Even as ‘facts’ come in flying thick and fast in this ‘developing story’, as a film-maker I cannot but help analyze the script/ screenplay/ dialogues offered so far by the cops, the Chief Minister and assorted BJP spokespersons on TV.
Firstly, let me acquaint you with a basic premise: Cinema works on the basis of “willing suspension of disbelief”. Audiences have to believe that their favourite superstar can thrash 50 people simultaneously or catch a flying bullet with his teeth. That he can just stick a moustache on his face and even his mother can not recognize him anymore. Willing suspension. Of disbelief.
But even in our highly Bollywoodized country, dear BJPfolk and MP Police, your story, script, screenplay & dialogues are really terrible! And people in real life don’t embrace disbelief readily, unless they’re your cadres or blind Bhakts.
The citizens (or rather as Amartya Sen says “argumentative Indians”) will ask questions, challenge your narratives, reject your ‘spins’ and even criticize you! They enjoy many fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution, but also exercise their fundamental duties – that’s the very nature of Democracy, a fact that our Hon’ble Minister of State (Home, ie, Internal Security) seems blissfully unaware of, like his many partymen who invoke some faux-nationalism, suggesting it is ‘unpatriotic’ to question the government, a tendency they themselves perfected during their years in opposition!
Decoding the Bhopal ‘encounter’ – a film-maker’s perspective:
After several incriminating videos of the so-called ‘encounter’ (a classic Indian euphemism for cold-blooded, execution-style murder by cops), now come some damning stills! (See pic above).
Surely, it is just a coincidence that the killer and the killed are wearing the same sports shoes, same make and colour. Not fishy at all, no?
But the big question is: Since jails don’t allow belts/shoes/watches, how/where did the #SIMI men find these? While walking to the jungle? In one of the shoe closets at the three usually heavily-guarded gates they crossed? Or in the shoe rack on top of the jail’s watch tower? Or did they first walk from the jail to the ATS squad office, raid their sports shoes supplies, then quietly marched to the jungle, huddled together atop a hill, waiting to be killed?
Let’s not even ask the other questions! Between the 8 of them, two allegedly had desi, crude pistols – how did they manage to get these? Or for that matter the knives? From some corrupt prison staff? Or found them lying on the road they walked on? Or through an accomplice, waiting for them outside? In which case, why was the accomplice stupid enough not to get an SUV or a van to drive them a couple of hundred miles away at night, maybe even take them outside the state and/or drop them to a railway station, for them to vanish on separate long-distance trains?
As per media, police reports say the escapees fired 2 rounds at them while they fired 47 rounds. So, the escapees got 2 desi guns with only one bullet each? How stupid of them!
A video shows a cop ‘recovering’ a knife-machete from an escapee’s waistband. A shiny, broad-blade, 5-6 inches long. How did this escapee manage to walk with this knife tucked inside his (new) jeans, without slicing his groin or cutting open his thigh? Warning: don’t try this at home, but without walking, just try & tuck in a large kitchen knife into your waistband!
The jailbreak itself is the stuff of legend. Like Jai-Veeru in Sholay with the “angrezon ke zamaaney ke jailer”. Let’s us now examine the screenplay in sequentially.
Scene 1: Ramashankar Yadav, on jail watch duty, is assaulted by one or many of the undertrial SIMI activists, who apparently slit his throat with a sharpened steel plate. His colleague and alleged eyewitness Chandan Ahirwar is spared, but locked inside a cell.
It isn’t clear how many SIMI men assaulted Mr. Yadav and how. Some media reports suggest that the 8 men were not kept in the same cell, or even in the same barracks, but were split up in different parts of the Bhopal Central Jail. Of these 8, 3 were apparently housed together in one section, another 3 in a different barrack and the last 2 in a third section of the jail. Let’s assume and accept that a group of 3 assaulted Mr. Yadav.
The next question is how? No details have emerged or been offered by the jail authorities yet. There are no eyewitness accounts of the other jail inmates, locked up in the surrounding cells, in whose line of vision, this assault must have happened.
But, let’s accept scene 1 of the MP cops’ screenplay without further scrutiny – that the escapees attack a warden. They steal the keys from him to open other cells to free their friends. But they forget to free their own leader Abu Faisal alias Doctor from a nearby cell? How clumsy and stupid, but let’s say they were in too much of a hurry!
The story is curiouser if it turns out that the 8 were not housed in the same barracks – how did the escapees free the others, across different barracks, with a free run of the entire jail, with no guards or jail staff anywhere to stop them – where and how did they get the keys to the other barracks & cells? From who?
Cut to Scene 2: But how did they manage from there? The staffers inside the barracks don’t have keys to the entire jail and all its entry/ main & intervening security gates, but only for their respective cell blocks. Any movie-goer knows that!
So, how did the escapees cross gate 1, 2 and 3? Did these gates have no security or armed guards? The cops’ screenplay suggests they had made keys from wood and metal spoons. When? That night itself? Or well in advance? Either way, the jail staff on duty and armed guards just looked on as these escapees stood around gate 1 for hours, filing and chiseling the spoon, fitting & trying it and finally making a duplicate key? And then, they repeated the process at gates 2 and 3?
Across all sorts of jailbreak films, this scenario has never even been imagined!
Scene 3: The screenplay now suggests that after crossing the gates, they climbed a 32-feet high external wall, jumping over its parapet by making a “ladder out of bedsheets”. Imagine 1 man climbing the rope-knotted-bedsheets and reaching the top of the first wall. Then what – he jumps down thirty two feet, landing perfectly on his brand-new sports shoes? Or climbs down another bedsheet-rope that he has carried to the top? Now it is the turn of escapees 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 to repeat this mountaineering feat.
No police or jail staff spots them during the long time it took them to do this? No one from the watch tower? No armed guards see them? And – no CCTV cameras capture this remarkable Olympian achievement?
As per Firstpost, “The parapet wall has live wire. How did eight prisoners scale the 32 feet wall without even one, coming in accidental contact with the live wire?” Perhaps they were wearing Havells’ shock-laga-laga rubbersuits under their new jeans and shirts?
If this were a Bollywood movie, we would’ve walked out saying “kya bakwaas script hai”! Even Bollywood veterans like Ajay Devgn, Raveena Tandon, Anupam Kher and Paresh Rawal would agree. But this screenplay carries on.
Scene 4: The escapees come out of the ISO-certified Bhopal Central jail. What do they do next? They go for a leisurely walk, covering less than 1.5 km/ hour for 7-8 hours. Not in any hurry. No sense of urgency to escape. And they decide to stick together, all 8 of them. Not split into two teams of 4 each or four teams of 2 each and go off in different directions, making their own capture difficult. Were they too overconfident, or were they just too stupid to take these basic, elementary steps? In that case, they seem to be too foolish to be “dreaded terrorists” or any sort of “masterminds”!
Did they never watch TV or any films like Shawshank Redemption, Escape to Victory and see Sean Connery, Tim Robbins and John Travolta escape? What about our own Amitji, Shatrughan Sinha and the many peculiarly-named villains who have broken out of various Bollywood prisons in the last 60 years? So naïve!
Scene 5: The ‘cop screenplay’ now says that the escapees armed themselves somehow at night. Curiously, apart from 2 desi guns, the escapees get some knives – for what? Hand-to-hand combat with the heavily-armed ATS men? IGP Choudhary suggests on camera that his men have sustained injuries, but not from the 2 bullets supposedly fired at them. So, only knife injuries? How? Maybe once the escapees had been shot dead and the ATS chaps went nearer to check etc, the corpses’ hands twitched and jerked involuntarily but inflicted precise non life-threatening injuries. Even in death, they were considerate enough to not slice open an artery or a vein – how terribly kind-hearted terrorists?!
Triumphant IGP Yogesh Choudhary and valiant cops speak of the ‘encounter’ proudly on camera, telling us how bravely they tackled these men. Gushing TV anchors, wearing flack jackets and in combat mode themselves, inform us that 8 terrorists have been “neutralised” – never mind that these were undertrials, yet to be convicted for any offence, let alone for terrorism, by any court.
Madhya Pradesh Home Minister slips up and admits that the ‘terrorists’ had no gun, only some kitchen utensils they’d sharpened into makeshift knives. He blows apart the whole brave-cops-under-enemy-fire-reluctantly-retaliate-and kill narrative.
While the drama unfolds, the absolute worst happens for Madhya Pradesh Police- a video apparently shot by the local sarpanch shows us a plainclothes cop ‘recovering’ a knife-machete from a corpse’s waistband, another brave one aiming at a figure lying on the ground and firing in cold blood while off-screen voices shower some abuse and even acknowledge that someone is shooting it all on video. We also hear a voice saying – “shoot him in the chest”.
And then comes a second video.
And a third video.
And a fourth video.
All of them are on YouTube for anyone to browse
Here is a video of 5 men atop a hillock, no guns or weapons in sight.
An independent eyewitness journalist writes to CM Chouhan – they had no way to escape – on the other side was a sheer drop of a couple of hundred feet. They were surrounded. They wanted to surrender. They were killed in cold blood.
Dear Madhya Pradesh Government, ATS & Police, you need to hire better scriptwriters; this is such a terrible story full of large, gaping holes! Learn from the #GujaratModel. 20-30 “encounters”, clearer plotlines & savvier ‘spin’ management! Despite that, they made history by having the largest number of IPS officers & cops arrested & jailed in independent India! And – never have your Home Minister ‘monitor’ the encounters directly – it may land him in jail too!
Sanjiv Shami, Chief, Anti-Terror squad too confirms on camera that the escapees had no guns (a stand he reiterates to Sreenivasan Jain of NDTV today). As per NDTV “Mr Shami says he is aware that since he first declared the men who were killed were unarmed two days ago, other police and government officers have contradicted him. He says he stands by his account.”
Mr Shami further suggests that even killing these unarmed men was alright as they were ‘dreaded criminals’. The Chief Minister, IGP Choudhary, Central Cabinet Ministers and various BJP leaders also offer variations of this logic as a justification. The online Bhakt-brigade floods the twitter universe, spreading the ‘party line’, heavily trolling anyone questioning the ‘encounter’. Minister Venkiah Naidu suggests it may be unpatriotic and urges people not to play ‘politics’ (even as CM Chouhan makes a political spectacle of the slain cop Ramashankar’s funeral).
In the process, the top cops and the netas ignore recent key judgements by the Supreme Court of India on fake encounter cases!
“It does not matter whether the victim was a common person or a militant or a terrorist, nor does it matter whether the aggressor was a common person or the State. The law is the same for both and is equally applicable to both… This is the requirement of a democracy,” the Supreme Court held in a July 2016 judgment on 1,528 cases of alleged fake encounters involving the Army and the police in Manipur.
One of the judgments even recommended death penalty to “trigger-happy” cops and compared them to Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg trials who tried to brush off their culpability on their superior officers.
“We are of the view that in cases where a fake encounter is proved against policemen in a trial, they must be given death sentence, treating it as the rarest of rare cases. Fake ‘encounters’ are nothing but cold blooded, brutal murder by persons who are supposed to uphold the law,” the Supreme Court held in Prakash Kadam versus Ramprasad Vishwanath Gupta on May 13, 2011.
Justice Katju who wrote the 2011 judgement, goes on TV, terming the Bhopal incident a fake encounter, a murder, for which the guilty must be hanged!
This story is far from over. On test are India’s democracy, its judicial system and institutional safeguards like the NHRC. And we – the people of India, the ultimate custodians of our democracy!
I have personally spoken at length to the innocent Muslim men (two of them doctors) of Malegaon, framed by Maharashtra ATS and police in the 2006 terror attack case – they spent five and a half years in prison – subjected to tortures, narco-analysis tests and produced in court with their ‘confessions’. They escaped any ‘encounter’ or the gallows only as Hemant Karkare, an upright officer, soon after taking charge of the dreaded ATS in 2008, unearthed a conspiracy behind the Malegaon terror attacks, involving Hindutva zealots like Sadhvi Pragya, Aseemanand and Col Purohit among others. The Malegaon Muslims continued to languish in jail, finally getting bail only in end-2011. The judicial system still dragged them through its wheels till May 2016, when they were finally acquitted by the Special MCOCA Court.
You might wonder what’s the connection between Malegaon and Bhopal – you see, the ATS from both states claimed that the men they had arrested had a SIMI connection! SIMI, it would seem, is their synonym for ‘terrorist’. No wonder various BJP folk use the two interchangeably!
Rakesh Sharma is an eminent documentary film-maker. His most notable work is the feature-length documentary Final Solution on the communal Gujarat riots of 2002.