The acquittal of four suspects in the Samjhauta Express blast case and the Indian government’s intention of not pursuing an appeal explain the level of tolerance of Hindu terrorism in India. It also points out how the ruling Bharatia Janata Party (BJP) has brought the country to a point where Hindu terrorist groups and their activities against minorities have become acceptable to society, courts and the government and they can operate without fear.
Pakistan has launched a diplomatic offensive against India after the acquittal of the perpetrators in the 2007 terror attacks by an Indian court. Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua conveyed Pakistan’s reservations about the decision to major world capitals. She invited members of the diplomatic corps to the Foreign Office and briefed them on the “historic injustice done to the 44 Pakistanis killed in the Samjhauta Express terrorist attack in 2007”. All the four perpetrators, including Swami Aseemanand, the mastermind of the heinous attacks and an activist of the Hindu terrorist organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who had publicly confessed his involvement in the massacre, were released by a special court in the northern state of Haryana, citing lack of evidence.
The acquittal of the suspects has also brought the Indian government’s commitment to fighting Hindu terror groups into question, the Aljazeera said in a report. The then-opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as well as some Indian media organisations, tried to blame Pakistan-based groups for the attack, but the former Congress government classified the incident as an “an attempt to derail the improving relationship between India and Pakistan” and vowed that culprits – whoever they may be – would be caught. An investigation by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) eventually concluded that the attack was carried out by four men – Swami Aseemanand, Kamal Chauhan, Rajinder Chaudhary and Lokesh Sharma – linked to the Hindu far-right group Abhinav Bharat. All four suspects were charged by the NIA, making many believe justice would soon be delivered for the victims.
Following the shock decision, the NIA did not declare an intention to appeal to a higher court or initiate a new probe to find and punish the culprits behind the deadly attack. The Indian home minister, Rajnath Singh, also made it clear the government would not pursue an appeal; instead, he said that it was his “personal stand” that “Pakistan is always responsible for such terrorist attacks.” In other words, for all intents and purposes, the case is now closed.
The attack on the train had left 68 persons dead. The majority of the victims were Pakistani citizens. The blast caused major embarrassment for India’s intelligence and security services – it took place only 70km away from the capital New Delhi and in a train that was supposedly guarded by the Indian security services – and threatened to wreck ongoing efforts to build a sustainable peace between India and Pakistan. “The unsatisfactory ending to the Samjhauta Express investigation is only the latest in a line of judicial and political decisions which reflect a failure to pursue justice for Muslim victims of attacks,” the Aljazeera observed. In April last year, for example, a court acquitted all 11 men charged by the NIA in the 2007 Mecca Masjid blast case where six people, all Muslims, were killed in the southern city of Hyderabad. The NIA had found that members of the Abhinav Bharat, including Samjhauta Express blast suspect Swami Aseemanand, were responsible for the blast. But eventually, the court deemed the strong body of evidence previously presented by the investigating agency insufficient to declare the accused guilty. The NIA did not attempt to appeal the decision or continue the investigation. In December 2010 and January 2011, Aseemanand made a series of confessions to the courts admitting his role in the blasts targetting Muslims. A few months later, he retracted the confessions, claiming that they had been extracted under torture.
In 2014, however, speaking to a journalist for the news magazine Caravan, he denied being tortured and once again admitted to various acts of violence targetting Muslims. In the same interview, he also claimed that the plot to bomb Muslim targets across the country was blessed by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders Mohan Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar. Despite contradictory testimonies by leading suspects, like Aseemanand, as well as a large body of evidence presented to the courts by the NIA demonstrating the Hindu far-right’s role in several terror attacks targeting Muslims, the people responsible have been let off the hook.
Experts say the travesty of justice is the result of not only years-long efforts by far-right groups to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, but also the current Indian government’s inclination to shield groups sympathetic to its Hindu-nationalist agenda from scrutiny at all costs. Of course, even before the start of BJP’s tenure, the Indian state had been somewhat reluctant to identify Hindutva organisations as being responsible for terror in the country. But the biggest blow to the investigations into Hindutva terror in India came in 2014, when the BJP won a landslide victory in general elections. In October 2015, Rohini Salian, public prosecutor in the 2008 Malegaon case, claimed that since the Hindu nationalist party came to power, members of the NIA had told her to “go soft” on cases of “saffron (Hindu) terror”. Over the last few years, Salian’s accusations were all but confirmed as one case after another resulted in the acquittal of all suspects with links to Hindu far-right groups. In light of all this, the acquittal of the four suspects in the Samjhauta Express blast case only confirmed what many in India already knew: Muslim victims of terror should not expect to find justice in BJP’s India. Besides making the Indian government’s anti-Muslim attitudes even more obvious than before, the court’s decision to acquit all accused in the case also turned India’s accusing finger towards Pakistan inwards.
Analysts say India has always accused Pakistan of not doing enough to punish its citizens alleged to have committed deadly terror attacks against Indians. After the Samjhauta acquittals, they say, it will be difficult for Indians to look Pakistanis in the eye and ask them tough questions about terrorism. Just like the Indian victims of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Pakistani victims of the Samjhauta blast want and deserve justice. By acquitting all the accused, and refusing to continue with the investigation into the incident, the Indian government practically said, in front of the entire international community, that it is not interested in finding and punishing terrorists who kill Pakistanis and Indian Muslims.