The mysterious death of Faiz Ahmed Aziz Usmani, the brother of a suspected perpetrator of last week's bomb blasts in Mumbai, in the custody of the police bodes ill for the way criminal investigations in general and investigations into terrorist acts are conducted in this country. At the outset, the very fact that the needle of suspicion points to the police makes the response of the authorities to the terrorist blasts seem as desperate as it looks brutal. True, the bulk of Indians angered and anguished by yet another act of random violence won't mope about the death of an individual related to a suspected mass killer. But apart from the absolute wrongness of a statutory body being responsible for the death of someone who apparently could have provided some leads into the investigations, this 'unnatural' death could end up being yet another impediment towards firming up stronger anti-terrorism laws in India.
Tackling terror suspects or leads in a democracy should be about being able to provide evidence that hold up in courts of law which lead up to the guilty being charged and sentenced effectively. This is no 'meek liberal' argument about the wrongness of rounding up the usual suspects alone, but also about sticking to a standard procedure that enables the guilty to be punished — and those innocent to walk free. In a charged atmosphere, even though the temptation may be to discount judicial 'collateral damage', the focus should not waver from sticking to procedures. If one looks at the history of anti-terrorism laws in India down the years, what has crippled legislations is not the laws themselves but investigation procedures. This would be a test case to set things right.
The police insist that Usmani had a health condition that led to his death. (He apparently died of brain haemorrhage due to hypertension.) The family of the deceased insists that this was rubbish. One of them has to be correct. Which is why it is so very important that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), assigned with the task of probing the death, shouldn't be the body that conducts the probe but an independent entity that isn't under the thrall of the Maharashtra Police. If not for moral reasons, the truth must be made public so that a strong anti-terrorist law doesn't become a casualty to bad investigation procedures.