Two Women, Two Cops - A Study In Terror, Privilege And Prejudice

ISHRAT Jehan can be declared guilty of terrorism after she is killed - without her guilt or her killers' innocence ever having to be established in a court of law.

Pragya Thakur is declared innocent of terror and made a candidate for a Parliament seat and a mascot for the ruling party even while she is on trial for terrorism - without any acquittal by a court of law.

Hemant Karkare builds an evidence-based case against Pragya, Lt Col Purohit and others. But after he's killed by terrorists, he is declared guilty of torturing Pragya in custody and being a political pawn of an 'anti Hindu' conspiracy by a Congress Government.

DG Vanzara is shielded by the Gujarat Government from facing trial for Ishrat Jehan's abduction and murder - in spite of a vast amount of damning evidence against him.

Let these contrasts sink in. What does this tell us about our justice system, our political system - and ourselves as Indians?

India's ruling party is appealing to our worst prejudices, in asking us to accept the respective fates of Ishrat and Pragya, Karkare and Vanzara, as normal and unremarkable.

It hopes that we will be willing to assume a dead Muslim teenager must be a terrorist if the cops and Government say so - and accuse those who demand justice for her of being 'anti national' and 'sympathetic to terrorism'.

It hopes we will be willing to assume a woman 'Sadhvi' dressed in saffron couldn't be a terrorist, because surely terrorists are always Muslim?

It hopes we will be happy to believe a cop who built a terror case against members of a Hindutva outfit must be a bad cop, while a cop who killed a Muslim must be a good cop.

Didn't the PM himself say no Hindu has been or could ever be a terrorist?

He wants us to think - 'Muslims, especially Muslims killed by cops, must all be assumed to be terrorists, no questions asked.'

He wants us to think - 'It's sacrilege even to suspect a Hindutva ideologue could commit terror, and examine the evidence against such an ideologue.'

Those who speak of custodial torture of Muslim, Dalit, or adivasi undertrials by police - even when there is credible evidence of such torture - are accused of being anti-national. How dare you suspect our brave cops of torture or murder, they are asked!

But the same people who attack human rights activists for raising cases of custodial torture or killings, are more than willing to accuse a police officer - who displayed extraordinary moral and physical courage and was killed in the line of duty - of custodial torture and of framing innocents!

Are we Indians as prejudiced, as bigoted, as willing to stomach blatant communal and political double standards as the PM hopes we are? We, each of us, need to look within and find an answer. We need to persuade ourselves to look beyond the screen of prejudice, and look facts in the face.

Is the Case Against Vanzara and Others Politically Motivated?

The Gujarat Government has denied permission to the CBI to prosecute Vanzara and NK Amin in the Ishrat Jehan case. BJP representatives defending this move, are claiming that the case against the Gujarat police officers was a conspiracy by the UPA Government.

Is there any evidence to back this claim?

Ishrat Jehan and three others were killed in May 2004, and the Gujarat police claimed they were all terrorists out to kill the then Gujarat CM Modi, and had been killed in a fierce gun battle.

Guidelines laid down by the NHRC (and upheld by the Supreme Court in PUCL vs State of Maharashtra in 2014) require that an FIR be filed in every encounter death case. The SC judgement mandates that "A Magisterial inquiry under Section 176 of the Code must invariably be held in all cases of death which occur in the course of police firing and a report thereof must be sent to Judicial Magistrate having jurisdiction under Section 190 of the Code."

It was just such a routine magisterial enquiry in the Ishrat Jehan case that first questioned the police version. It was not the CBI under the UPA government, but Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate SP Tamang who studied the forensic evidence and post-mortem reports to find that the police version was an “absolutely false and concocted story”.

The magistrate found that the undigested stomach contents of Ishrat and the three others established they were killed several hours before the time claimed by the police. He found that while the police had claimed to fire 70 bullets, no bullets were found on the scene. He also found that the entry points of the bullet wounds on the bodies were smaller than the exit points, suggesting that the bullets were fired at close range and not from a long distance. Further, of course, was the fact that none of the police officers suffered any injury at all though they claimed the four 'terrorists' had fired at them and engaged in a prolonged gun battle.

Based on Tamang's report, the Gujarat High Court ordered an SIT enquiry, which was conducted by Gujarat police officers. This SIT submitted its report in 2011, finding that the 'purported encounter' was 'not genuine'.

14 Gujarat police officers questioned the credibility of this report (prepared by police officers of their own state police cadre) and demanded a CBI enquiry. It was after this that the Gujarat HC agreed to asking the CBI to investigate the case.

The CBI enquiry report, submitted in 2013, also supported the conclusions of Tamang and the SIT, that the four people were killed in cold blood, and that the police then staged the scene to look like an 'encounter'. They found not only material and forensic evidence but also witnesses to back this conclusion. And they also found that the killings had probably had the prior approval of Home Minister Amit Shah and perhaps even the Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The CBI then charged 20 police officers and two IB officers with kidnapping, murder and conspiracy.

So far, note that there is no room whatsoever for any claim that the case against the police was a UPA Government plot. The UPA government itself had, till the solid facts established by multiple enquiries emerged, gone along with the police version and insisted that the four killed had been LeT operatives - terrorists. It was independent professionals - magistrate Tamang and then the SIT headed by Gujarat Police officer Satish Verma who first established that the Ishrat Jehan killings were custodial killings shoddily staged as an 'encounter'. The CBI enquiry - demanded by none other than accused Gujarat cops - only confirmed these findings and backed them up with even more solid evidence.

It is after the Modi Government came to power in the Centre that the political meddling in the case began. Even while Modi was preparing to run for PM, DG Vanzara wrote a series of open letters from jail with veiled threats of exposing Modi. In these letters he alleged that the then Gujarat CM Modi was shielding his lieutenant Amit Shah while allowing the police officers like himself to take the rap for killings that, he implied, had the direct sanction of Shah and Modi. In one letter, Vanzara warned that he felt he had "a moral justification to expose real culprits behind encounter cases by calling them (sic) Spade a Spade."

Since the police officers had only been following instructions of the Government, Vanzara said, it was only fair that if the police officers were in jail, Modi and his Ministers too, "instead of being in Gandhinagar, should be in Taloja jail in Navi Mumbai or in Sabarmati Central Prison at Ahmedabad."

Vanzara's letter clearly warned Modi that it was the "encounter killings" done by the police officers which had given him the image of "Brave Chief Minister", based on which he was making a bid to become PM. He warned that Modi and Shah were "sailing in the same boat" as the accused cops and must "swim or sink together." If Modi and Shah tried to "outsmart" the cops, then, the barely veiled subtext of Vanzara's letter implied, he would be forced to spill the beans. Protect the killer cops, or else the cops will expose you - was the clear message Vanzara gave.

As soon as Modi became PM, the CBI told Court that it did not have enough evidence to prosecute Amit Shah. The accused officers also got bail. Even while out on bail they got plum postings.

The CBI recently sought permission from the Gujarat Government to prosecute Vanzara and Amin, and the Government denied permission. The problem is that there is no need for CBI to seek Government sanction to prosecute police officers in a kidnapping and murder case, since kidnapping and murder are not actions that fall within the scope of their 'duty'.

Was Ishrat a Terrorist?

The excuse for shielding the accused Gujarat cops is that Ishrat was an LeT trained suicide bomber, and so cops were justified in killing her.

The simple answer here is - Ishrat Jehan is dead. She is not on trial as a terrorist. Her killers have to be put on trial, in which they should have to prove that Ishrat was armed, and that she tried to kill police officers, who then fired in self defence.

Remenber - Pragya Thakur is still charged with terror and yet contesting an election. Ishrat never got to defend herself in a court of law. How can police officers be allowed to execute a 19-year-old girl in cold blood, and then label her a terrorist in death, no questions asked?

Moreover, Ishrat was killed 45 days after she first met her employer Javed with whom she was travelling when she was killed. For 35 of those days, she is on record as attending college classes in Mumbra! How could she have been 'trained as a suicide bomber' when she was away from home for a total of 10 days, a couple of days at a time?

Above all, the 'Ishrat is a terrorist' red herring distracts us from the main issue - that in a democracy, police cannot be allowed to take lives except in self-defence.

Can No Hindu Ever Be A Terrorist

Modi declared in an election speech at Wardha that no Hindu can ever be or has even been a terrorist, and that Congress and UPA should be punished by Hindus for the insult of filing terror charges against Hindus.

This statement that he has since repeated, is Modi's most direct insult of India's Constitution which says the law must not distinguish between accused persons on the basis of their faith. Anyone, whether Hindu or Muslim, if charged with terror must be proved guilty of terrorism in a Court of law, and will have a right to defend themselves in Court.

Modi’s Wardha speech implies that to charge a Hindu with terror (or rape, rioting, or violence of any kind) is an insult to Hindu civilisation. No wonder then, that Modi’s followers see Gandhi’s assassin Godse as a hero not a terrorist; that they hold rallies for the rape-accused in Kathua and defend rapists like Asaram and Ram Rahim; that they garland members of lynch mobs which have killed Muslims.

Special Public Prosecutor in the Malegaon blasts case, Rohini Salian, has said that under Modi, the National Investigative Agency - NIA pressurised her to go soft on Hindutva terror cases. She pointed out that in an unheard of manner, witness statements recorded under Section 164 before a magistrate, disappeared from Court! For details of this, see this episode from Anand Patwardhan's documentary Reason.

In Court, Pragya's co-accused Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he was a Military Intelligence officer spying on the terrorist outfits Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha - both organisations inspired by India's first terrorist Nathuram Godse. If Modi thinks Purohit is an innocent man telling the truth, then he would have to admit that the Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha are in fact Hindutva terrorist organisations. Why doesn't he?

Modi says the Maharashtra ATS under Karkare, under instructions from a Congress Government, committed the 'sin' of falsely framing organisations and individuals who follow Hindutva ideology. But the Maharashtra ATS under the present BJP Government of Maharashtra has also accused several Hindutva elements on charges of terrorism. These include Vaibhav Raut of Sanatan Sanstha from whose home they recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition, and MD Murli whom they claim is a terrorist mastermind connected to the Sanatan Sanstha, and who is evading arrest. How come none of the 'journalists' who are asking Pragya about cows and cow urine, and getting to interview Modi, ask Modi or Pragya whether they consider the current Maharashtra ATS also to be politically compromised and deserving of 'curses' for the 'sin' of accusing Hindutva operatives of terrorism?

In an interview with British journalist Mehdi Hasan, BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli tried to make the absurd argument that Godse's assassination of Gandhi was a mere 'murder' not an act of terrorism, since only one individual was the target! Hasan rightly pointed out that it was the political motive, not the number of victims, which defined an act of terrorism. If Kohli's definition is to be used, then the assassination of Indian Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are also mere 'murders' not acts of terror! (https://youtu.be/oIdoYUYUlQw)

Kohli also claimed, as a lawyer, that Pragya was granted bail by the Supreme Court because no evidence was found against her. He was lying. Pragya was granted bail on health grounds by the Bombay High Court. She's clearly healthy now and ought to be back in jail. In fact, a special NIA Court, while dismissing a petition seeking to bar Pragya from contesting polls, took the NIA to task for its statements suggesting Pragya was innocent and pointed out that the Court had framed charges against Pragya because it found prima facie evidence in the ATS chargesheet, even though the NIA had taken over the investigations by then.

Justice Be Done

Shamima, Ishrat's mother, has been trying since 2004 to make sure her daughter gets justice.

We - Indian people - need to be alert to how the BJP and Modi are manipulating, harnessing, and hardening our deep-seated Islamophobic prejudices and biases - to protect dirty cops from facing trial while being happy to 'curse' cops who were killed by terrorists; to bend rules and disappear evidence to defend terrorists if they are inspired by Hindutva, and insist that police have the right to execute Muslims whom they claim to be terrorists.
Can we, as Indians stand up for justice? Can we speak up to say that we deserve better than to be treated as bigots who are satisfied with open, blatant bias and double standards?

To stand up for Ishrat, a 19-year-old college student trying to support her impoverished family, you don't have to believe Vanzara, Shah and the other accused persons are guilty. You just have to say - the accused must all face trial, and have every chance to defend themselves in Court. They can't be allowed to evade trial by declaring Ishrat - who is silenced by bullets and can't defend herself - guilty and deserving of execution minus a trial!