India: The Supreme Court on Monday granted bail to Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Prasad Purohit in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, setting aside the Bombay High Court order denying him bail.
The 2006 Malegaon bombings were a series of bomb blasts that took place on 8 September 2006 in Malegaon, a town in the Nashik district of the Indian state of Maharashtra, 290 km northeast of Mumbai. The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) initially blamed the bombings on the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), but a chargesheet filed in 2013 put the blame on the Hindu extremist group Abhinav Bharat. On 25 April 2016, the court found the initial ATS charges to be fabricated and released the nine Muslims previously arrested.
The explosions – which resulted in at least 37 fatalities and 125 injuries – took place in a Muslim cemetery, adjacent to a mosque, at around 13:15 local time after Friday prayers on the holy day of Shab e Bara’at. Most of the blast victims were Muslim pilgrims. Security forces spoke of “two bombs attached to bicycles,” but other reports indicated that three devices had exploded. A stampede ensued after the devices exploded. A curfew was imposed in the town and state paramilitary forces were deployed in sensitive areas to prevent unrest.
Purohit, a former Indian Army officer who was arrested two months after the Malegaon blasts, has already spent nine years in jail without trial.
Before being arrested, Purohit’s work in the army was described as “exemplary” according to Tehelka. Purohit joined the Indian Army in 1994. He was 22. A Lieutenant in 15 Maratha Light Infantry, he graduated from the Officers’ Training Academy in Chennai before he became an intelligence officer, Tehelka reported.
By the time he turned 46, he’d been named as ‘accused number 9’ in the Malegaon blast case.
Between 2002 and 2005, Purohit was part of counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir as a member of MI-25 and the Intelligence Field Security Unit.
After being posted at Deolali near Nashik in Maharashtra, Purohit allegedly came in contact with Ramesh Upadhyay, a retired major who had set up Abhinav Bharat, that Purohit became a part of, the report said. Upadhyay, too, is in jail.
Abhinav Bharat is a right wing Hindu extremist organization founded by Retired Major of Indian Army Ramesh Upadhyay and Lt. Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit in 2006 in Pune, Maharashtra. It has a large base in Madhya Pradesh. The organization is believed to be the revived form the pre-Independence era Abhinav Bharat Society. The activities of the organisations came into sharp focus after Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS) arrested its member in relation to Malegaon blast case. It has no relationship to the Mumbai-based charitable trust of the same name.
Purohit has repeatedly denied that his association with Abhinav Bharat had anything to do with the blasts.
He said, “Having a particular ideology does not make me a terrorist or anti-national.”
A special MCOCA (Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act) court had earlier ruled that the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad wrongly applied this law against Purohit, Pragya Singh Thakur and nine others.
The 4,000-page charge sheet had alleged that Malegaon was selected as the blast target because of its sizeable Muslim population.
Thakur, Purohit and co-accused, Swami Dayanand Pandey were named as the key conspirators. It alleged Pandey had instructed Purohit to arrange for RDX, while Thakur owned the motorcycle which was used in the blast.
Rakesh Dhawde, Shyamlal Sahu, Shivnarain Kalsangra, Sudhakar Chaturvedi, Jagdish Mhatre and Sameer Kulkarni are the other accused, along with Ramesh Upadhyay.
Purohit was accused of stealing 60 kg of RDX from the army — some of which was allegedly used in the Malegaon blast. He was also charged with funding and training Hindu extremist groups like Abhinav Bharat, which was believed to have planned and executed the blast, according to a report NDTV, an online news agency.
The report added that Purohit was stationed at the Army Education Corps Training College at Panchmarhi, Madhya Pradesh, where he was learning Arabic, when the police allegedly found and decoded some texts that he had sent out to Upadyay after the Malegaon blasts.
On 14 August, the apex court had set the date of 17 August to hear Purohit’s plea, saying that the “matter requires lengthy hearing”.
Earlier, a bench of Justices RK Agrawal and MM Shantanagoudar observed that the issue of granting bail to Purohit and cancellation of bail of Thakur needed detailed consideration, as both the pleas are on similar facts.
Purohit moved the apex court challenging the Bombay High Court’s order dismissing his bail plea, while the father of one of the blast victims has challenged the Bombay High Court order granting bail to Thakur, alleging she was a “powerful person” and could influence the witnesses.
On 28 July, the NIA said there were “several incriminating circumstances” against Purohit, which proved his “deep involvement and complicity” in the 2008 Malegaon blast case, but there was no evidence against Thakur.
Although the Malegaon blast case initially made headlines as the first case of saffron terrorism, it remained in public discourse also because of military’s role in the matter after Purohit’s arrest.