Along with the search for witnesses to an incident that took place over 26 years ago, the trial of seven policemen accused of killing nine Muslim men at Suleman Usman Bakery during the 1993 communal riots faces an additional challenge — finding a tape-recorder, that Pydhonie police claims it has been unable to find.
On Tuesday, the recording of evidence of two witnesses, both policemen who in 2001 had heard audio cassettes containing wireless messages from the control room on January 9, 1993, the day of the incident, and transcribed them, had to be deferred for want of a tape-recorder.
The sessions court judge asked the police why the tape-recorder had not been arranged despite the prosecution knowing that the witnesses pertained to the tapes, and these would have to be heard in court. An officer from the Pydhonie police claimed that a cassette tape-recorder was not found easily these days. He also told the court that the cassettes were not in “running condition”. The court, however, directed the police to arrange for a tape-recorder and summon the two witnesses only after that.
Last year, the cassettes were heard for the first time in over 15 years, following the court’s order to verify the transcripts prepared by the prosecution and submitted as part of the chargesheet against the accused policemen. The cassettes were heard in the presence of the court’s registrar, Pydhonie police and the prosecutor as well as defence advocates. While the two cassettes had been in working condition, a technician had to be called in January after one of them got stuck multiple times in the recorder. At that time, too, the police had claimed that they could not find a tape-recorder until the advocates for the accused themselves arranged for one. On Tuesday, the court asked the defence advocates if they could bring the same tape-recorder for the hearing. Advocate Shrikant Shivade told the court that the tape-recorder had been arranged only for a day through a mechanic, who used it for repairing tapes. He told the court that even mechanics of tape-recorders or tapes are not easily found these days.
The transcripts pertain to wireless messages received from policemen stationed across the city sent to the control room, including on January 9, 1993, when nine men were killed in the building which housed the Suleman Usman bakery. An FIR was registered only in 2001 after the witnesses, including workers at the bakery, students and teachers of the madrasa where many of the deceased victims belonged from, filed affidavits before the Justice B N Srikrishna Commission that investigated the riots.
While the commission had said that the wireless messages exchanged between policemen at the spot and the control room, “did not indicate any sense of urgency”, the accused claim that the transcripts submitted before the commission had various omissions, excluding some messages heard in the cassettes. The witnesses will be made to hear the cassettes before the court during the recording of evidence.
On Tuesday, the court recorded the evidence of the second witness in the case, a police constable, who had recorded wireless messages at the control room from 11.54 am to 1.16 pm on the day of the incident.
Dilip Nikale, now retired, identified his handwriting on four pages of the logbook. Nikale told the court that his duty included writing down messages sent by policemen to the control room and relaying it to seniors for further communication to the senders. Nikale said during cross-examination that there were over 100 times the number of messages received at the control room since there were communal riots in the city compared to regular days.
Responding to a question by defence advocate Shivade, Nikale also said that a gist of the wireless messages was written and that they were not noted down word for word. Nikale was also shown messages written by him in the logbook including one received from Pydhonie 1 wireless at 12.52 pm, that there was firing from the top of Suleman Bakery by the public.
He responded in the affirmative when asked if from the messages received at that time, he had gathered that the situation was “critical”. He also said that he could not say if any orders were relayed through the control room from to shoot at the mob.
The recording of evidence will continue on Wednesday.