Samjhauta Express Blast: How a Pakistani Woman's 'Last Minute' Application Delayed the Verdict
On February 18, 2007, when an IED blast incinerated nearly two coaches of the Attari-bound Samjhauta Express, Mohammad Vakeel was one of the 43 Pakistanis killed. Today, his daughter is fighting for justice.
Sixty-eight people were charred to death in the blasts in two coaches of the Samjhauta Express in 2007. (Getty Images)
A petition, filed by a Pakistani woman in the 12-year-old Samjhauta Express blast case that killed 68 people has brought a new turn to the already complicated case.
With arguments on both sides concluding on March 6, the National Investigation Court in Panchkula, Punjab that was investigating the matter had reserved the verdict for March 11. However, the verdict in the case was delayed after Pakistani national Rahila L Vakil approached the court claiming she had information relevant to the case.
But who is Rahila L Vakeel and how did her petition appear in court in the nick of time?
Rahila, a resident of Pakistan's Hafizabad district in Punjab province, was barely 23-years-old when her father Mohammad Vakeel, visited India before the fatal blast. A farmer and erstwhile resident of Haryana's Gharaunda district in undivided India, Mohammad often came here to visit his former village and meet with relatives. His wife, Rahila's mother, was also from India's Shamli district. Thus Rahila always had familial ties with the country.
On February 18 when an IED blast incinerated nearly two coaches of the Attari-bound Samjhauta Express, Mohammad Vakeel was one of the 43 Pakistanis killed.
After the blast, a distraught Rahila soon arrived in India with blood samples to locate her father. As she had not received any official confirmation of his death, neither had she received anybody (the blood samples did not match the charred remains of the body that was allegedly her father's), Rahila began harbouring hopes that Mohammad was alive.
It was during her search in the months following the blast that she came across Panipat-based human rights advocate Momin Malik in a hospital in Panipat. Malik was helping certain relatives of blast victims to locate their kin and also providing legal aid to survivors and their families.
"At some point, she started believing that her father was incarcerated in some Indian prison. I filed RTIs to about 90 prisons in Punjab, seeking information on an inmate by the name of Mohammad Vakil," Momin told News18. The search yielded negative results.
It was only in 2010 after several letters written to the Home Ministry, NIA and other authorities that Momin finally received confirmation from NIA of Mohammad's death.
Momin managed to get Rahila a VISA to travel to India in 2010 but she could only get a VISA to the village where her maternal family resided. She was not given a VISA to Panipat or Chandigarh. Rahila, who had remained unmarried until she found her father and had in effect put her entire life on hold for the same, was not even allowed to travel to her father's grave in Panipat when she finally found out about it.
After this, Rahila filed a compensation claim before the Railways Tribunal in Chandigarh through Momin. She claimed Rs 10 lakh in compensation and managed to win the case. However, Momin said that the amount secured (which was less than Rs 10 lakh) has not yet reached the family.
Through the years, the advocate who is known for taking up special cases pertaining to victims of cross-border tensions and mishaps filed several pleas to obtain an Indian VISA for Rahila. He wrote to the High Commission in 2012, then again in 2013 but to no avail. He maintained that no summons was received by Rahila or any other survivors or eye-witnesses in Pakistan throughout the course of the investigation.
It was only after coming across Indian media reports about an expected verdict in the case on Mar 11 that Rahila realised that the court had given her and the other Pakistani witnesses a miss. She immediately shot an email to her lawyer in Panipat, requesting him to approach the court to allow her to depose as a witness.
The mail, a copy of which was shared by Momin with News18, is dated Mar 11 and states that Rahila found out that the "case against Samjhota Expresss culprits is being under process and is at the stage of evidence". It went on to say that "astonishingly no...witness is hereby called or summoned from Pakistan...even though we want to get record our statement in this case."
In the mail, Rahila, now 35 and a mother of two, further requested Momin to "make supplication in the honourable court that summons in name of witnesses from Pakistan be issued..."
The mail is signed by Rahila along with two others blast victims Rana Muhammad Shaukat and Muhammad Sammi Ulla. According to Momin, the NIA had tried to summon Pakistani witnesses through diplomatic channels but was unable to reach the witnesses, possibly due to a lag in response from Pakistan.
In the application, filed under Section 311 of CrPC, Rahila has told the court that the witnesses in Pakistan were ready to appear before the court but were not granted visas to testify. “… without the evidence, the victims will suffer an irreparable loss,” reads the petition.
The 12-year-old blast, that occurred close to the Dewana railway station in Haryana's Panipat district, has gone through several twists and turns including the mysterious death of the alleged 'mastermind' Sunil Joshi in 2007. A total of seven persons were named by NIA'a chargesheet after it determined that the blasts were carried out using 'Improvised Homemade Devices'. In 2016, Pakistan had accused India of trying to 'exonerate' those accused in the Samjhauta blast.
Incidentally, one of the co-accused is the RSS leader Naba Kumar Sarkar aka Swami Aseemanand, was also under investigation for his alleged role in two other high profile blasts that took place in 2007 — Ajmer Dargah and Mecca Masjid bombings. However, the right-winger was eventually cleared of all charges in both cases.
While speaking to News18, Rahila's lawyer Momin clarified that the there was nothing 'last minute' about the application.
"Under Section 311, the court can summon a witness at any stage of the investigation until the verdict is pronounced. This is not an extraordinary situation. We are following the law," Momin said.
He also clarified that the petition grew out of an effort to deliver justice to the victims of the blast, not any personal vendetta against those accused in the blast.
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