Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The "Paper Case": Evidence and Narrative of a Terrorism Trial in Delhi

Academic journal article Law & Society Review

The "Paper Case": Evidence and Narrative of a Terrorism Trial in Delhi

Article excerpt

In most Indian trial courts, the file alone bears witness to what happens inside a courtroom. Investigative and trial court processes are marked by the production of files and paperwork. Like many other common law jurisdictions in Asia and Africa, India does not use a jury for criminal trials. In contrast to an imagined "ideal" common law trial in which testimony is seen and heard by judge and jury, trials in India largely depend on what the judges, police officials, and lawyers inscribe into the court file.1 In this article, I am interested how legal truth is produced in the investigative and trial processes, by paper and the certificatory practices that accompany it.

Given this reliance on documents and files, it is not surprising that the phrase kagazi case (the paper case) regularly came up during my fieldwork in Delhi's terrorism courts. Defendants accused of terrorist crimes often only come to know the full extent of the case against them when the police enter the charge sheet into the court records. They describe the horror of reading the stories of their lives as narrated by a police file. "When I read I was accused of planting twenty-two bombs, my head started spinning" one said to me. Another told me of his shock upon learning that his work as a trade union activist was interpreted as evidence of his links to Maoist guerrillas. According to another, "the police can even say that you squeezed water from a stone." Hence, the term kagazi case was uttered with trepidation: within these files, defendants feared, fiction could be transformed into fact. Conversely, the terror-accused knew that the versions of reality presented by the police within a court file could only be contested through the very protocols of that file. Files therefore do not record what is in the world; rather, they attempt to mediate different versions of reality into existence.

In this article, I explain the ways in which realities come to be simultaneously produced and contested by the case file. I do so by following the investigation and trial in the wake of a series of bombings in Delhi in 2008. I focus on the investigative and trial processes in the case against a person I call "Fahad," who the Delhi police have accused of planting a bomb, and of being part of a conspiracy behind another series of bombings in the state of Gujarat. Delhi's anti-terror police-the Special Cell-have alleged that Fahad placed a small bomb in a bag, and then hired an auto-rickshaw to take him to a crowded market. Upon reaching the market, Fahad allegedly got out, leaving the bag behind and asking the driver to wait. The police claim that the bomb exploded several minutes after Fahad left the market. Several people were killed; the rickshaw driver and several others were injured. In the days following the explosion, the police arrested Fahad along with others the police claimed were part of the conspiracy. In this article, I show how this narrative was built up through documents produced during the investigation and how, during the trial, the defense challenged this narrative by questioning the validity of those documents.

Unlike some accounts of terrorism laws, which are framed by ideas of exceptionalism and the state of emergency (Rogers 2008; Singh 2006, 2007), my ethnography shows that terrorism trials in India are not exceptional in any meaningful manner and are marked by ordinary trial processes. What is often surprising about terrorism trials is precisely that they are so similar to other criminal trials. This article is part of a broader research project in which I argue for a reframing of terrorism trials from the exceptional to the ordinary. In this article, I highlight a progression that is common to many other criminal trials: a narrative is built gradually, through an evidentiary process that is essentially material-and that, certainly in the Indian case, the materiality of the trial is predicated upon paper.

This article contributes to the growing body of literature around legal and bureaucratic practices and their link to epistemology. …

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