16 February 2005

More facts needed in Geelani case

16 February 2005
The Hindu

More facts needed in Geelani case

By Siddharth Varadarajan

NEW DELHI, FEB. 15. In any high-profile case of attempted or actual murder, it is normal for the police to come under pressure to show quick results. When the victim is a man like the Delhi University lecturer, S.A.R. Geelani, whom the Delhi police once targeted for prosecution in the Parliament attack case, the pressure increases many times over because the investigating agency has the added burden of being among the list of probable suspects.

When results are not forthcoming, either for lack of evidence or the inadequacy of investigative skills, it is not uncommon for the police to try and deflect criticism by spreading rumours and raising "questions" to discredit the victim and erase the natural sympathy the public at large may feel for him. This was the pattern in the Pushkin Chandra murder investigation and is now fully evident in the manner the police is approaching the Geelani case.

If the aim of the police campaign in the early days of the Pushkin case was to suggest the murder victim's lifestyle was to blame for the crime, the fact that Mr. Geelani was lucky enough to survive the assassin's bullets has itself become a point of suspicion.

Going by the theories retailed by the investigating team and faithfully circulated by gullible reporters this past week, one would almost believe Mr. Geelani shot himself at his own home in an elaborate conspiracy involving his lawyer and family — with the aim of discrediting the police.

The police has questioned the fact that Mr. Geelani's counsel, Nandita Haksar, a senior and highly respected lawyer and human rights activist, did not immediately inform "100" that her client had been shot. However, Ms. Haksar, who rushed Mr. Geelani to hospital along with her husband, clearly felt saving his life was the most important thing to do. Besides, neither she nor her husband carries a mobile phone.

The police, which learnt of the attempted murder about an hour after it happened, says the delay led to the destruction of vital clues. But they have no explanation for why the crime scene was not immediately cordoned off when the first policemen arrived and why, for hours later, members of the public were allowed to walk over the area where Mr. Geelani had been attacked.

The most curious of all questions raised by the police concerns the "recovery" of Mr. Geelani's blood-stained sweater from his brother's residence several days after the crime. When an accident or crime victim is taken into the ICU at any hospital, it is customary for doctors to remove the clothes he or she is wearing at the time. Typically, the clothes are handed over to the victim's relatives, who take them home — especially if the police make no request for them. This is obviously what happened in the case of Mr. Geelani's clothes. Now, in order to hide their own incompetence in failing to examine the clothes on the first day itself, the police have floated the silly suggestion that the fact that the sweater was recovered from his brother's home means he probably was not shot at at the spot where he said he was.

The victim's computer has been seized and sent for forensic examination to Ahmedabad, allegedly to see if he had received any threats (one wonders why there is no capability in Delhi to scan a hard drive), his car has been seized, and his phone and credit card records are being scrutinised. It is almost as if the police have forgotten that Mr. Geelani is the victim here, not the suspect.

Mr. Geelani was acquitted by the Delhi High Court on October 29, 2003 after the trial judge, in what was India's first anti-terrorism case under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The Delhi Police moved the Supreme Court in appeal and that is where matters are pending. In the eyes of the law, if not in the eyes of those who enforce it, however, Mr. Geelani is still an innocent man.

Whether the Delhi police or some unknown arm of the State was involved in the assassination attempt — as Ms. Haksar and others have alleged — is besides the point here. What is relevant is the depressingly familiar pattern of sloppy forensics, poor crime scene investigation and the planting of stories in the media. These do not augur well for the case to be solved. Though it is late in the day, the gravity of the case is such that the Government should transfer the investigation to an agency such as the CBI working under the supervision of a judge.

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