Josy Joseph on narco tests and the bogus industry of informants in the Indian security establishment

31 August, 2021

Among the themes covered by journalist Josy Joseph’s new book, The Silent Coup: A History of India’s Deep State, are political corruption, money laundering, systemic issues within India’s security establishment and the threats to democracy brought about by the acts of India’s ruling elite.

The book begins with the story of Wahid Deen Mohammed Sheikh, a resident of Mumbai and young school teacher at the time. It details how he was tortured in police custody in late 2001, despite denying that he was a member of the Students’ Islamic Movement of India, or SIMI, which had been banned. After ten days in police custody, charges were filed against him and others, claiming they were planning to carry out a terror attack.

In this excerpt, Wahid recalls undergoing narco tests and being interrogated in October 2006 by “Dr Narco,” or S Malini, a narco-analyst. In particular, he remembers how he was asked questions, including “what comes after three?” and “name India’s neighbouring countries.” The recordings of his responses, Wahid’s team later complained before court during the trial, were edited out of context to show Wahid indicting himself and others. “What Wahid went through, and complained about to the court, was yet another dark secret of India’s criminal justice system. There are several questions over the scientific accuracy of deception-detection tests—polygraph, narco-analysis and brain-mapping—and the debate continues,” Joseph writes.

Years later, when he recalled his flight to Bengaluru in October 2006, Wahid grinned. As they alighted in Bengaluru, the local police formed a ring around and handcuffed the two accused, and took them to the Central Crime Bureau lock-up. Wahid says that there he met inmates who had been mercilessly tortured, some with fractured bones. One of them, though in severe pain, kept singing Mohammed Rafi songs, and between songs told the rest trivia about the legendary singer’s life. “Life is unpredictable and so don’t waste it,” he said.