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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Once upon a time in Mumbai, a death most foul

The Sachin Waze episode recalls the 2003 alleged custodial death case of Khwaja Yunus and highlights the complicity of Maharashtra political parties in police impropriety

Written by Jyoti Punwani |
Updated: March 20, 2021 8:44:14 am
Suspended Assistant Inspector Sachin Waze. (PTI Photo/File)

The news of Assistant Police Inspector Sachin Waze’s arrest by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) must have brought some balm to the tormented family of Khwaja Yunus. The name of this 27-year-old computer engineer was not recalled by any of those involved in the controversy over Waze’s alleged involvement in the case of the explosives-laden car found near Mukesh Ambani’s residence. Neither the government nor the Opposition found it worth mentioning that the officer chosen to lead the investigation into this high-stakes case was the prime accused in a custodial death case.

Khwaja Yunus, accused in the Ghatkopar bomb blasts which killed two persons, reportedly “escaped’’ 12 days after he was arrested. A court-ordered CID inquiry found that he had been killed in police custody. Waze and three other policemen, in whose custody Yunus was last seen, were charged with his murder and suspended. Their trial has begun.

The silence is understandable. Waze was arrested for Yunus’s murder in 2004. He resigned from the police in 2007, but the resignation of this “encounter specialist’’ was not accepted. In 2008, he joined the Shiv Sena in the presence of Uddhav Thackeray. It’s hardly likely then that the Shiv Sena, the party heading the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ruling coalition, would bring up the Khwaja Yunus case. Nor would the opposition BJP. Their party chief in 2008 may have raised hell over Malegaon blast-accused Pragya Thakur’s claims of police torture, but a Muslim blast accused’s death in custody is not likely to concern them.

The NCP holds the home portfolio. Last June under the pretext of “all hands needed during the pandemic’’, Waze and his co-accused were called back to work by the Police Commissioner who has now been transferred. Maharashtra’s home ministry is currently defending the reinstatement of these suspended murder-accused policemen, which has been challenged by Khwaja Yunus’ mother in the Bombay High Court. Finally, what of the third party in the coalition, the Congress?

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It would require guts for any Congress member to speak up for Khwaja Yunus. It was under the Congress-NCP regime that Yunus and 17 other Muslims were arrested for the Ghatkopar bomb blast case. Yunus was killed; the rest of his co-accused were either discharged or acquitted by 2005.

Arrests of innocents could be passed off as shoddy police work. But when such arrests become a pattern targeting only one community, as happened in Maharashtra, the buck must stop at those who control the police. Between 1999 and 2014, the Congress-NCP were in power, with the NCP controlling the home ministry.

In the Khwaja Yunus case, false arrests were only the starting point of the injustice. Every effort by Yunus’ family to get to the truth of his “disappearance’’ was reportedly sought to be thwarted by the Congress-NCP government. When the CID finally completed its court-mandated inquiry, 14 policemen were named. But the government sanctioned prosecution of only four. Yunus’ mother’s petition asking that the remaining 10 also be prosecuted is pending in the Supreme Court.

It took 15 years after Yunus’ killing for the trial of his alleged killers to begin. Three months later the Special PP was sacked. His fault? After the first witness testified to having seen four policemen assault Yunus till he collapsed, the Special PP asked that these four be added as accused. The BJP, then in power with the Sena, sacked him.

When policemen charged with murder and named by eyewitnesses in court, enjoy such protection, it’s naive to expect that their victim would be considered worthy of mention by the very same protectors. Be it the Shiv Sena, the Congress, the NCP or the BJP, all stand exposed by the Sachin Waze episode over their indifference to the value of human lives, to custodial torture, to the repeated incarceration of innocent Muslims.

This column first appeared in the print edition on March 20, 2021 under the title ‘Police and impunity’. The writer is a senior journalist.

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