The disappearance and the cover-uphttps://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/the-disappearance-and-the-coverup/

The disappearance and the cover-up

The police had come looking for him without knowing his name or what he looked like

On December 25,2002,weeks after an explosion in Ghatkopar,a software engineer was arrested in circumstances his brother describes as “bizarre”. The police had come looking for him without knowing his name or what he looked like.

Syed Khwaja Yunus Sayed Ayub,then 27,was allegedly beaten up in custody and died of injuries. Nearly a decade on,his family’s sustained battle for justice has led to the Bombay High Court ordering the government to pay Rs 20 lakh as compensation. Along the way,it exposed attempts at a cover-up by the police,who had declared Yunus had escaped,and the ineffectiveness of their investigations into the blast.

Yunus,who graduated from the MGM College in Aurangabad,had worked 18 months in Dubai when he came on a month’s holiday to his native Parbhani for the month of Ramzan. “He was a studious and simple boy,academically inclined,” says his brother Syed Khwaja Hussain,now 43. Yunus,the youngest of four,had no criminal antecedents.

Three others — Dr Mohammed Abdul Mateen,Zaheer Ahmed Basheer and Shaikh Mohamed Muzammil,all in their late twenties — were arrested along with Yunus in connection with the Ghatkopar blast,slapped with charges under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and taken to Ghatkopar police station. They were subsequently acquitted by a trial court.

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Yunus’s family alleged that during interrogation at both Ghatkopar and Powai police stations,the four accused were brutally beaten. According to a statement by Mateen,Yunus vomited blood before he died of the injuries in the police lock-up. There has been no trace of Yunus since.

Police inspector Sachin Vaze and three constables currently facing trial for Yunus’s murder had allegedly staged an accident on the Ahemdnagar-Pune highway. They claimed that while they were proceeding to Aurangabad with Yunus to follow an investigation lead,he had escaped. A complaint about his disappearance was lodged at the Parner Court. In September 2008,the Parner Court held that the complaint filed by Vaze was “maliciously false.”

The CID,probing Yunus’s death,had put 14 police officers from both police stations in the “zone of suspicion.” Yunus’s mother Aasiya Begum,now 64,had moved the Bombay High Court in a habeas corpus petition. Pulled up by the High Court on many occasions,the director general of police on December 5,2007,granted sanction for the prosecution of Vaze and constables Rajendra Tiwari,Rajaram Nikam and Sunil Desai.

As Begum’s case shuttled between several benches of the High Court over the years,observations were made against the state government for sparing the other officers named by the CID. Begum filed a petition seeking prosecution of seven officers including assistant commissioner of police Ambadas Pote and police inspector Arun Borude — who committed suicide in 2010 following charges of raping a minor.

The state government had vehemently refused compensation to Begum claiming that a violation of human rights had not been proved. It was in 2008 that the government conceded that death had happened in custody and agreed to pay Rs 3 lakh to Begum as compensation.

The High Court has now enhanced the compensation,observing that Begum “must have undergone tremendous mental trauma since January 6,2003,not only of losing her only son,who was the sole breadwinner of the family,but also because of forced anxiety on her family due to consequent litigation…” She has been allowed to claim further damages through a separate suit. Begum had contended that had her son lived and worked for 34 years more,he would have earned Rs 10 crore.

The court,however,said the DGP’s order allowing the prosecution of only four officers was fairly considered by various government departments and was not based only on the statement of Mateen. Husain,however,said,“Mateen’s statement was treated as FIR by the CID. He has a witness and this should have been considered before sparing the other officers.”

The accused

Police Inspector Sachin Vaze is the main accused in the killing in custody of Khwaja Yunus. Constables Rajendra Tiwari,Rajaram Nikam and Sunil Desai are the other accused. Vaze started his career in the police force in 1990. Part of an encounter squad formed to combat the underworld menace of the late 1990s,he claims to have many as 63 “encounters” to his credit. Vaze,who hails from Kolhapur,was suspended after he was named in the Yunus case. He joined the Shiv Sena in 2008. The trial against the four is pending before a sessions court.

Spared prosecution

Ambadas Pote,ACP,Dongri Division

Arun Borude,Inspector (dead)

Joshi,Inspector

Praful Bhonsale,Inspector

Hemant Desai,Sub-inspector

Rajaram Vahamane,API

Ashok Surganda

The blast

The case in which Khwaja Yunus had been arrested involved an explosion in a BEST bus outside Ghatkopar railway station on December 2,2002. Two people were killed and 28 injured. In an embarrassment to the prosecution that had alleged LeT and SIMI links to the explosion,nine accused in the case were discharged by a special POTA court in March 2004. The court had said that they was insufficient evidence against them. They,however,remained in jail for their alleged involvement in other bomb blasts that occurred in Mumbai around that time. Three others arrested by the police along with Yunus were acquitted by a trial court.