation of cases” was a “common story” in the Modi government.
Renowned activist S. R. Darapuri, who is a former Inspector-General of Police in Uttar Pradesh, said he could related to Bhatt’s predicament as they both were “upright and righteous” police officers who had both been “at the receiving end of State oppression.”
Saurin Shah, Ahmedabad-based lawyer who defended Bhatt at his flawed trial, gave a detailed chronology of the case. In October 1990, Bhatt was posted at Jamnagar, Gujarat, when local police arrested 133 rioters, one of whom died 18 days after release. Importantly, none of the 133 people, including the person who died later at a private hospital, had made any allegations of police torture or brutality, even when they met a magistrate. The medical record at the jail where the rioters were imprisoned do not mention any injuries to anyone.
The alleged murder victim, Prabhudas, was twice examined by the jail doctor and at the local government hospital, and none recorded any complaint of torture or injuries.
Commending Bhatt as a “brave officer” who “spoke truth to power,” Raju Rajagopal, co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights, recalled that Bhatt had witnessed the “fateful decision” by Modi, who was at that time Gujarat’s chief minister, that the “law enforcement shall stand down to give Hindu nationalist organizations free rein to attack” Muslims. Bhatt had been “incessantly hounded by the authorities since that time,” Rajagopal said.
“In 2018, he was interrogated on a decades-old case, was tried on completely bogus charges without any opportunity for the defense to call their witnesses, and was put him away for life.”
Rasheed Ahmed, Executive Director of IAMC, said the Indian government must stop “politically managing Sanjiv Bhat’s case and let the law take its course under the supervision of independent judges not the judges who are either scared of government or have themselves becomes political.”
“There is no ambiguity that Sanjiv Bhatt’s conviction and incarceration are politically motivated and that the charges against him are baseless,” Ahmed said. “The courts clearly know it but the political masters want him silenced so that their own crimes stay in the dark rooms out of the public eye.”
Ahmed said that Bhatt deserved a “fair trial and an “independent judiciary”.