By Sukla Sen
29 June 2004
bodies, four blood stained motionless bodies - fully stretched, lying
side by side on their backs close to the central divider of the road,
only part of which is visible, perhaps wide enough to allow the traffic
to flow, perhaps with speed somewhat lowered down. In the foreground
lies a girl, with hands on her sides, calm and serene - even if looking
a bit helpless, clad in a striped matching kurta-pyjama - in soft orange.
While one foot is clad, the other one is bare - the helplessness is
somewhat accentuated. An Indica in contrasting blue forms the backdrop.
The number plate is clearly visible : MH-02-JA-4786.
This is a visual
that has assaulted us too many times over the last three weeks. Thanks
to the electronic, and print, media. No, itís not a shot from
a promo for a soon-to-be-released Bollywood film. It's real.
On 15th June, the
Ahmedabd police claimed to have killed the four terrorists in Indica
car, at a desolate location near Kotarpur on the outskirts of Ahmedabad,
on their way to the city, after a thrilling chase in a pre-dawn ëencounterí,
on a deadly mission to assassinate Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister
of Gujarat. The bullet ridden bodies were neatly arranged on the road
on display before the clicking and roving cameras for the benefit of
millions of (voyeuristic?) viewers. The terrorists, it has been claimed,
are from the Pakistan based Lashkar-e Toiba. Two are from Pakistan,
and the other two, including the nineteen year girl, are Indians. The
lifeless bodies were prized trophies, on display, won in a hardly fought
battle in an ongoing war - war against ëterrorismí, led
by the ubiquitous enemy.
But the expected
applaud got severely marred. Cynics and sceptics raised uncomfortable
questions, found serious flaws with the script. How come in an ëencounterí
- fire having been exchanged between the police force and the terrorists
carrying AK-56, no one from the police suffered even a minor scratch?
While the bullets killing the ëterroristsí pierced through
the rear glass, why there was no sign of the car coming to a sudden
halt (with punctured tyres) or having gone out of control?
Then the timing
was evidently suspect. Modi was facing perhaps the most serious crisis
in his political career having been under attack from the foremost national
leader of his own party, and also rebels from the state party unit.
And no proof whatsoever, except for the claim of an
advance tip off, was provided to substantiate the story that the deceased
were out to kill Modi. Amarsinh Chaudhary, the opposition leader from
the Congress - and an ex-CM himself, openly alleged that the ëencounterí
was fake and the story was concocted to generate sympathy and support
for the cornered Modi.
Till date the Gujarat,
and Maharashtra, police have failed to produce any evidence that the
nineteen year old girl, Ishrat Jahan Shaikh - a resident of Mumbra,
some 35 km north of Mumbai, and second year BSc student in a city college,
had any criminal antecedents. Faced with a barrage of criticism, particularly
on account the perceived innocence of Ishrat, Ahmedabad police belatedly
produced a hand-written diary, purportedly of hers, showing receipts
and transactions of large sums of money. Not only the diary remains
to be checked by handwriting expert(s) to verify the claim as regards
its authorship, the fact that the rent for the meagre single room flat,
where her rather largish family resides, remains to be paid for the
last seven months flies in the face of such hypothesis.
The other one identified
as Indian is Javed Gulam Mohammed Shaikh, who had earlier been Pranesh
Kumar Pillai, is a married man of 32 years - a Malayalee and a resident
of Pune. Javed, the father of three, appears to be a shady character.
But nothing goes to show that he was a terrorist - at least as yet.
The other two were
identified as Pakistanis. The Ahmedabad police claimed to have full
details of their names and residences in Pakistan. But when the external
affairs ministry was approached for handing over their bodies to the
Pakistan high commission, the ministry asked for further clarification
Many questions remain
unanswered. There is also a report that the deceased had been in the
custody of Surat police, in Gujarat, before the incident. The post mortem
reports, if honestly done, can throw some light on how these four were
killed. But there is no word in the media as yet on
these. What is of central importance here is to find the precise nature
of the ëencounterí. It is even more important than verifying
the veracity of the seemingly fantastic claim that the deceased were
out to kill Modi. In a civilised society even the proven criminals are
treated as per the provisions of law. In fact that is a principal marker
how civilised a state and society is. Unbridled state terrorism is definitely
no answer to non-state terrorism. Innocent citizens, most often, have
to pay the price in terms of their lives as the victims of the both
varieties of terrorism.
The National Human
Rights Commission, three days after the incident, sought a report from
Gujarat police. Taking suo moto cognisance of media reports, the NHRC
has directed the Gujarat Director General of Police and Ahmedabad Senior
Superintendent of Police to ensure the probe is
undertaken as per the guidelines of the Commission and furnish a report
within six weeks.
But given the seriousness
of the allegations and counter-allegations made, and grave implications
of either, a full-scale judicial enquiry headed by a serving supreme
court judge, assisted by a team of dedicated professional investigators,
is very much the need of the hour. The government of
India must move in that direction without any further loss of time.