Most of us are aware of the legal dictum and practice of ‘innocent till proven guilty.’ However, this may or not always be the case in the real world which has seen several travesties of justice. More importantly, there have also been innumerable cases where the accused have not even been brought to trial and continue to languish in prison for long years. Indeed, the first step to decide guilt or innocence for the accused to be given trial.
One such person happens to be Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit or more famously known as Col Purohit.
Colonel Purohit has been in jail as an under trial for over five years under the stringent Maharashtra Control of Organized Crime Act (MCOCA). However, despite the National Investigation Agency (NIA) taking over the Malegaon blast case for investigation in April 2011 (it was initially handled by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad), no chargesheet has been filed against him by the NIA till date.
A brief background to the proceedings of his situation is given below.
On 29 September 2008, a bomb blast shook the town of Malegaon, a communally sensitive area in Maharashtra, with seven reported casualties and several injured. It was with regard to this blast case that Col Purohit was shown as arrested on 5 November of the same year.
However, in reality, he wasn’t exactly a free man before that date.
According to new information that has now come to light, there is every possibility that Col Purohit’s case is one that is riddled with intrigue, and that the law and due procedure was not adhered to.
Even as the Malegaon bomb blast case investigation was in progress, Purohit was undergoing a course in Arabic language in the AEC Training College and Centre, Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh. Before that he was posted in Devlali, Nashik as an Intelligence Officer of the Southern Command Liaison Unit, Pune.
While there Lt. Col. Purohit developed a strong intelligence network and was successful in accessing useful information about the infamous terror group, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). He was on the verge of completing an important presentation on the links SIMI has with Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI.
On 24 October 2008, Purohit was called in the middle of the night by a certain Colonel Rajiv K. Shrivastav, who claimed to have been directed to do so by Army Headquarters.
Col. Purohit was then given a movement order which stated that he was to go to Army Head Quarters, Delhi for further assistance. However, at Bhopal airport he was relieved of all his personal belongings including his mobile phone. As a result, he was not able to contact his family members. From Bhopal he was taken to Mumbai. And then, from 29October to 4 November,Lt. Col. Purohit was illegally detained by the ATS in the vicinity of Mumbai. On 5 November 2008, Purohit was termed as accused number 9 by the ATS and was shown to be officially arrested.
Subsequently, various RTI replies received by Col. Purohit revealed that Col. Shrivastav had forged the movement order and in his own writing, changed the destination of reporting to provost unit. However, Purohit was not permitted to report to any unit but on the contrary, was detained.
Purohit, who was lodged at the Taloja Central Prison, Navi Mumbai, applied to the relevant Army authorities for information regarding his movement orders from the AEC Training College and Centre, Pachmarhi, Madhya Pradesh. This order set off the sequence of events that led to his arrest, where proper procedures were not followed.
Then on April 13, 2009, the Indian army instituted a court of inquiry (COI) against Purohit and four other army personnel. It was during the proceedings of this court that the shocking revelation surfaced that on the 3 November 2008, Mr. API Bagade, an officer of the Maharashtra ATS in Nashik, stealthily entered the residence of the co-accused Sudhakar Chaturvedi, who was staying near the military cantonment area in Deolali, Nashik. Bagade was caught planting evidence in Chaturvedi’s house by Major Khanjode and Subedar K.K.Pawar of Military Intelligence. On being discovered, Bagade begged the two to not talk of his presence there to anyone since it would affect his job.
The statement of Major Khanjode in the Army Court of Inquiry is reproduced below (full list of references given at the end of this article):
On 03 Nov 08 between 15.00 hrs to 15.30 hrs Sub Pawar gave a call and said that API Bagade of Nashik ATS had called him on his mobile and required directions to Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s house. So I asked him (Sub Pawar) to convey to API Bagade to wait while I take clearance from my CO. I spoke to Col V S Panchpore, I informed him the matter and he asked me in turn to wait till he took clearance from BGS (lnt) SC. After about 10 min CO Col Panch pore gave me a call saying that we were to assist Bagade in giving directions. Subsequently I told Sub Pawar to call Bagade to Team office and I’ll also reach there. On reaching the office I was informed by Sub Pawar that Bagade had given him a call and informed that he (Bagade) had been recalled to his office and he was rushing back. Sub Pawar had also said that API Bagade had told Sub Pawar that it was Sudhakar Chaturvedi who had told ATS that Sub Pawar knew his house. Subsequently to that since the media keeps trailing the ATS and they would be roaming around the cantt. And the fact that I did not know where Chaturvedi stayed led me to go around the cantt and also to house of Sudhakar Chaturvedi which even Sub Pawar had difficulty in locating as he had been there only once. I had gone on my scooter and Sub Pawar was riding pillion. While I was turning my scooter near Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s house, Sub Pawar had got down from my scooter. Once I turned the scooter I saw Sub Pawar coming out of the house of Chaturvedi, the door of which was open and talking to a person. On enquired by me, Sub Pawar said that he had seen the door of the house open and had gone to check and had found API Bagade inside the room and API Bagade was the person he was speaking to. On our return I reported this matter to the CO, Col V S Panchpore and also told him that I had informed the School of Arty Verbally to remain alert regarding placing of sentries. On 04
Nov 08 and 05 Nov 08 I had recounted this incident to a number of officers at HQ SCLU Pune
This is followed by Subedar Pawar’s statement:
On 03 Nov 08 at approx 1430 to 1500 hrs Assistant Police Inspector BAGADE gave a call to me on my mobile and asked me about the address of Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s house. I informed my officer commanding Maj Praveen Khanzode about this who informed HQ SCLU, Pune. After sometime Maj Praveen Khanzode told me to assist API Bagde and then I called him up from my mobile but he told me that he did not need the information as his senior had called him back and he was returning. I immediately informed Maj Praveen Khanzode about this conversation. At approx 1600 hrs Maj Praveen came to ‘A’ Team office and told me that let’s go and find out what is happening and to see if any reporters had entered the cantonment. There after I along with Maj Praveen Khanzode went on his scooter to the room of Sudhakar Chaturvedi. There we saw the door of Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s room was open where in it should have been closed. I entered Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s room and saw API Bagade was alone inside and doing something, on seeing me, he immediately came out and pleaded to me that I should not inform this incident to anyone and nor to his seniors otherwise it would be dangerous for him and his job. Thereafter we came back to our office. Further more if someone’s room has to be searched in his absence there is a requirement of either ‘panchas’ or a panchnama. However there was no other person in the room.
Even Col Shrivastav himself has given a statement in the Army Court of Inquiry that Sudhakar Chaturvedi’s house was searched in the first or second week of November 2008. Shrivastav also said that he knew the contents of Chaturvedi’s house beforehand—that is, before he was ordered to “detach from the case on 20 November 2008.”
During the detention and the Police custody, Purohit was physically and mentally tortured. He spoke of this torment in quite some detail in his Statutory Complaint against Col Shrivastav. However, this complaint is pending for the past four years and no decision has been taken yet. Purohit has also given a written statement of his torture during his appearance first in the Pune court on 19 November 2008. He followed it up again in the Sessions Court, Mumbai on 24 November 2008.
Col. Purohit was medically examined at INS Ashwini which showed that the nerves of both his hands were damaged, and his right knee, which had undergone a reconstruction, has been damaged again. It was a sad case of irony because it was the same knee injury which he had suffered during his military service in Kashmir.
Excerpts from his Statutory Complaint are given below:
any mobile phone and was made to deposit the one which I was carrying with the adjutant Army Education Corps Training College and Centre. I was carrying my mother’s mobile then. The same was handed over to my wife on 30 Oct 2008. This illegal order of Colonel Shrivastav was obeyed by me keeping in mind previous two days events. (h) After checking-in at the Bhopal Airport (checking in was done by Colonel Shrivastava), I was told that we were going to Mumbai instead of New Delhi. My mobile phone was already deposited with Adjutant, Army Education Corps School & Centre. I was neither allowed to inform my wife/mother about this change in destination nor allowed access to any public phone by Colonel Shrivastav. He threatened to use physical force if I tried to use public phone facility. This also amounted to illegal detention by him. We reached Mumbai Airport late at night at around 2230 or 2300hrs on 29 Oct 2008. Immediately, I was taken in a civil TATA Sumo vehicle (which purportedly was of Intelligence Bureau) which drove approximately for two hours. We arrived at an unknown place at the end of the journey. Immediately, I was taken to a room having no windows for interrogation. A team of interrogators were already present there. This team comprised of Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Maharashtra Police and Intelligence Bureau officials. Though all of them were in civil dress, I got to know the names, designation and appointments of all these officials in due course of time. U) I was interrogated by this combined team for almost two hours on the night of 29/30 Oct 2008. Till then all the members of interrogating team was talking to me with a respect deserved by an army officer. After initial two hours of questioning, it was Colonel Shrivastav (Director Military Intelligence – 9) who suddenly sprung from his chair and initiated a brutal physical assault on me. He slapped me on my face at will and continued slapping me and started kicking me all over the body with his shoes on. Colonel R K Shrivastav then started pulling my hair on head and chest as well. At this stage the other interrogators, including the Indian Police Service cadre officers of Anti Terrorism Squad and Intelligence Bureau officers, joined him in physically assaulting me. My face was totally swollen then. Colonel R K Shrivastav’s actions of physical assault on me made the Police and Intelligence Bureau officers shed their inhibition of carrying out physical torture of mine, a serving army officer. Colonel R K Shrivastav then stood on my feet and legs as I was tied to a chair and inhumanly started twisting my nipples and my private parts (genitals) with all his strength. Colonel Shrivastav once again started hitting me on my face and even boxing me with tight fists on my back. Colonel Shrivastav was holding and pulling my hair on head while the other Indian Police Service officers tortured me. I was in absolute state of shock and totally shattered by this physical assault carried out by Colonel R K Shrivastav, Sena Medal, (Director Military Intelligence- 9). (k) This nightmare of physical assaults hitting, slapping, twisting of private parts, tying me to a chair, standing on my legs, feet coupled with dirtiest possible abuses on my mother, wife and sister continued till unabated. After four days of continuous beating and torture, on 02 Nov 2008, Colonel Shrivastav ordered the Police to handcuff me. This was breach of privilege for the serving army officer and it was not police officers but insistence of Col Srivastav which caused the same. I was handcuffed and remained in that condition till 04 Nov 2008. (I) The sequence of beating and brutal torture was intermittently on with Colonel Shrivastav abusing me about my mother, wife and sister. He kept on threatening me that if I don’t own up my involvement in the Malegaon Bomb Blast, he (Colonel Shrivastav) would strip my mother, wife and sister and make them parade naked in front of me. Police officially arrested me on 05 Nov 2008 and the legal process commenced. (m) From 29 Oct 2008 to 04 Nov 2008, I was not allowed to talk to my family members even once over the telephone. I was confined to the same unknown location with round the clock Police guard guarding me while I was in handcuffed condition. I was totally broken down and traumatized, both physically and mentally. It was not any state police but Col Srivastav, who led me into the trap of illegal detention and torture.
Since 2011, the investigation of the Malegaon case has been taken over by the NIA. Therefore, police custody under MCOCA for Col Purohit was granted to the NIA by the High Court. By the end of the same year, Purohit’s case was admitted before a bench comprising Justices H.L. Dattu and C.K. Prasad in the Supreme Court where the matter is pending for the last two and a half years.
During this time, Lt.Col.Purohit appealed to the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Defence Minister of India in the form of letters where he expressed pain and grief over the mistreatment meted out to him and the loss of credibility this accusation has bought upon his military career. But it seemed all his woes fell on deaf ears.
If one has been following this case, this question automatically pops-up: Why these double standards? Anytime a devastating terror attack takes place and the perpetrators of the attack are nabbed by law enforcement with credible evidence, we see ‘Human Rights’ activists demanding that these perpetrators should also be treated with dignity. But where the illegal detention and torture of a military official is concerned, these activists lose their voice. No one should transgress the law of the land, and so it should be clarified that if there is even an iota of truth in the charges against Purohit, he should face the consequences. But so far, the charges seem to be based on very flimsy evidence.
So why then is a man whose past credentials can speak for themselves being called a dreaded figure of ‘Hindu Terrorism’?
One can’t help but see the parallels of this case with the now infamous Dreyfus Affair of late nineteenth century France when a patriotic French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully accused of treason and punished till the truth of his innocence emerged. Back then, the intellectuals accused the French government of indulging in anti-semitism (Dreyfus was a Jew).
If we use that parallel, when many national leaders and media persons are painting Purohit as a ‘Hindu Terrorist’, is the ‘Purohit Affair’ a case of ‘Anti-Hinduism?’
1. Colonel Purohit’s Letter to the Defence Minister-12 Sept 2013
2. Colonel Purohit’s Letter to the Home Minister- 12th Feb 2014
3. Colonel Purohit’s Letter to the Prime Minister -August 2013
4. Copy of the forged movement order
5. Colonel Purohit’s Statutory Complaint
6. Statements of Major Khanjode, Subedar Pawar and Col. Shrivastav in the Army Court of Inquiry