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India: The Importance Of Being Ishrat Jahan

By Mukul Dube

09 July, 2013

Who was Ishrat Jahan? In 2009, S.P. Tamang, Metropolitan Magistrate, Ahmedabad, described her in the report of his judicial enquiry as a “loving daughter and caring sister” who worked hard to support her mother and younger siblings. However, now that the CBI’s examination of her death in an “encounter” is the centre of attention, many people are calling her anything but innocent and harmless. The noises coming from the Hindu Right may be ignored, for what they offer as evidence is not just pathetic but ludicrous. It is the media’s output that we must examine.

“Indeed, there has been a concerted campaign in some sections of the media to portray Ishrat Jahan as a deadly armed terrorist, leaving the cornered Gujarat police no choice but to kill her.... This vilification campaign has been steadily building up, and sections of the media seem to be actively helping to mould public opinion that Ishrat was a dreaded armed terrorist.... Ishrat, being a Muslim woman, is a convenient target for all manner of slander....” (Laxmi Murthy in http://www.thehoot.org/web/Media-helping-to-vilify-Ishrat-/6891-1-1-1-true.html)

It is not difficult to figure out who has fed to the media the bilge that they are regurgitating. One has only to draw up a list of those who stand to benefit by this maligning and vilification.

Poor dead Ishrat Jahan is important now in several ways.

First, she is a symbol of all those innocents who have been killed in what the police have described as encounters. Such murders have taken place all over the country, although it may be argued that Gujarat leads the race. It is slowly but inexorably coming out that in some instances the scenes of these “encounters” were carefully prepared before the victims were done to death, while in others those who had already been killed were arranged in tableaux often hurriedly assembled. We have been told of many fierce gun battles in which terrorists armed to the teeth were all killed (being shot at close range, the evidence says) while the many policemen involved came away miraculously unscathed. The “dreaded terrorists”, often said to have been intensively trained, were worlds different from those who carried out the Mumbai attacks of 2008. The explanation is simple: being dead, they could hardly be expected to handle the sophisticated weapons that were planted near their corpses.

I said above that the Hindu Right may be dismissed, but several women do not agree. They say that “Ms. Meenakshi Lekhi’s rantings on prime time TV [touch] a new low. Responding to mounting evidence of staged encounter, she asserted on Times Now TV ... that ‘here was a girl travelling with men unrelated to her’
... [and] outdid herself by reiterating yesterday that since Ishrat came from a deprived background, she was a ’fit case’ for being a terrorist. This kind of personal slander reflects BJP’s deeply sexist and patriarchal character, besides of course communal and class prejudice.” (118 women signatories to a statement that may be seen at http://www.indiaresists.com/women-condemn-meenakshi-lekhis-sexist-slandering-of-ishrat-jahan/).

Instead of letting the CBI and the court get on with their work, these people with mediaeval minds seek to poison public opinion, perhaps so that later they may call upon another concocted absurdity like the infamous reference to the “collective conscience of the society”.

Poor dead Ishrat Jahan is important also because she represents those thousands of mostly young Indians who have either been killed or who have been locked up and tortured for long periods because of their sin of having been born to Muslim parents. Both the “guardians of law and order” and the Hindu Right know that if the “encounter” in question is shown to have been a fiction, staged and carried out malevolently, it will serve as a powerful vindication of the argument that there is in India a systemic bias against the religious minorities.

Now I come to the the third reason for the importance of poor dead Ishrat Jahan. The outcome of the investigation into the “encounter” in which she died may well decide the fate of a widely reviled man who has so far, with raw power and bluster and blandishment, kept his neck out of the hangman’s noose. The CBI has already unearthed much filth, and many of us hope that it will go on to obtain that which is needed.

Narendra Damodardas Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002, when an estimated two thousand Muslims were killed in what are incorrectly described as riots. When being sworn in, a chief minister has to take an oath of allegiance in which, among other things, he or she promises to care for and protect the citizens of her or his state. Around two thousand people dead, many women and girls raped, much property destroyed – but the chief minister, Modi, is not held guilty even of dereliction of duty? Verily this could have happened only in a Hindu Rashtra whose leaders were one Vajpayee and one Advani.

Dereliction of duty is an offence of omission. What Modi will one day face, we may hope, is the charge of planning and organising a pogrom and of supervising the carrying out not only of a blood-bath but also of the systematic starvation and economic and social isolation of a substantial part of the population that he is pledged to serve. He uses the great power that a democratic system gave him directly against the paramount demos.

Narendra Modi is not described as the kind of ruler who delegates. He himself controls all in his satrapy that can be controlled. With power centralised, his minions can have little freedom of action: and when they can act without constant
direction, their actions are reported to him. Did not Chanakya and Machiavelli tell the ruler to assign a duty to one of his men and at the same time order a second man to report on the first?

Modi is known to protect the loyal criminals he employs. Babu Bajrangi, for one, has described on tape how Modi protected him for a long time in different ways. Even if Modi came only after the event to know the facts of the “encounter” in which Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed, he is guilty of protecting the offenders, of suppressing the evidence of a crime: which is of course a crime too.

Evidence has been piling up that the Ishrat Jahan “encounter” was planned by high officials from the police and other wings of the state bureaucracy. It is not unlikely that the investigators will also find that the staged affair had the approval of the chief minister, and perhaps also that he played a part in its planning. After all, in the fiction we have been fed in this and other cases, Modi was the man the “dreaded terrorists” had been sent to assassinate. If he was to protect himself from a real plot, and equally if he was to further the fiction created to justify unlawful actions by his “security” apparatus, it is difficult to believe that Narendra Modi knew nothing about the “encounter” that had been planned.

Deduction is not admissible in a court of law. The hope now is that the investigators will obtain hard evidence, which is admissible, that Modi either was involved in the planning of the bogus “encounter” or, after it, has been acting to protect the uniformed criminals who carried it out.

A 19-year-old student from Mumbra may play a part, even after death, in the closing of one of the most sordid chapters in India’s history.

Mukul Dube is a writer, photographer and editor who lives in Delhi. He can be reached at uthappam@gmail.com

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