| IIT- Bombay silver medallist rots in US jail for posting threats to Bush family on a Yahoo Chat board
WHEN Vikram Buddhi, 37, a national science talent scholar and IIT- Bombay silver medallist, got an admission to the prestigious Purdue University's mathematics department in 1996, he told his parents he was excited about the challenges his course would bring.
Little did he know then that less than a decade later, the challenge was to be a gritty legal battle fought from a Chicago jail.
The fight is to exonerate himself of a charge, brought against him by the US Secret Service, of posting threats on a Yahoo! chat board to the lives of former US President George W. Bush and his wife Laura, former Vice- President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynn, and former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
On June 25, 2007, a grand jury at a US district court in Indiana held Vikram guilty of the 11 charges brought against him under a law called Title 18, United States Code. But for some reason, the district judge has not yet pronounced his sentence. Vikram faces up to 35 years in jail for an offence that his father, retired Indian Navy captain B. K. Subbarao, insists has no basis in truth.
The Indian government hasn't responded to his appeals to intervene in the matter. Subbarao, who was garnering support for his son in the US, was deported from there earlier in August, after being paraded in chains on the Purdue campus. The action against Subbarao has made it impossible for him to go back to that country in the next 10 years. Subbarao had gone to the US on an emergency visa on June 25, 2006.
Vikram, who was pursuing a twin- track Ph. D. in pure and applied mathematics, was honoured twice with the best teaching award by Purdue's department of mathematics.
His troubles started in January 2006 when messages on Yahoo! chat boards that urged Iraqi people to avenge the deaths of innocent people in their country were traced to a Purdue IP address. It has not yet been established whether the IP address was being used by Vikram.
The US Secret Service picked him up for interrogation on January 16, 2006, but released him two days later after finding no cause to press charges against him.
The Secret Service, according to transcripts presented to the US court hearing the case, had prepared a report stating clearly that Vikram was no threat in any way to any of its protectees. Yet, on April 14, 2006, the Secret Service arrested him and launched a federal prosecution.
The case has several disturbing aspects. The trial transcripts, according to lawyers in India who are mobilising public opinion for Vikram's release, seem to suggest that Judge James Moody did not allow the jury to be briefed on the law regarding speech threat cases.
More importantly, the chat board postings could not be linked to Vikram in any way. The Purdue computer system, from which these messages were posted, has had a history of being hacked. But these facts did not impress the judge.
Says Somnath Bharati, a Supreme Court advocate and member of the IIT- Delhi senate, who has been busy mobilising opinion in favour of Vikram's release: " They have not been able to link the messages to Vikram. They have not been able to establish that they were posted from his computer. He is a victim of racial discrimination." Subbarao has written to external affairs minister S. M. Krishna and also to US President Barack Obama, secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former US attorney- general Alberto R. Gonzales on Vikram's case. He is yet to hear from any of them.
Delhi Forum coordinator Vijayan M. J., who is campaigning for Vikram's release, says: " The Centre has not moved a finger on the case. The way the judge has behaved smacks of a racial bias. No American student would have been dealt with like that." Says Bijulal M. V., human rights researcher at the law unit of the Indian Social Institute, " Vikram's right to be treated as an equal before the law has been violated. What is India doing to help Vikram? Nothing. Compare this with the efforts of the American government to free the journalists in North Korea and the case of Roxana Saberi, an Iranian- American journalist who was sentenced by an Iranian court." Subbarao, too, had spent months in jail on the charge of being an American spy. A critic of the original design of India's nuclear submarine, he was arrested in May 1988 under the Official Secrets Act and Atomic Energy Act, 1962, from the Sahar International Airport, Mumbai, before he could leave for a conference abroad.
Subbarao argued his own case in prison and successfully disproved the charges against him. He studied law in jail and went on to get a law degree, and is now an advocate in the Supreme Court.
" While in jail, I helped 17 innocent prisoners get released," he reminisces.
But he is yet to see justice being done to his only son. Someone put it aptly - " Lightning has struck the same family twice."
Neha Tara Mehta in New Delhi
Mail Today E-Paper
August 13, 2009
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