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The policeman, the patsy and the true tale of terror

What does the arrest of Dy SP Davinder Singh mean for the Afzal Guru case as well as the wider narrative surrounding terror attacks in India?

Deborah Grey 14 Jan 2020

Dy SP Davinder Singh

On Saturday January 11, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir police stopped a car at the Kulgam checkpoint on the Jammu Srinagar highway. Inside it were three men; two members of the Hizbul Mujahiddin and one decorated policeman.

The terrorist group members were identified as Syed Naveed Mushtaq, a former policeman who joined the militant organization in 2017 and his associate Asif. But it was the third man in the car whose presence raised the most questions. Davinder Singh is a decorated policeman of the rank of Deputy Superintendent. Why was he accompanying two known members of Hizbul Mujahiddin?

It is noteworthy that Parliament terror attack convict Afzal Guru had also named Singh during investigations in that case. In 2004, Afzal Guru had reportedly written a letter to his lawyer Sushil Kumar claiming a DSP Davinder Singh who was posted with J&K police’s Special Operations Group at Humhama had asked him to take a Pakistani man named Mohammed to Delhi and help him rent a flat, and also purchase a car for him.

In fact, Afzal Guru recounted the same to journalist Vinod K Jose during an interview. The veteran journalist recalls this in this Facebook post. Jose raises some key issues in the aftermath of Singh’s arrest writing, “Do these attacks qualify as “terrorist” attacks on the feet of meritorious evidences, collected and tried legally with due processes, or do they stand on the shaky ground of politics and rhetoric done by incomplete and convenient investigations? And who are the agents who make most out of such acts politically?”

He also asks, “The second point is that the long pattern in Davinder Singh’s conduct, from 2001 to 2020, where Davinder Singh’s connection with militant organisations is more than evident, it must make every Indian raise questions on the logic of covert operations itself—for which India spends an unaccounted large sum of tax payer’s money year on year. What is the political and financial accountability of covert operations?”

Jose’s post goes on to say, “And foremost, at what levels does sanctions come for these acts? For eg, who asked Davinder Singh to send five terrorists with Afzal to Delhi in 2001 and who asked Davinder Singh to leave Kashmir to Jammu (or Delhi?) with Hizbul Mujahideen commanders in 2020? Also the question to be asked along with it: If Davinder Singh was useful on a longer leash of time, what does it mean suddenly today to see him behind bars for those leaders and officers who must have played a role in supervising him? Is it an inter-agency rivalry that got him arrested in the weekend with Hizb commanders, a mistake, and in which case, the superbosses of both agencies must be scripting a harmless way out as we speak.”

Jose’s complete interview with Afzal Guru may be read here.


The 2001 Parliament attack

The attack on the Indian Parliament was carried out on December 13, 2001. This was perhaps the most brazen attack on India and in fact the very idea of democracy appeared to be under threat from terrorist organisations. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister was in power at the time.

The perpetrators allegedly belonged to two terrorist groups; the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). However, LeT denied their involvement. 14 people, including five of the terrorists were killed in the attack. The terrorists had sneaked in using fake ID stickers on their car. The Delhi police later gave the names of the five terrorists as Hamza, Haider alias Tufail, Rana, Ranvijay and Mohammed. The last one was the same person Afzal Guru had claimed he had been instructed to find housing and a car for by Davinder Singh.

After the attack three Pakistanis were accused of planning the attack; Masood Azhar, Ghazi Baba alias Abu Jehadi and Tariq Ahmed. They could not be nabbed. Four other people were subsequently charged and tried in the case. They were Afzal Guru, his cousin Shaukat Hussain Guru, Shaukat’s wife Afsan alias Navjot and Delhi University professor SAR Geelani.


Davinder Singh tortured Afzal Guru in custody?

Interestingly, it was Davinder Singh who had admitted to journalist Parvaiz Bukhari that he had tortured Afzal Guru in custody but could not get him to divulge any information about Ghazi Baba and other Pakistani accused. Singh allegedly had quite a reputation for torture at the time. Writer Arundhuti Roy’s book on Afzal Guru mentions as much. Afzal Guru had also mentioned his torture to Jose detailing use electric shocks to private parts. Afzal allegedly dd not have any legal representation during his time between his arrest and filing of charges and has subsequently retracted his confession claiming it had been extracted under duress.

In fact, Roy also wrote this essay on Afzal Guru where she raises several important points. Roy writes, “Sadly, in the midst of the frenzy, Afzal seems to have forfeited the right to be an individual, a real person any more. He's become a vehicle for everybody's fantasies—nationalists, separatists, and anti-capital punishment activists. He has become India's great villain and Kashmir's great hero—proving only that whatever our pundits, policymakers and peace gurus say, all these years later, the war in Kashmir has by no means ended.”


The legal journey

The case was adjudicated by a Special Court by judge SN Dhingra over a period of six months during which testimony of 80 witnesses was presented. Three of the accused Afzal Guru, Shaukat Hussain and SAR Gilani were convicted for the offences under Sections 121, 121A, 122, Section 120B read with Sections 302 and 307 read with Section 120B of IPC, sub-Sections (2), (3) and (5) of Section 3 and Section 4(b) of POTA and Sections 3 and 4 of Explosive Substances Act. Afzal and Shaukat were also convicted under Section 3(4) of POTA. Afsan was acquitted of all the charges except the one under Section 123 IPC for which she was convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years and to pay a fine.

The other three were sentenced to death for the offences under Section 302 read with Section 120B IPC and Section 3(2) of POTA. They were also sentenced to life imprisonment on as many as eight counts under the provisions of IPC, POTA and Explosive Substances Act in addition to varying amounts of fine. The amount of approximately Rs 10 lakhs recovered from the possession of Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain was forfeited to the State under Section 6 of the POTA.

But in a twist in the tale, SAR Geelani and Afsan were acquitted on appeal by the High Court on October 29, 2003! This was a body blow to the State’s case considering they had pitched Geelani as nothing short of the “mastermind” in the case. But the HC upheld Afzal and Shaukat’s death sentences. Afzal Guru was represented by legal stalwarts Shanti Bhushan and Colin Gonsalves.

When the matter went to the Supreme Court, Shukat’s sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison and he was subsequently released 9 months before the end of his term due to good conduct. Afzal Guru though was not that fortunate and was hanged on February 9, 2013 and his body was buried in the Tihar Jail premises. His family was informed about his death by post and was thus unable to meet him one last time, leading to speculation that he was executed in secrecy.

In wake of Davinder Singh’s arrest while in company of terrorist group members, one wonders if Afzal Guru’s conviction and subsequent execution will now once again become open to debate? Did a dirty cop send Afzal Guru to jail and did India hang an innocent man? Moreover, what was the extent of Davinder Singh’s operation? Did he have any more accomplices in the police force? Did they conspire with terror groups in any other cases? Were other terror attacks made possible due the complicity of such policemen?

The policeman, the patsy and the true tale of terror

What does the arrest of Dy SP Davinder Singh mean for the Afzal Guru case as well as the wider narrative surrounding terror attacks in India?

Dy SP Davinder Singh

On Saturday January 11, 2020, the Jammu and Kashmir police stopped a car at the Kulgam checkpoint on the Jammu Srinagar highway. Inside it were three men; two members of the Hizbul Mujahiddin and one decorated policeman.

The terrorist group members were identified as Syed Naveed Mushtaq, a former policeman who joined the militant organization in 2017 and his associate Asif. But it was the third man in the car whose presence raised the most questions. Davinder Singh is a decorated policeman of the rank of Deputy Superintendent. Why was he accompanying two known members of Hizbul Mujahiddin?

It is noteworthy that Parliament terror attack convict Afzal Guru had also named Singh during investigations in that case. In 2004, Afzal Guru had reportedly written a letter to his lawyer Sushil Kumar claiming a DSP Davinder Singh who was posted with J&K police’s Special Operations Group at Humhama had asked him to take a Pakistani man named Mohammed to Delhi and help him rent a flat, and also purchase a car for him.

In fact, Afzal Guru recounted the same to journalist Vinod K Jose during an interview. The veteran journalist recalls this in this Facebook post. Jose raises some key issues in the aftermath of Singh’s arrest writing, “Do these attacks qualify as “terrorist” attacks on the feet of meritorious evidences, collected and tried legally with due processes, or do they stand on the shaky ground of politics and rhetoric done by incomplete and convenient investigations? And who are the agents who make most out of such acts politically?”

He also asks, “The second point is that the long pattern in Davinder Singh’s conduct, from 2001 to 2020, where Davinder Singh’s connection with militant organisations is more than evident, it must make every Indian raise questions on the logic of covert operations itself—for which India spends an unaccounted large sum of tax payer’s money year on year. What is the political and financial accountability of covert operations?”

Jose’s post goes on to say, “And foremost, at what levels does sanctions come for these acts? For eg, who asked Davinder Singh to send five terrorists with Afzal to Delhi in 2001 and who asked Davinder Singh to leave Kashmir to Jammu (or Delhi?) with Hizbul Mujahideen commanders in 2020? Also the question to be asked along with it: If Davinder Singh was useful on a longer leash of time, what does it mean suddenly today to see him behind bars for those leaders and officers who must have played a role in supervising him? Is it an inter-agency rivalry that got him arrested in the weekend with Hizb commanders, a mistake, and in which case, the superbosses of both agencies must be scripting a harmless way out as we speak.”

Jose’s complete interview with Afzal Guru may be read here.


The 2001 Parliament attack

The attack on the Indian Parliament was carried out on December 13, 2001. This was perhaps the most brazen attack on India and in fact the very idea of democracy appeared to be under threat from terrorist organisations. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Prime Minister was in power at the time.

The perpetrators allegedly belonged to two terrorist groups; the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). However, LeT denied their involvement. 14 people, including five of the terrorists were killed in the attack. The terrorists had sneaked in using fake ID stickers on their car. The Delhi police later gave the names of the five terrorists as Hamza, Haider alias Tufail, Rana, Ranvijay and Mohammed. The last one was the same person Afzal Guru had claimed he had been instructed to find housing and a car for by Davinder Singh.

After the attack three Pakistanis were accused of planning the attack; Masood Azhar, Ghazi Baba alias Abu Jehadi and Tariq Ahmed. They could not be nabbed. Four other people were subsequently charged and tried in the case. They were Afzal Guru, his cousin Shaukat Hussain Guru, Shaukat’s wife Afsan alias Navjot and Delhi University professor SAR Geelani.


Davinder Singh tortured Afzal Guru in custody?

Interestingly, it was Davinder Singh who had admitted to journalist Parvaiz Bukhari that he had tortured Afzal Guru in custody but could not get him to divulge any information about Ghazi Baba and other Pakistani accused. Singh allegedly had quite a reputation for torture at the time. Writer Arundhuti Roy’s book on Afzal Guru mentions as much. Afzal Guru had also mentioned his torture to Jose detailing use electric shocks to private parts. Afzal allegedly dd not have any legal representation during his time between his arrest and filing of charges and has subsequently retracted his confession claiming it had been extracted under duress.

In fact, Roy also wrote this essay on Afzal Guru where she raises several important points. Roy writes, “Sadly, in the midst of the frenzy, Afzal seems to have forfeited the right to be an individual, a real person any more. He's become a vehicle for everybody's fantasies—nationalists, separatists, and anti-capital punishment activists. He has become India's great villain and Kashmir's great hero—proving only that whatever our pundits, policymakers and peace gurus say, all these years later, the war in Kashmir has by no means ended.”


The legal journey

The case was adjudicated by a Special Court by judge SN Dhingra over a period of six months during which testimony of 80 witnesses was presented. Three of the accused Afzal Guru, Shaukat Hussain and SAR Gilani were convicted for the offences under Sections 121, 121A, 122, Section 120B read with Sections 302 and 307 read with Section 120B of IPC, sub-Sections (2), (3) and (5) of Section 3 and Section 4(b) of POTA and Sections 3 and 4 of Explosive Substances Act. Afzal and Shaukat were also convicted under Section 3(4) of POTA. Afsan was acquitted of all the charges except the one under Section 123 IPC for which she was convicted and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for five years and to pay a fine.

The other three were sentenced to death for the offences under Section 302 read with Section 120B IPC and Section 3(2) of POTA. They were also sentenced to life imprisonment on as many as eight counts under the provisions of IPC, POTA and Explosive Substances Act in addition to varying amounts of fine. The amount of approximately Rs 10 lakhs recovered from the possession of Afzal Guru and Shaukat Hussain was forfeited to the State under Section 6 of the POTA.

But in a twist in the tale, SAR Geelani and Afsan were acquitted on appeal by the High Court on October 29, 2003! This was a body blow to the State’s case considering they had pitched Geelani as nothing short of the “mastermind” in the case. But the HC upheld Afzal and Shaukat’s death sentences. Afzal Guru was represented by legal stalwarts Shanti Bhushan and Colin Gonsalves.

When the matter went to the Supreme Court, Shukat’s sentence was commuted to 10 years in prison and he was subsequently released 9 months before the end of his term due to good conduct. Afzal Guru though was not that fortunate and was hanged on February 9, 2013 and his body was buried in the Tihar Jail premises. His family was informed about his death by post and was thus unable to meet him one last time, leading to speculation that he was executed in secrecy.

In wake of Davinder Singh’s arrest while in company of terrorist group members, one wonders if Afzal Guru’s conviction and subsequent execution will now once again become open to debate? Did a dirty cop send Afzal Guru to jail and did India hang an innocent man? Moreover, what was the extent of Davinder Singh’s operation? Did he have any more accomplices in the police force? Did they conspire with terror groups in any other cases? Were other terror attacks made possible due the complicity of such policemen?

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