A fact-finding team of teachers, students, civil rights activists and intellectuals visited the site of the September 19 alleged encounter of the police with the ‘terrorists’ at Batla House, Jamia Nagar, on September 24, 2008, and later released its preliminary findings.
The team’s preliminary findings are as follows:
Of fear, terror and suspicion
The team started its investigation at 11.30 AM on September 24, 2008 in Jamia Nagar area under Jamia Nagar police station. Even five days after the encounter the tension was palpable in Jamia Nagar and the adjacent areas. People were seemingly scared to talk to the fact-finding team. The stress and tension, generated after the encounter, was evident. People were nervous and requesting us not to mention their names under any circumstances. In the University premises the team had to face hostile queries whether we were from the media. The hostile media trial of the entire Muslim community that accompanied the bomb blasts was visible right from the premises of the university to the area of the encounter. We felt, this is largely because of the witch hunt that ensued after the ‘encounter’ story of the police of two students at House No. L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar and the scores of arrests of Muslim youth from the vicinity. In fact, the arrests had already started right after September 14 Delhi blasts.
In such scenario, to instil confidence in the people was an uphill task, as they were at the receiving end of the state terror out to brand anyone daring to speak in favour of the deceased in the ‘encounter’ as ‘accomplices’ and ‘masterminds’ of the successive blasts in India. The police action followed by the media trial only parroting the ‘official version’ had created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion among the people. Whosoever the team had talked had the stamp of fear on their face.
The team had to keep in mind the feeling of incarceration and isolation not to say the terror of an authoritarian and prejudiced state that was writ large on the locality. There is definitely palpable fear of the people of anyone and everyone picked up and framed by the police, who have a story for every occasion.
Police Siege and the wages of state terror
To start with, the Gali where the House No. L-18 is located has been barricaded with a huge posse of police laying siege to it and the surrounding buildings. No one is allowed to enter the House No. L-18. The constables of Delhi police told us, albeit politely, that they need to ask for permission from higher authority to let us go close to the building. We were allowed after about 15 minutes. However, we were not allowed to enter the building, L-18. Rather, a man who is a resident of the house was asked to come out and give his version. As we spoke to that man a contingent of police officers, constables, plain clothes officers from special branch were surrounding us. We got this man’s ‘version’ in the middle of all these. We also came to know, the key of the house (L-18) is with the police and they had to undergo thorough checking whenever they ventured out or returned. Even the people staying in the nearby buildings also had to go through the police scanner. It was as if they were under house arrest. The children in the household were facing trauma-induced depression and had to resort to medical care. We also came to know, the kids missed their all important examinations because of questioning by police on September 19. They got scared of any kind of sound or noise thinking that it was a gunshot. The fear of anyone becoming the target of a vicious police action had taken over the psyche of these young minds. We also came to know two more families residing in L 18 have left the place after the encounter.
On further investigation we came to know that one family which has one woman pregnant left the house, because that woman was getting stressed under the circumstances.
The heavy presence of the police, in uniform and plainclothes, has only aggravated the situation. When we asked police personnel present in and around the area as to why the police is still laying siege to the premises the authority did not have any satisfactory answer.
It is also important to mention here, throughout the process, we were followed by special branch officers. In fact, a journalist, who was not the member of the fact-finding team and a member of the team, was routinely questioned about the details of the other team members. Anyone, even from mainstream media visiting the area more than once, is called up by special branch.
The flat where the so-called ‘encounter’ took place is still sealed. The alleged seizure of weapons, laptop, etc., from the flat was done without any proper witness to the whole exercise. None of the members of the flat, not to say, of the locality was witness to the high profile ‘seizure’, which the police celebrated in the media. The conduct of the police was and is still shrouded in secrecy and arbitrariness that have only invited further wrath of the people. This in no way will instil confidence among the people. On the contrary, it has added further misery to their lives.
“It is a Fake encounter,” say the people
We could not find a single person in the entire locality who could agree with the story of the ‘encounter’ of the police. There is a complete unanimity in the opinion of the people about the one-sided nature of the firing and the time for which it continued. Further, there are some witnesses, (who would not want their names to be mentioned) who vouched that these youth who had fallen to the bullets of the police were just ordinary youngsters who had taken their career and their studies seriously. These witnesses have said that initially there were gunshots for 15 minutes. Then it stopped for a while. Then after a while the police went on firing intermittently for quite sometime positioned on the terrace and the Gali to show that it was a real encounter. In between, the police went on shouting loudly to create a feeling of real exchange of fire and project a real encounter. Later, the police declared that the encounter was successful. After the firing, the police had destroyed the flowerpots of the L-18 flat and the adjacent flats and used the pieces of the broken pots to break the windowpanes of L-18 to make it look like a real encounter.
No one told us about an exchange of fire. It was ‘only one kind of sound’, they all emphasised.
After visiting the rear and the sides of L-18 flat, no one could have bought the story of someone escaping as there was only a single entrance, which the police had already been covering. It was impossible for anyone to jump from the fourth floor flat, as it would have resulted in near death or fatal injury. It demolishes the theory of police that two of the ‘dreaded terrorists’ have run away. More importantly, one of these ‘terrorists’, Zeeshan, surrendered to Headlines Today Channel, within hours of ‘jumping and running away’ from a fourth floor flat. Why will he do that – the locals ask.
There are also witnesses to three men dragged down from the fourth floor to the ground floor. None of the body of the deceased was shown to anyone. All the bodies were covered by clothes and were kept in a vehicle which was taken inside the porch of the flat.
The people of the locality are asking unanimously: Where have all the bullets gone?
Why Police is NOT allowing media to go inside L 18 and shoot and talk to people even almost after a week? Do they have anything to hide? Normally it is done up to a few hours!
Why the police did not try to arrest these ‘masterminds’ alive? This is randomly done in India and rest of the world. In that case it could have helped the administration more, isn’t it?
Clear evidence of point-blank shots on the head of Sajid
The photographs after autopsy of Sajid (17 years old) show clear marks of 7-8 gunshots on his head from above. These shots, which are at point blank, cannot happen in the case of an encounter. Because in case of an encounter, where the shots are fired from a distance, the wounds would open up.
Police Version of fake Tenant verification disproved
Prominent citizens of the locality have already questioned the story of the police of fake tenant verification. They have said that none of the details provided including the driving licence, address, rent agreement paper were forged. The claim of the office stamp of the authority as fake was also disproved by the citizens in a press meet as they showed their own copies of tenant verification which was carrying the same official stamp. The locals also feel, even if the forgery has been done by the owner and the caretaker of the house – NO INFORMATION GIVEN ABOUT ATIF IS FALSE. Factually, as we came to know from local people, not a single information given – whether it is about his last residence, parentage, driving license or permanent address – proved to be wrong.
Mystery shrouding the death of Inspector MC Sharma
No one is ready to believe that Inspector Mr. M C Sharma was killed in an exchange of fire.
There are several witnesses having seen him taken away by two men in plainclothes to a Santro car stationed near the Khalilullah Masjid with bleeding wounds of bullet shots on his shoulder.
It is intriguing to note as to why such an officer of importance for the Special Cell of the Delhi Police went for an operation without any protection and why he was walked all the way to the car. Moreover, the Hospital, Holy Family, which treated Mr Sharma has been told by police not to talk to press or civil society – that is what we found out.
The people of the locality are asking: Why would the most dynamic of Special Cell Officers, Mr M C Sharma, would go to an operation – where he may nab the masterminds of deadly blasts – without wearing Bullet Proof Jacket?
Moreover, the police team also made sure that the ‘terrorists’ are hiding in that flat by sending an officer in the guise of mobile salesman, prior to sending the rest of the squad. So after confirming the whereabouts of the ‘masterminds’ how could a senior officer go without any protection?
Any discerning eye can make out the simmering tension pervading the entire area of Jamia Nagar and its vicinity. Everyday is passing by with a new arrest and yet another story from the side of the police. The role of the media, except a few reports in certain dailies, has more or less demonised the Muslims. More and more Muslim youths are being picked up. Even those who have gone and surrendered before the police or media have been framed under several charges. In these circumstances the people are one in saying that they are being pushed to a situation where they have total distrust of what is becoming in the name of ‘war against terror’.
The fact finding team also made the following demands:
1. Immediately withdraw the police siege of Jamia Nagar in general and the Gali where house No. L-18 is situated.
2. Stop harassing Muslim youth under the garb of ‘combating terror’.
3. Initiate a high-level judicial enquiry of the entire episode.
4. Make public the autopsy report of the two youth in the ‘encounter’.
5. Make public the autopsy report of Inspector MC Sharma. There should also be a judicial enquiry into the circumstances leading to his death.
6. Press and civil society should be allowed to talk to doctors/authorities of the Holy Family Hospital.
7. The State has to provide for the medical counselling of the residents of Jamia Nagar, who have been affected by this encounter.
8. Police should stop releasing selective photos from CCTV cameras to Press to build opinions against Muslims.
The team comprised of Prof. K.A. Siddique Hassan, Deputy Amir Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, SAR Geelani, Reader, Zakir Hussain College, Delhi University, Dr. Waquar Anwar, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Dr. SQR Ilyas, Editor, Afkar-e-Milli, Suvojit Bagchi, Journalist, Anil Chamaria, Journalist, Dr. Karen Gabriel, Reader, St. Stephens College, DU, Rona Wilson, Secretary (Public Relations), Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), Mahtab Alam, Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), Banojyotsna Lahiri (JNU), Vanessa Chisti (JNU) and Sumati Panikkar (Independent Researcher).