Sbcltr explains all you need to know about the encounter of Ishrat Jahan and the political controversy surrounding the 12 year-old case which is yet to go to trial.
In the early hours of the morning on June 15, 2004, the detection of crime branch Ahmedabad received a call. The crime branch police officers had killed four terror suspects in the capital of Gujarat. Jishan Johar, Amjad Ali Akbar Ali Rana, Javed Shaikh, and Ishrat Jahan. The three dead men and woman were believed to be linked to Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistani terror group. The Gujarat police filed an FIR later that day which stated that officers from the Ahmedabad city crime branch had received reports from the intelligence about two “Pakistani fidayeens” who were traveling from Kashmir to Ahmedabad, to “attempt a suicidal attack” on Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat.
Out of the four killed, Johar and Rana were identified as Pakistani nationals. Shaikh, the third victim was the alleged “local network.”According to the FIR, one of the police officers was informed of their movement by a “personal source” who told him that the three men were travelling from Mumbai to Ahmedabad along with “explosives and firearms” in a blue Tata Indica. The police officers then arranged to nab them, which resulted in a car chase and an eventual shoot-out on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. According to the police, over 50 rounds of bullets were fired from two revolvers and two Kalashnikovs.
No policeman was injured. The identity of the fourth, “the female terrorist” hadn’t been identified at the time of the FIR. There were also no details on the information (if any) that the police had on her at that point.
The girl was later identified as 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan, a college student from Mumbra, a suburb outside Mumbai. On July 14, 2004, less than a month after the encounter, the Indian media carried news reports from Lahore-based Ghazwa Times in which Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) claimed that Ishrat Jahan was one of their operatives in India. The magazine which is published by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a LeT mouthpiece, had described Jahan as an operative of the the terrorist unit. In 2007, Business Standard reported that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa had retracted the claim and apologised to Jahan’s family.
Jahan was the eldest in a family of seven siblings. Her father had died two years earlier in 2002 and she was helping her mother make ends meet. She used to give tuitions to earn money and started working with Shaikh for a salary of Rs. 3,500 when the lean post-exam season kicked in. She was a bright second year B.Sc student from Guru Nanak Khalsa College, Maharashtra at the time of her death. In August 2004, unable to deal with the allegations of her daughter being declared a terrorist, Jahan’s mother, Shamima Kauser filed a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court seeking a CBI inquiry into her daughter’s death. She alleged that Jahan had been framed in a “fake encounter.”
Six years later, in August 2009, the union home ministry submitted its first affidavit in response to the writ petition filed by Kauser. The document quotes news reports as evidence, not intelligence reports, but news reports linking Jahan to LeT. It also notes that the link has been retracted by the said terrorist organisation. In the affidavit the home ministry dismisses these retractions as moves to ‘discredit’ intelligence agencies. It insists that Jahan was actively associated with LeT. Almost a month later, there was a second affidavit that was filed. It retracted its theory of Jahan having LeT links stating that these claims were not based on “conclusive” intelligence inputs and had been “needlessly misinterpreted.”’
These affidavits have become central to the controversy surrounding the death and murder of Jahan. Both, the Congress and the BJP are involved in a political blame game with the Home Minster Rajnath Singh declaring to the Lok Sabha that the key documents related to the case were missing and the Congress was trying to frame the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. In all the controversy that has followed since, P. Chidambaram has maintained his stance on the subject, “it should be clear to all that such [intelligence] inputs do not constitute conclusive proof and it is for the state government and the state police to act on such inputs,” he said at the time.
In a statement yesterday, union minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju said that unfortunate steps had been taken by UPA government in the Ishrat Jahan case. “The intention was clear as to why a hard-core terrorist was declared innocent in an affidavit. It is clearly perceptible here. Unfortunate steps were taken by the UPA government, particularly during Chidambaram’s time. We will see what is to be done next,” Rijiju said, adding, “We have already got the report (on missing files) submitted by the one-man inquiry committee (Additional Secretary BK Prasad). We have seen the report, some of the important documents are still untraceable.”
The statement was in response to remarks made by Chidambaram where he accused the NDA government of creating a “fake controversy” around the affidavits in the Jahan case. In his statement, he quoted the Indian Express report that said a home ministry official probing the missing documents in the Ishrat Jahan case tried to tutor another official in the probe. ““The moral of the story is that even a doctored report (of the Inquiry Officer) cannot hide the truth. The real issue is whether Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in a genuine encounter or a fake encounter (in Ahmedabad). Only the trial of the case, pending since July 2013, will bring out the truth,” he said.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi rubbished the newspaper report. “I hotly deny tutoring of witnesses. Files in the Home Ministry are never lost. They might get misplaced. But I am confident they will be located somewhere. The file (is) in Home Ministry,” he said.
12 years on, the exact nature of information that made the police and the government take such extreme measures is still unavailable. What the political debate on the subject should not take away from is the fact that, suspected terror links of Jahan are irrelevant to her cold blooded murder at the hands of police officers. If there is one thing that has played out in this case, it is the length political parties go to fulfill their agenda. The BJP as well as the Congress, can both be accused of leaking information just to build their case and form public opinion that is based not on fact, but on sensational political propaganda.
What must be noted is also the fact that the missing documents are not relevant to the murder charges and will not absolve the police officers in charge of the “fake encounter.” The documents that are missing are transcripts of communication between Chidambaram, home secretary G.K.Pillai and the now deceased attorney general G.E.Vahanvati. These are important as they point out the reason why Congress shifted its stance on Jahan and declared the encounter a fake. The missing papers also include the second affidavit filed by the home ministry in 2009.
“This is not an issue which can now be left to this government. The Prime Minister, his Home Minister and the government have lost all credibility. They do not have even a fig leaf to justify what they have been saying. We know that they are thick-skinned. They do it deliberately. I will not be wasting words asking them to apologise. It is for the Supreme Court now to ensure that those who are guilty are adequately punished,” said Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said yesterday.
A magisterial enquiry, A CBI probe and a SIT investigation into the matter all concluded that Kauser was right and Jahan had indeed been framed and murdered in cold-blood. The charge sheet filed after the SIT probe, as well as the CBI investigation, and monitored by the division bench of Gujarat high court in July 2013 against the seven police officers states that
“… the following facts are notable at this stage. Ishrat Jahan, 19 years old and 2nd year B.Sc student, when she died had no criminal record. She had met Javed, alias Pranesh, for the first time on 1 May 2004. She had travelled with Javed … She may have understood that Javed was engaged in illegal activities involving smuggling and counterfeit currency. … However, there is no evidence to indicate that she had any terrorist links.”
Yet the case remains at a stand-still. A supplementary charge sheet that was filed in February 2014 against four Gujarat IB officials and the ones against the seven police officers remain pending in Ahmedabad courtrooms. Twelve years later, trial is yet to commence and Justice is yet to be delivered in this criminal case of murder. In an interview with The Wire lawyer Vrinda Grover who is Kauser’s lawyer stated that Jahan was taken into custody and illegally detained before being murdered in “cold blood.” She re-iterated the fact that who she was not relevant to the criminal case, “it obviously has a bearing only for certain political interests.”