New Delhi, Feb. 26: The Centre stood cornered in the Lok Sabha today as rivals and allies alike slammed it over the long incarceration of Muslim youths in terror-related cases without sufficient evidence.
Minister of state for home R.P.N. Singh struggled to put forward the Centre’s position as members fired questions and asked what action the government had taken in the scores of cases where Muslim youths were acquitted after spending 10-15 years in jail.
“The law does not discriminate against any caste or religion. It is extremely unfortunate if anybody had been chargesheeted with concocted charges. If any specific case is brought to my notice, I will be glad to answer…,” Singh iterated.
The matter came up during question hour when CPM leader Basudeb Acharia asked what rehabilitation and resettlement measures the Centre had started for youths acquitted after over a decade in jail.
The issue was soon lapped up by leaders of other parties, such as Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and Rashtriya Janata Dal boss Lalu Prasad, for whom Muslim support is crucial. “When there is no witness and chargesheet, why are they languishing behind the bars? What action is the government taking?” asked Mulayam.
Minister Singh replied that if no chargesheet is filed within 180 days, an accused has the right to get bail. The members, however, alleged the reality was different and claimed that in terror-related cases, the suspects were not granted bail and had to spend years in jail.
“What the minister is saying is not correct, that after 180 days people get bail automatically. They do not, that is why so many youths are languishing in jail on flimsy grounds,” Trinamul MP Saugata Roy said. He termed the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), invoked in such cases, a draconian law.
But the exchanges turned into an uproar when National Conference MP Sharifuddin Shariq, whose party is a UPA partner, charged the government with adopting a biased approach against Muslim youths and brought up Afzal Guru’s hanging as an example.
Shariq said while Afzal was hanged in a hurry, others on death row, like the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and former Punjab chief minister Beant Singh, had not been sent to the gallows yet. “Afzal Guru was hanged first because he was a Muslim and hailed from Kashmir.”
Shariq said many youths from Kashmir had spent years in jail and were later acquitted and termed innocent. “Who is going to return the life he has lost” he asked and blamed the minister for evading the real issue.
The discussion took up a large portion of the question hour. Speaker Meira Kumar finally agreed to a separate discussion on the issue.