A report of the all India fact finding team on the ‘encounter’ of four alleged terrorists by Gujarat police on June 15, 2004 at Ahmedabad
Fact Finding Team:
PUDR, Delhi Svati Joshi
PUCL, Gujarat Kirit Bhatt, Chinnu Srinivasan and Manzoor Saleri
APCLC, Andhra Pradesh CHLN Moorthy
CPDR, Maharashtra Gopal, Haridas and Anand Teltumbde
The alleged encounter death of four terrorists in Ahmedabad on 15 June 2004, who according to the police were on a mission to assassinate the Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, struck headlines even as political circles were rife with comments on Vajpayee’s demand for Modi’s ouster. It is well known that in recent years, since the Post-Godhra carnage Gujarat has become a site for ‘encounter’ deaths where the same motive has been attributed to the slain ‘terrorists’. What perhaps made the 15 June incident sensational was the involvement of a teen-aged college girl from Mumbai, Ishrat Jehan in the incident. The fissures in the law enforcing agencies came into the open when the Thane police contradicted the claim of the Gujarat police of having received information from Mumbai that the four terrorists had set out on the assassination mission. The police version of the ‘Modi Assassination conspiracy’, the nature of the ‘encounter’, and also the claims about the links of the slain with terrorist outfits, appeared to be, and continue to remain shrouded in mystery.
The instruction by the NHRC to the Gujarat police, in response to Ishrat’s mother, to take appropriate action with regard to the investigation of the case, confirmed that the police version had failed to pass even the prima facie test. In order to collect information about the incident, an all India fact finding team consisting of members from various human rights and civil liberties organizations visited Ahmedabad on 24 June 2004. The team consisted of Kirit Bhatt, Chinnu Srinivasan, Manzoor Saleri [PUCL, Vadodara], Svati Joshi [PUDR, Delhi], CHLN Moorthy [APCLC, Hyderabad], Gopal Srinivasan and Haridas [CPDR, Mumbai]. The team visited the site of the encounter, talked with the people staying in the nearby area and interacted with media persons. The team wanted to meet the police officials concerned with the incident, but some of them were not present in Ahmedabad on that day and some others seemed unwilling to give an appointment. The team could meet only with the Joint police Commissioner, Crime Branch, Mr. P.P. Pandey. Gopal, Haridas and Anand of CPDR visited Mumbra on 27 June 2004 to collect information regarding Ishrat Jehan.
The police version
According to the press statement issued by the Crime Branch, Ahmedabad, which carried out the operation, the police officials acted on the information provided by the ‘intelligence sources’ that two Pakistani fidayeen terrorists belonging to Lashkar-e-Toyeeba (LeT), on a mission to kill Modi had set out separately to reach Ahmedabad. They were Jishan Johar alias Janbaaz alias Abdul Gani, resident of Gujaranwala district, Punjab, Pakistan and Amjad Ali Akbarali Rana alias Salin alias Chandu alias Rajkumar of Sargoda district of Punjab, Pakistan. They were being helped by an LeT terrorist Javed of Pune in arranging a local network to kill Modi.
An FIR was lodged with the Crime Branch police station on 15 June 2004, on a plain paper by the complainant P.I. J.G. Parmar in the presence of ACP, Crime Branch, G.L. Singhal, both of whom were involved in the incident. The FIR states that at 11 p.m. on 14.6.2004 the Joint Police Commissioner P.P. Pandey received information through ‘his private sources’ that that a blue Indica carrying the terrorists had left Mumbai with arms and ammunition. Six police teams were then immediately stationed at Narol cross roads, CTM cross roads, Naroda S.T. workshop, Naroda -Himatnagar railway crossing, Indira bridge circle and Vishala circle in anticipation of the vehicle carrying the terrorists. The Narol team saw the Indica car entering the city and proceed towards Naroda road at about 4 a.m. and gave it a chase. The police teams stationed at various places were contacted on wireless and two police teams decided to intercept the Indica on the deserted stretch of a road with a sharp bend near Kotarpur Water works which connects the national highway and Indira bridge leading to Gandhinagar.
They did so by forcing the car to halt by shooting at its rear tyres. According to the police one of the terrorists got out of the car and opened fire from an AK 56 rifle, while others fired from inside the car. But before that the driver, the ACP, the PSI, and the commando of the police van chasing the car got down and immediately positioned themselves behind the police van and began firing from AK 47 rifle in self defence and fired 10 rounds. In the meantime when it ‘became certain that these were the same dreaded terrorists’ the ACP Dr. Amin ordered the commandos ‘to fire at the terrorists’ and 32 rounds from AK 47 and 10 rounds from the stengun were fired at the terrorist stationed near the divider and several rounds from their service revolvers at those inside the car. Firing continued from both sides for some time. After some time when the firing stopped from the other side, the police found the terrorist stationed near the road divider and three terrorists seated in the car, including ‘a woman terrorist’ dead on the spot.
The Press Note issued by the police states that ACP Dr. Narendra Amin who was at Naroda Chowkadi saw the blue Indica car and followed it. When it took turn towards airport road from Naroda- Himmatnagar Railway crossing, he asked ACP Singhal to intercept the car from the front and alerted all other police parties. Accordingly Singhal came to a turn near Kotarpur Water works and took position along with his team. It is the ACP Amin who was following the Indica in a Gypsy ordered his commando to fire at the tyre of the car to halt it. After the Indica came to halt, one terrorist sitting on left side came out of the car and fired at the Gypsy. Police fired 10 rounds in self-defence. After confirming the identity of the car, Amin ordered his commandoes to fire. The press note gives the count of rounds and the names of police personnel who fired them. In all 70 rounds were fired from the police side; 32 from AK 47, 10 from sten gun, and 18 from service revolvers. As against that the terrorists fired 35 rounds from AK 56 rifle and 7 rounds from 2 pistols. Going by the press note, the police firing at Indica has entirely taken place form the rear side of Indica and by Amin’s team.
The encounter took place near the Kotarpur Water Works and around 4.30 a.m. and lasted for nearly half an hour. Two of the slain terrorists, Jishan Johar and Amjadali Akbarali Rana are said to be Pakistanis. Of the remaining two, Javed hailed from Pune and Ishrat Jehan Shaikh from Mumbra. The FIR states that the accused who were the Pakistani fidayeen terrorists who had entered India without any proper document, equipped with arms and ammunition, with an intention of killing chief minister Narendra Modi, had opened fire on the police party which had gone to arrest them and therefore they should all be tried under 3(2)(a),(c) 13, 14, of The Foreigners Act, IPC 120B, 121, 121A, 123, 307, 353, 186, Arms Act 25(1( A, 27, 29 and the prevention of Terrorist Act 3(1),(a)(b), 3(2), 3(3), 20, 21 and B.P. Act 135(1).
The police claim that one AK 56 gun; three magazines with 81 bullets, one empty magazine, two pistols, a satellite phone, cash worth 2.06 lakh, and two mobile phones were recovered from the alleged terrorists. A number of coconuts dipped in some chemicals along with 20 kg packets of explosive powder which according to police inference were planned to be used for producing an improvised explosive device (IED) were also stored in the Indica. Interestingly, Urdu literature which the crime branch says is meant to teach the fidayeen the act of manufacturing IED was also recovered.
Even as the above version of the police started doing the rounds, the obvious question has been asked as to why the terrorists squad could not be intercepted much earlier and why they were allowed to travel on the national highway from Mumbai up to Narol Road near Gandhinagar where Narendra Modi is stationed. When the team met Mr. P.P. Pandey, Joint Commissioner of Police (JCP), Crime Branch, the team members put this question to him. His reply was that he was responsible only for the Ahmedabad city which was under his jurisdiction. Again when asked about the intelligence source that had given the police intimation regarding the terrorist squad, Mr. Pandey was not ready to share much. "The sources can not be revealed in the interest of operations, in the interest of future operations, in the interest of national security", he said. He also said that the source need not be official channels and that there could be various ‘private’ channels.
When asked as to why no attempt had been made to arrest the terrorists, his answer was evasive. The identities of the two slain terrorists who have been described as Pakistanis also do not seem to have been confirmed. When Mr. Pandey was asked what proof he had to determine their Pakistani identity, he stated that nobody had claimed their bodies so far, whereas the other two bodies [of Javed and Ishrat] were claimed by their relatives. This ‘proved’ that they were not of Indian origins and that they were Pakistanis. When it was pointed out to him that since no photographs of them were flashed either in news papers or on television, and since a large population of India stayed in far off villages where news hardly reached, he added that he had given orders to the Information department to flash their pictures and the process had started which would of course take some time and cost 15 to 20 lakh rupees! Other than the claims by the Crime Branch, Gujarat, which was also reported by Times of India (TOI) (Ahmedabad edition) on 18 June 2004, that they had had intelligence that one of the two crossed over the Line of Control (LoC) from Jammu Sector and the other through Kashmir Sector, there seems to be no authentic proof on this count. Sources in Crime Branch are reported to have told the media that the two had entered India illegally way back in April. As the report of TOI (Ahmedabad) on 17 June 2004 says, "what were their activities since then (i.e., since April) is a matter of investigation".
According to the JPC, Crime Branch, P.P. Pandey, one of the slain Pakistanis, Jishan Johar had an identity card issued by the executive magistrate of Mahore in Udhampur district but he did not believe he was a bonafide Indian Kashmiri. The card may be fake but this proves he had stayed in Udhampur after his illegal entry into the country. What seems to be replicated apparently is the story of the two slain terrorists in the Akshardham attack in September 2002. As TOI (Ahmedabad) reported on18 June 2004, "….. However even in the case of the Akshardham attack in September 2002, where the two slain terrorists were believed to be LeT operatives from Pakistan, the neighboring country has denied the claim and refused to take possession of the bodies."
Our team members were puzzled over the fact that the road on which the encounter is said to have happened for half an hour with sophisticated weapons like AK47 and AK56, no bullet marks were visible either on the road or on the nearby divider which is about 1.5 feet wide. The police attribute no injury to policemen during the encounter to their taking shelter behind the police Gypsy. Considering that there was heavy firing from both sides according to the police, and that too in the dark, surely some stray firing would have left some marks. Again, according to the media reports (Indian Express, 16/06/04) the Gypsy suffered only minor damage (11 bullet holes on one side) while the Indica car in which the terrorists traveled had its rear side windscreen and the two windscreens on one side completely smashed. Besides it was riddled with several bullet marks all over. In the pictures released by the media too the blue Indica car, which had its rear side smashed, was shown more frequently. The Police Gypsy that is supposed to have got bullet holes was not shown. This raises suspicion about the police version of heavy firing from the ‘terrorists’.
It may be recalled that this is not for the first time that the Gujarat police has claimed to have acted to thwart the conspiracy to assassinate Modi. In fact there have been several encounter deaths in the post genocide period in Gujarat, three (including the present case) of which have been attributed to the killing of Modi and other ministers. On 23 October 2002, Samir Khan Pathan, arrested in connection with a ‘Modi murder plot’ died in an ‘encounter’ while in judicial custody. He was taken out on one day and killed on the Usmanpura road in Ahmedabad. A few months later, on 2 January 2003, a local court acquitted all the other thirteen accused in the same plot for want of evidence. (When asked by our team members why no case was registered against the guilty police personnel involved in this ‘encounter’, even after the court verdict had announced those arrested innocent, Mr. Pandey had no answer.) Again, on 13 January 2003, Sadiq Jamal Mehttar was shot down in Naroda, allegedly when he opened fire on cops. According to the Crime Branch he was an LeT operator conspiring to target not only Modi but also L. K. Advani and Pravin Togadia.
The Indian Express, (Vadodara edition) on19 June 2004 states that the slain terrorist in this case was, according to Mumbai police, linked to Dawood Ibrahim. As the Indian Express report states, "there is more than one similarity in the three incidents. All needed the shooting down some of the ‘conspirators’; in all three cases the operators belonged to terrorists outfits like Lashkar or Jaish and all encounters now remain shrouded in a cloud of doubts." In the present conspiracy to kill Modi, as mentioned earlier all that JCP Pandey had to say was that his information was from a ‘private source’ that could not be revealed. The TOI (Ahmedabad) reported on 17 June 2004, under the caption ‘Police draw out Dubai, Kashmir links of Assassins’:
"The Crime Branch maintained that the conspiracy to kill Modi was hatched by ISI and LeT members in Pakistan. "However execution of the plot was being supervised from Dubai", said sources. "It is too early to say anything at this juncture", said additional CP (Crime) D.V. Vanjara, when asked, if this plot was in any way linked to the several ‘international conspiracies’ busted by the sleuths so far."
Similarly, in Samir Khan Pathan’s case, there was no evidence of the conspiracy except the confession of Pathan himself who was eliminated. The obvious question that arises in the present context is as to why the Gujarat Crime Branch in spite of this earlier experience made no attempt to apprehend at least some of the ‘terrorists’ who were on their mission to kill Modi, rather than eliminating all of them. If according to them, repeated attempts are made by international agencies to kill Modi it is extremely important and indeed in the interest of national security to arrest some of the agents to gain detailed knowledge of the conspiracy.
There are several contradictions in the police account:
A photograph published in Gujarat Samachar, a Gujarati daily, on 16.06.2004 with the body of one of the ‘terrorists’ lying prostrate on the divider, with his AK56 pointing in the opposite direction away from the police, creates suspicion whether he had indeed come out of the car and fired at the police. He appears to be holding the magazine of his AK56 in a position from which, as per our enquires with experts, the gun cannot fire. We were also informed that if the fellow was firing when he was felled by a police bullet his hand could not be on the magazine. It contradicts the police version that this ‘terrorist’ had come out of the car and fired from his AK56.
It is not clearly explained why the other terrorist who was sitting on the right side of the rear seat in Indica did not come out (which he could do easily) when his colleague on the left could venture out and move on the right side to take shelter behind the Indica. As the police saved themselves by moving behind their Gypsy and firing from there, the terrorists also could have done the same.
Surprisingly, Javed in driver’s seat also had not jumped out of the car and chosen to die in situ.
From the photograph published in Gujarat Samachar, it is clearly seen that Isharat is killed in her sitting position while Javed lay on her lap. In the mêlée when the police stopped their car by firing at the tyre (as per the police version), all the inmates are expected to duck within the car to protect themselves. Their positions do not speak well of the police version.
Taking into account the direction from which the police fired at the Indica (firing took place from only rear side), it is unlikely that the driver would fall on the left side. Javed in the Gujarat Samachar photograph lying prostrate with his head on the lap of Ishrat does not fit well with the police version.
The police also do not appear to have followed normal procedure in the matter of investigation. An FIR on a plain paper has been filed by PI, Crime Branch J.G. Parmar and recorded by APC, Crime Branch, G. L. Singhal who himself led one of the police teams in the encounter. No FIR has been lodged with the local area police station where the killings took place. This is the normal procedure recommended by the NHRC. When asked about this, JPC Pandey said that as the entire city of Ahmedabad fell within his jurisdiction, the complaint was lodged with the Crime Branch. He added that he believed in, and practiced, ‘pro-active policing’ and took it upon himself to investigate cases to prevent further crimes. This raises certain questions regarding the power vested with the Crime Branch. By whom are they authorized to carry out encounters? Are they not required in law to take the permission of the local police, or at least coordinate with them? The Crime Branch in Ahmedabad, which was earlier an investigating agency with a DCP, has grown in recent years into a powerful parallel police force with a JCP, 2ACPs and a number of Police Inspectors. Their extraordinary and unilateral actions have apparently made them above the law, they enjoy impunity and a great secrecy surrounds their actions.
There has been no charge sheet filed, no inquest report, and no statements of witnesses in this case till date. If indeed they have found convincing evidence to prove that the slain were terrorists they could be transparent about it at least in passing it on to the forensic department, which hasn’t been done in this case.
The place of the ‘encounter’ falls on the bypass road that connects the national highway with Gandhinagar, and is near the Ahmedabad airport. Both sides of the road where the encounter took place are completely desolate. One has to walk some distance on either side to see human settlements. There is a slum of around eighty families on the Kotarpur water works side and a few families living in small houses, on the Gandhinagar side. The fact-finding team visited both the areas. It was after much persuasion that the people were ready to talk. The silence maintained by most of them was itself a significant statement about their fear of the police. The refrain "hamara bhi aisa hal ho jayega" (we will also meet the same fate) was enough indication of the terror that had gripped the area as well as the disbelief in the ‘encounter’ version propagated by the police. What follows are statements of various persons (for obvious reasons they did not want to be identified) whom the team met in these slums and also in the nearby shops:
At around 6 o’ clock in the morning the police blocked both sides of the road (coming from and going to Gandhinagar). There were around ten police vans and a police mobile van and about 40 to 50 policemen. The people who passed by the encounter spot said that there were no bodies on the divider at that time.
Those who saw the sight after 7 a.m. said that they saw three people killed inside the vehicle and one body with a gun lying on the divider The car carrying the dead bodies had its rear side smashed.
By 7.30 a.m. all the four dead bodies were displayed on the road, near the Indica.
Some people said that they heard the sound of firing intermittently, and not continuously, for some time.
One person who had seen the dead bodies said that Ishrat had been fired on the neck and Javed on the temple. This could have been possible only with close range firing. Amajadali Akbarali alias Salim who had supposedly stepped out of the car, had sustained 20 to 25 bullet injuries.
The team members saw some blood marks on the divider.
Some people told us that the encounter death of Latif, which had struck the headlines, had also happened in this area and that the desolateness of the area made it a suitable place for fake encounters. Also all the encounter killings have taken place in the early morning, in the dark, when no witnesses, except for the policemen, are present. The people were convinced that it was cold-blooded murder. On being asked as to what made them think so, they cited absence of any visible damage to the police car and the absence of injury to the policemen as the main reasons. According to them, if the slain had powerful weapons like AK 56, they would have certainly shot some of the policemen. Some believed that all the four were brought to the spot with their hands tied up and shot dead on the spot.
The above version of the people in the area certainly reinforces the suspicion of the police version.
Media and other reports
The media reports on the incidents by and large were flooded with stories regarding Ishrat and Javed. Some of them focused on the terrorist links or otherwise of the two, and that of Ishrat in particular. However there have been reports, which have directly or indirectly brought out the lacunas in the police version and even posed serious questions to it. It is not only the genuineness of the encounter story that is questioned but everything related to it. The lack of conclusive evidence to establish the identity of the two ‘Pakistanis’ in order to lend credence to the ‘Modi assassination conspiracy theory’ and also to suggest terrorist links of the slain, has made it impossible for even those who may otherwise approve of death penalty for terrorists to swallow the police version even with a pinch of salt. How can one take at face value the claim of Mr. P.P. Pandey that ”although there are no photographs of the accused we had got detailed description of the accused”? (TOI, ahmedabad dated 16.06.2004). Obviously the claim about information from a private source regarding the specific plot to kill Modi is in sharp contrast with the fact that Gujarat police was searching for evidence outside the state after the encounter.
The newspaper reports also point to the possibility of an ‘encounter’ premeditated by the police, thus suggesting the political nature of the police action. Was it all pre planned? The question might be embarrassing to the Gujarat Crime Branch. But the fact that the TOI (Ahmedabad edition) on 16 June 2004, carried a news item under a seven-column caption, "Many had anticipated Crime Branch pre rath yatra exploit" suggested that there was a strong fear that something might happen during this time. The TOI report states:
"When the Ahmedabad crime branch gunned down four alleged LeT militants in the wee hours of Tuesday not many were surprised. A word had begun doing the rounds since a fortnight that the crime branch had something up its sleeve. The rumours got stronger last week although crime branch JCP, P.P. Pandey persistently denied having any persons in custody and laughed off rumours of his sleuths pulling off something spectacular".
After recalling the incidents of the ‘Modi assassination conspiracy’ in the past, the report goes on to describe the present ‘encounter’:
"The Tuesday one however is the most dramatic and interesting, coming at a time when Modi is facing opposition from several quarters including the BJP. The rath yatra of Lord Jagannath is an annual festival in Gujarat that attracts thousands of devotees. The rumour regarding the impending actions from the police was connected to this festival."
The report also mentions that the ‘terrorist’ vehicle contained among other things coconuts dipped in chemicals, packets of explosives and Urdu literature that according to the police version was meant to give instructions regarding making explosives. Whether the possession of such articles suggests an intention to throw coconuts with explosives on the rath yatra crowd or to assassinate Modi is only a matter of speculation. Perhaps Vajpayee’s remark about Modi’s removal forced the police to change the ‘disruption of Rath yatra’ narrative into the ‘Modi assassination conspiracy’ narrative. There are also indications that there is disbelief in the police circle itself about the ‘Modi assassination plot’.
TOI in a report on 17 June 2004 said: ”Senior officials in Gandhinagar expressed doubts about the mission and said it appeared a case of disrupting the rath yatra more than anything else, ‘but after Akshardham we are willing to believe the worst’, they said." Similarly Indian Express, (Vadodara edition) 16 June 2004 reported, JCP, Mumbai Satyapal Singh expressing doubt about the incident: "Were they (the terrorists) from Mumbai? We did not have any information. They should have informed us. We are trying to identify the woman and also the owner of the car, who they say has a Mumbai connection."
Regarding the diaries found with the deceased, the report of the TOI dated 21 June 2004, titled ”handwriting in Ishrat’s diary yet to be ascertained”, (referring to the photocopies of the Ishrat’s diary distributed to the media by the police), says:
"Providing photocopies of some pages of the diary to the media, the crime Branch officials claim that Ishrat had herself noted down details of the places she and Javed Shaikh of Pune had been to and about the expenditures made or cash received from unknown sources. Analysts however wonder how does the Crime Branch know that the diary indeed bears Ishrat’s handwriting when she was killed the moment she entered Ahmedabad? Even the directorate of forensic science is yet to examine the diary”.
The same report also points out that the claims of having the names of all VIP targets and their code names in the diary when they were allegedly on an assassination mission also appear strange. The report remarks: "…. And when code names for targets are used why is their equivalent full name carried in the same diary?”.
Another report in the TOI on 18 June 2004 (Ahmedabad edition) under the title ”Close encounters: Daya Nayak has competition here” suggests a police network operating behind these encounters. It says that ever since the post-Godhra riots, eight persons have been gunned down in four encounters and in all the four encounters, ”the fingers on the triggers” have belonged to the same few – Tarun Barot, Jai singh Parmar, I. A. Sayeed and Kishore Singh Vaghela, all ‘star’ inspectors of the Ahmedabad Crime Branch. According to the report Samir Khan Pathan, the accused in one of the Modi murder plot met his end at the hands of Vaghela. Sadiq Mehttar, the accused in another Modi murder plot was killed by Parmar, Sayeed and Vaghela. In the ‘encounter’ before Rath yatra in June 2003, where the police had alleged a conspiracy to kill the Gujarat law Minister and an MLA, two persons Ganesh Khunte and Mahendra Jadhav were gunned down by Tarun Barot, Sayeed and Mahendra Parmar besides Mavani, and C. J. Goswami. The report concludes:
”No prizes for guessing who starred in Tuesday’s dramatic chase cum encounter. You got it – Barot, Parmar,Vaghela and Goswami, who is now an inspector”. The involvement of the same police personnel in all the encounters might be accidental according to officials but leaves everyone else bewildered."
An independent enquiry report, carried out by Indian Peoples’ Tribunal headed by Justice Daud, retired judge of Bombay High Court and titled "In the name of development?" on the struggle against the proposed Maroli-Umbargaon port project in Gujarat had indicted Narendra Ameen of the custodial death of Col. Pratap Save. We reproduce the relevant extract form the report:
"’on 7th april , the state reserve police was brought into Umbergaon to assist the consortium of NATELCO and UNOCAL corporation to conduct the survey for the proposed port. The peaceful protest of the locals was respoded to by a lathi charge, tear gas shells and indiscriminate arrests. 48 persons including 18 women were arrested and locked up in the Umbergaon police station and 6 of the men were brutally beaten in the presence of the Hasmukh Patel, the district superintendent of police and Dr. Narendra Amin, deputy superintendent of police bulsar district. False cases were filed against those arrested. They were ultimately released on bail by the magistrate’s court at Pardi on 8th april 2000 only to be detained again under section 107 of Criminal procedure code for another 24 hours at Umbergaon police station.
We are informed that Lt. Colonel Pratap Save was picked up from his residence at Dehri at 1.00 a.m. on 8 April 2000 and was ruthlessly beaten by Dy. SP Narendra Ameen (a certified doctor) at the Umbergaon Police Station soon thereafter. The beating of Lt. Col. Pratap Save was in the presence of the other arrested activists. Due to the injuries sustained during the beating Lt. Col. Pratap Save suffered brain hemorrhage and fell into coma. The Police shifted him to Jav Seva Hospital at Vapi knowing fully well that the hospital would be unable to give the needed treatment. His family then rushed him to the Hinduja Hospital, Bombay where he underwent an emergency operation on 9 April 2000 and was operated upon again on 12 April 2000. Lt. Col. Pratap Save passed away on 20 April 2000."
The above reports pertinently raise the following points:
Since there were already rumours in Ahmedabad that something spectacular would happen during the Jagannath rath yatra, the police version of this encounter appears incredible. There was an element of pre-meditation and political influence in this incident.
This incident falls well within the pattern formed by the earlier such incidents inasmuch as police encounter always takes place at a desolate spot in the wee hours when there will be no possibility of any independent verification; police always firing in self defence and landing up killing all the terrorists but not getting a scratch in return.
The dramatis persona in this incident also has been the same as in the earlier such incidents.
The police always finding diaries on the bodies of slain terrorists, who are supposed to be on dangerous mission like killing VIPs, with their biographical details in order to back justify their action.
Facts about Ishrat: The face of the encounter
Our team (Gopal, Haridas and Anand) visited Mumbra on June 27, 2004 to collect facts about Ishrat Jahan Shaikh, a college girl from Mumbra, who became a face of this encounter. There was a condolence meeting organized in a hall of Sumaiya High school. Most people including the family of Isharat Jahan were to come there and hence we were straight conducted to the hall. The hall with capacity of 1000 overflowed with people.
Abdul Rauf Lala, a local social worker and one of the persons who accompanied Ishrat’s mother to Ahmedabad to bring Ishrat’s body met the team in the office of Mr. Saad Salil Said, chairman of the Trust that runs the Sumaiya High School. He described Ishrat as a poor, innocent, sincere, and studious girl. They were so poor that when two years ago Ishrat’s father died, they did not have money to perform even his last rites. The community people in Rashid Compound where they lived collected donations to cremate him. Her younger brother Anwar could not take SSC examination because he did not have money to pay the fees. They have not paid rent for their house for the last six months. Ishrat and her younger sister Mushrat, who herself is studying in 12th standard this year, have been taking tuitions to support the family of seven. If she was working with terrorists for money, or received the kind of sum (Rs. 9 lakhs) as the Gujarat police claimed, the condition of her family would not be so pathetic.
Mr. Lala told us that the Crime Branch Police, Thane conducted raid at her house and took away everything connected with her but could not find any thing to suspect her involvement in any illegal nefarious activities. They had even gone public on TV confirming it. It is only with her alleged links with Javed as per the Gujarat Police that her otherwise clean image is being tarnished. "How can one believe the Police of Gujarat, whom even the Supreme Court had to castigate in an unprecedented manner",- he remarked.
He narrated the story about how they were treated by Ahmedabad Police when they went to claim the body of Ishrat. He said that their visit was seemingly coordinated by the ACP (Crime Branch), Thane and none other than the people like R. R. Patil, Home Minister and Rajendra Darda had assured them that there would not be any problem with them at Ahmedabad. However, when they reached the Police – they were treated as though they were criminals. Ishrat’s mother was immediately taken to a room where five officers interrogated her for nearly three hours. When Adv. Shakeb Khan pleaded with Police that he was her advocate and he had to accompany her as his client, he was still not allowed. Police told him that Gujarat law was different. They were not allowed to go out for eating or their Friday namaz. The gun trotting policemen always surrounded them and even accompanied them to TOIlet. When the media persons collected around them after Ishrat’s mother came out, they were warned not to talk to media. When they were made to speak by the mediamen they started physically obstructing them to the extent that media people had to clash with Police.
When they demanded post mortem report, they were first made to shuttle between the Police to hospital. Eventually, they were made to submit an application and assured that the report would be given within 15 days. Adv. Shakeb Khan and Munna Sahil, who had also gone to Ahmedabad talked to us confirming these details independently.
We met Asad Ullah Khan, who ran Unique Tuition Classes where Ishrat had worked as tutor. He narrated to us that after passing her SSC from Abdullah Patel High School, Ishrat was appointed as tutor to teach 8th standard student at the salary of Rs. 600/-. She had to come in the morning from 7.15 a.m. to 10.00 a.m. and some times in the evening from 3.00 p.m. to 6.00 p.m. She did this for one year during her 11th standard. During her 12th standard, she taught his own children in 4th and 5th standards in the evening after 7 pm. at his house. This she did up to 2002. In 2002 her father died.
We met with Ishrat’s family, her mother, elder sister, younger brother and a sister, to know the precise sequence of events around Ishrat’s leaving home on Saturday, the 12th June, 2004. Ishrat’s mother told us that Rashid Ansari came to their house and told that there was a good job for Ishrat during the vacation period. Ishrat was on look out for a job during the summer vacation when there were no tuitions, which was the source of income for the family. This job was organized by his friend Javed. The job involved staying away from home at times. Her mother permitted Ishrat to take up this job and she had gone to Lucknow two times presumably for this job. Ishrat had told them that the people were good Muslims and the job was easy involving accounts keeping for marketing of some product. They would pay her Rs. 3500. On all these earlier occasions she would phone them up after reaching her destination. She had stayed with some family in Lucknow. On June 12, she had received a call and she told her mother that she would go out for two to three days. At around 11.00 a.m. she left home, with her purse and few clothes in a plastic bag. Unlike earlier times, they did not receive any call from her and were already worried. They only came to know that she was killed in an encounter through Police on 16th afternoon.
On enquiring why she said to the media that she did not know Javed for the first time whereas subsequently admitted that she knew him, Ishrat’s mother replied that she did not know him distinctly but later on she could recollect him working with her husband. She had left Mumbra sometime back and thereafter she did not know much about him. Her children however did not know him.
We met Ibrahim Khalid Abidi, who was General Secretary of Tanzime Walidaen (Organization of Parents), which extends tuitions and scholarship to poor students and medical help to needy in Mumbai. He is also a Joint Secretary of Khair-e-Unmat, the trust that runs Tanzime Walidaen. His relation with this case was that Ishrat was one of the 270 teachers they appointed to tutor the 5th standard students, identified by them as the crucial standard where the drop rates of students is alarmingly high. Every teacher was assigned some 10 students in his or her area. Ishrat also had her students to be tutored from 4 to 6 p.m. in Mumbra and received Rs. 700 per month for the same. Mr. Abidi told us that they selected their teachers on the criterion of their sincerity, commitment, apart from their academic capabilities. He said that Ishart was very punctual, regular and committed. He offered us his attendance registers and interviews with the students to verify.
Jalud Ali, who taught Ishrat in the municipal school, told us that Ishrat was consistently a good student. She was socially conscious and wanted to help students. She took part in co-curricular activities and had regularly participated in school dramas etc. He told us that Ishrat had also approached him for some computer related job during the summer vacation as she did not have income from tuition.
We met Asadullah Hanshi, a freelance reporter who had some information connected with this incident which was reportedly carried in Thane Plus, a local supplement of the Times of India. He said that he received information from his source that a Gypsy from Gujarat police was parked in Mumbra police station on Saturday (12.06.04) at around 12.00 pm. The inmates had gone with a local police looking for someone. His informer next reported to him that the vehicle had left around mid night that day. He said that this information raises a cloud of suspicion whether Ishrat was taken by Gujarat police.
We went to Mumbra police station and met with the officer-in-charge Mr. Bhagatsingh Pardeshi, Sr. PI to check this information. Mr. Pardeshi said that the Mumbra police station did not have anything to do with this incident and it is being dealt directly with Thane Crime Branch. He denied that Gujarat police had visited Mumbra police station on 12th. He also said that Mumbra police station did not have any information on Ishrat, however there were five cases against Javed whom he called Tapori, a hooligan in the colloquial language.
The above information the team gathered points to the following:
Ishrat was a sincere and studious girl who conducted herself with exemplary responsibility as a major contributor to the sustenance of her family. She flogged herself with tiring schedule of tuitions and studies in all of which she was very regular and punctual.
Her family with a widowed mother and six siblings was indeed very poor.
She was in search of job during the summer vacation as there was no income available from tuitions.
While these facts do not necessarily prove that she was not involved in any ‘underground’ activities but they circumstantially cry out for the proof of the crime for which she is punished with death.
The recent disclosures about a website allegedly associated with LeT owning her up as their martyr, is also not a proof enough for her involvement. The organizations like LeT with professed communal objectives can only profit by owning up any such victims as its own martyrs. Moreover, like the identity of the Pakistani terrorists, the veracity of this website is far from established.
Based on the visit to the spot of the incident, interaction with the people in the surrounding area, discussion with journalists, interview with JCP P.P. Pandey and the media reports the team found that there were several contradictions in the police account of the ‘encounter’.
According to the police, only one ‘terrorist’ had stepped out of the car and there was only one AK 56 and two pistols found among the four of them. It is indeed surprising that about 20 member strong two police teams which had surrounded the car and were well armed with AK 47 rifles and several revolvers could not capture any of them. The use of force by the police has to be commensurate with the force used by the opposite group, which does not seem to be the case in this incident. This raises doubts about their intentions which seem to be directly eliminating the accused, instead of subjecting them to the due process of law for punishing the guilty.
If, on the other hand, the terrorists are said to have fired 42 rounds at the police teams, as the police claim, how is it possible that there were no injuries or bullet marks on a single policeman? The absence of injury suffered by the policemen makes it difficult to establish their claim that they fired at the terrorists in self-defence.
The identity of the two who are described as Pakistanis has not yet been established. There seems to be no serious attempt made by the police to do so. The police did not even possess their photographs and claim to have identified them as LeT terrorists through their description. They have also not flashed their pictures in newspapers or on television in order that they may be identified.
The terrorist links of Ishrat and Javed have not been established till date. At least the information on Ishrat collected from the team does not corroborate with the police version. The recent statement by an LeT news agency as reported in Indian Express, Delhi, of 15 July 2004 that Ishrat had LeT links has been dismissed by Ishrat’s family and their lawyer as mischief of Gujarat police. Such websites can be created and launched by any child everyday. Genuineness of the website apart, the team does not consider LeT’s owning up Ishrat as its martyr as sufficient to establish that she indeed was linked with LeT.
Since the encounter took place early in the morning, in the dark, there were no eyewitnesses apart from the police. No bullet marks or damages were observed on the road or the divider. It is inconceivable that AK 56 bullets from terrorist or AK47 bullets from police firing would not stray and hit the nearby objects.
As in all cases in recent times the ‘diary’ of the dead is being produced as major evidence for justifying the police action. This is done before confirming that these diaries were actually those of the slain, and establishing under what circumstances they were written. It is incredible that people on an assassination mission would have carried with them such diaries. It is even more incredible that such diaries would have the names of VIPs, whom they intended to target along with the code names they use secretly.
The names of the police personnel involved in the earlier encounters of Gujarat figure in the present case also. It only reinforces the pattern this ‘encounter’ forms with the earlier similar incidents.
One of the courts in Gujarat had dismissed a case of ‘Modi Assasination’ due to lack of evidence and acquitted 13 persons as the person on whose confession the conspiracy theory was based had died in encounter. Logically in the present case attempts should have been made to capture the ‘terrorists’ alive so that the conspiracy could be laid bare. It was moreover necessary in the context of repeated attempts of this terrorist organization to assassinate Modi as Gujarat police themselves claim. Why the Gujarat police did not even attempt to capture the terrorist alive remains a mystery.
Taking cognizance of the contradictions between police version, information given by people that further contradicts the police version, suspicions expressed by the media, and general context of the case, there is sufficient ground to believe that the encounter was fake. It does not appear improbable as some people told us that the four deceased were already in the police custody and were taken to that desolate place in the dead of night to be shot dead.
The normal process in law has not been observed by the police in the matter of investigation. Investigation has been carried out by the same police officials who led the encounter. Attention has been confined to the conduct of the deceased and not to that of the police who had conducted the encounter and caused the deaths. The police do not possess an unchartered right to kill any person with impunity. However, no case has been filed against the police personnel who led the encounter and caused the death of four persons.
A case should be registered under IPC Sec. 302 in the present incident against the police personnel involved in the incident as per the NHRC guidelines.
NHRC guidelines passed in 1996 state that in any encounter, death caused by the police is a cognizable offence. Right to self-defence cannot be presumed. Therefore, a case should be filed against the police personnel involved in the encounter killing and they should defend their case that they acted in self defence later. Even in the case of Samir Khan Pathan where all his co-accused were acquitted, the Gujarat police had not taken any action against the guilty police officials who arrested them in the first place. We demand that a similar case should be immediately registered under IPC Sec. 302 against the police personnel involved even in that incident.
As a part of reassurance to the public, the police personnel responsible for the killing in the present incident should be immediately suspended.
An independent judicial enquiry headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge should be ordered to investigate the present incident.
NHRC should commission a thorough enquiry by some independent agency into all the earlier encounter killings by the Gujarat police against the ‘Modi assassination conspiracy’ and establish the identity of those killed.
The enquiry reports on the present incident as well as on the earlier incidents as per the demand in 3 and 4 above should be made public. The state should make available all information regarding the incident so as to reassure the public on the genuineness of the actions of the Gujarat police whose image is already sullied by its partisan role in the pot-Godhra carnage.
PUCL, July 2004