- U.S. AFFAIRS
- SOUTH ASIA
– EDISON, N.J.
Several members of the Indian-American community met at the Edison Hotel here Feb. 26 to show their support to Aakash Dalal and his family and to raise awareness about the injustice being done to the 21-year-old former Rutgers University student. Banners posted in the hotel’s conference room demanded the authorities either give him a speedy trial or release Aakash Dalal on a reasonable bail.
The Feb. 26 meeting, organized by the Support Aakash Dalal Team, came on the heels of the Bergen County court ruling Feb. 18 rejecting the defense motion of moving the case out of Bergen County. Supporters allege that Aakash Dalal, who is being treated as a terrorist, is being held in solitary confinement for the past two years for his alleged role in the bombings and spends 21 hours a day in an 8×6 cell. The defense lawyer had also sought to move the upcoming trial because Dalal’s family believes that fair trial will not be held in the Bergen County court.
More than 100 people attended the event and signed a petition pledging their support. Also present at the meeting were Aakash Dalal’s parents –Adarsh and Harsha Dalal. Keeping a low profile throughout the meeting, the Dalals were seen mingling with the attendees, with their hopes pinned high on the community support.
Speaking to News India Times, Adarsh Dalal said his son’s civil rights are being violated, as he is being held indefinitely in solitary confinement. “This is the worst, trying time,” he said, adding that the he and wife take turns to go meet their only child on Wednesdays and Sundays. Unable to share details of the case according to his lawyer’s advice, Adarsh Dalal expressed his hopes on the community coming together in large numbers and pressure the court to expedite his son’s trial.
Adarsh Dalal denied that his son was in any way involved in the case, and that said Aakash Dalal had been in New Hampshire working on Ron Paul’s presidential bid. His boarding passes to and from New Hampshire have been considered insufficient evidence. He also challenged prosecutors’ statements that Aakash had traveled to North Korea and Yemen to receive training in terrorism. “There is no proof of that in his passport. Show me the evidence,” he asked. Adarsh Dalal also refuted media reports that co-defendant Anthony M. Graziano was a childhood friend of his son, and claimed that he had never seen or heard of Graziano until the case against his son began to take shape.
Aakash Dalal was 19 when he was arrested in March of 2012 for his alleged role in conducting and encouraging attacks on Jewish temples in New Jersey’s Bergen County, along with Graziano. He is accused of having racial motivations in carrying out the attacks, and of instructing Graziano on the proper way to build Molotov cocktails – bottles of alcohol with lit rags stuffed into the opening – and other explosive devices.
Both Aakash Dalal and Graziano have pleaded not guilty to aggravated arson, conspiracy and bias intimidation charges. Each faces life in prison if convicted. Aakash Dalal also is charged with conspiracy to murder Martin Delaney, the assistant prosecutor handling his case at the time; conspiracy to possess an assault firearm; and making a threat to commit murder. Aakash Dalal’s bail is currently set at $4 million, without the 10 percent option. If convicted of all charges, he faces up to 54 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
An appellate court reviewing Aakash Dalal’s bail amount – at that time set at $2.5 million – found it to be “excessive and an abuse of discretion,” according to a video presentation made at the Feb. 26 meeting. The appellate court noted the severity of the charges but also noted that no one had been seriously hurt, except a rabbi who had burned his hand.
The appellate court also noted that the bombings were planned via instant messages and Graziano was likely the perpetrator in the actual bombings. The court recommended setting bail at $1 million. But when the Dalals went to pay the bail amount – mortgaging their home to come up with the bond – they were told that their son’s bail had now increased to $4 million, in light of new findings by the FBI that day that Dalal was planning to kill Delaney, once released, and had a list of people he planned to attack. The Dalals did not have $4 million, so their son remained in solitary confinement, Adarsh Dalal said.
At the Feb. 26 meeting, supporters clarified that the aim of the group is to demand a fair and speedy trial and lower the bail to a reasonable amount; not prove Dalal innocent.
Hiren Gandhi, a community activist, claimed that the case was “over-charged” from the outset “due to heightened sensitivity and personal political agendas.” Dalal was accused of receiving military training in Ukraine, Russia or Korea, whereas, his family claims that he has never traveled outside the U.S. No DHS records or passport was checked, his family says.
Who is Aakash Dalal
A video presentation at the meeting showed Aakash Dalal as a brilliant student with a promising resume.
With several awards and recognitions to his credit, he was the president of the Young American for Liberty at Rutgers. He graduated from Lodi High School in Bergen County with a perfect GPA. He scored 2280/2400 on his SATs. Aakash Dalal also took a semester off to campaign for Congressman Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in New Hampshire.
At the Feb. 26 meeting, community members put forward various ideas to tackle the issue. The first priority, they agreed, was to get Aakash Dalal out of the Bergen County jail and arrange bail so that he could be at his parents’ home. Some speakers at the event felt that the community must hold rallies and sign petitions – methods that proved effective during the Dharun Ravi trial and the Divyendu Sinha murder case.
Many criticized the Indian-American community for its lack of participation in such causes and highlighted the need to raise more awareness. “Number is the game here,” Pradip “Peter” Kothari, one of the organizers of the meeting, told News India Times. “Ours is a passive community,” he noted, adding that two years have already passed (since the case was filed against Dalal), and the time for action is “now.”
However, conspicuous in their absence were elected officials, who, according to some speakers at the event, are a fixture at Indian-American events. Many suggested writing letters to elected officials and the local and state level, to lobby support for the case.
Those who spoke at the event included Ramesh Patel, chairman of the Federation of Indian Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; Aatma Singh; Bhavesh Patel of BAPS; Ankur Vaidya, president of FIA; Yash Paul Soi of FIA; Sam Khan, founder of South Asian Community Outreach (SACO); Rev. Jim Thomas of the First Presbyterian Church in Iselin, N.J.; and Jayesh Patel, former president of the Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party – USA, among others.