‘Tunnel’ NIA discovered in Murshidabad was an under-construction toilet: APDR fact-finding team

All those arrested by the NIA are Muslim, many of them from homes of extreme poverty. They were picked up in a clandestine manner and their whereabouts are still not known

‘Tunnel’ NIA discovered in Murshidabad was an under-construction toilet: APDR fact-finding team

Rosamma Thomas

On September 24, a team from the Association for the Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) visited the homes of the six men from Murshidabad district of West Bengal, who had earlier been picked up by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and accused of being part of a terrorist group. ‘Picked up’ is used deliberately – there was no formal arrest warrant, personnel conducting the raids could not be identified as they wore no name tags on their uniforms, and the whereabouts of the men who were taken are still unknown.

The media reported that one of the arrested men had a ‘secret tunnel’ in his home – the fact-finding team found that the man who was taken away was not a plumber, but was attempting to construct a toilet at home; the ‘tunnel’ was the chamber he had dug up for the toilet pot.

On September 18, when these men were rounded up, three people were also arrested in Kerala – among them migrant labourers there with families back in Murshidabad. The mainstream media carried reports of the “arrests”– many media houses have laid off staff from several smaller centres, and now have no local person to verify press releases issued by the government.

The APDR fact-finding team, which also comprised student leaders associated with Left parties and one journalist, however, gives the lie to reports put out in the mainstream media about these arrests – all those arrested are Muslim, many of them from homes of extreme poverty. Among those held is Abu Sufian, a tailor, whose father works as a teacher. The NIA team had claimed that there was a “tunnel” in his house – what the fact-finding team found was that Sufian was constructing a toilet, and had dug the pit. He had no means to hire a plumber, and was at work on the toilet himself.

Murshid Hassan, who was arrested from Kerala, is the sole breadwinner of his family – his aged parents are neighbours of Sufian. His mother told the team that she had no notion why her son was arrested, and where he is at present. Neighbours swore that the 22-year-old could never be a terrorist. He worked as a labourer in Kerala and sent money home for his parents.

Najmus Shakib, another 22-year-old arrested by the NIA, is a student who would receive Rs 1,500 in his bank account every month as part of the Yuvashree scheme of the West Bengal government, a scheme to help unemployed young people. It was widely reported that Shakib’s bank account had been used for making transfers of money used by the terrorist network, but the fact-finding team could find nothing suspicious in the passbooks that they were allowed to peruse by his family.

Strangely, the fact-finding report also mentions that the kin of the many of those arrested, including electrician Leu Yean Ahmed, were forced to sign their names on empty polythene bags. It is unclear what use will be made of those signatures, or indeed how long the signature will still be visible on plastic. Shamim Ansari, a mason was also picked up – his mother, who works as a weaver, has no clue why or where he is at present; another mason, Al Mamun Kalam, was also taken by the raiding team, no explanation offered.

“Their traumatized and terrified families are too poor to seek legal recourse. Added to this, the continuous false propaganda by the media has scared the local residents,” the fact-finding team notes, adding “however powerful the NIA might be from the 2008 Act and the subsequent amendments in 2010 and 2019, the agency has not given minimum respect to human rights. They have forcibly entered the houses at midnight by climbing boundary walls, verbally and physically abused the alleged accused persons and their family members, have not shown any search or arrest warrant signed by higher officials or the court, have refused to state the reason for the arrest, have forced the family members to sign empty poly-packs, forms and papers.

Neither the arrested person nor his family was given any time to think before signing papers, and even after a week since the arrest, the families have not been informed of the whereabouts of the arrested persons. The officers of the agency did not display any name or ranks on their dress. The local police stations were fully aware of the raids by the NIA. The local political parties are keeping mum. The fact finding team from APDR has not found any hint or fact that the arrested persons may be involved in any terrorist and disruptive activities.

From the enquiries made by the team at administrative level sources (an official unwilling to reveal his name) it is clear that even the police intelligence had no information about any ‘Al Qaeda terrorist’ in the area before the raids.

The fact-finding team sought the urgent intervention of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee; it has demanded that laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, National Security Act and National Investigation Agency Act be repealed. It has called on the government to take care of the needs of the rest of the family when the sole earning member is arrested. Efficient lawyers must be appointed to defend such poor people who are picked up for no apparent fault; officials forcing people to sign blank papers or plastic sheets should be identified and punished. People were roughed up, and NIA staff forcibly entered homes without the permission of families – these practices must end, the team notes.

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