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Ishrat Jahan Encounter: A Case of Cold- Blooded Murder

Seema Mustafa

Why has the Ishrat Jahan encounter case, in which three others were killed along with her, excited such passion? Was she innocent, was she guilty? Was she a terrorist? Was she a woman of “loose morals” (an issue that always agitates our middle class)?

All these questions along with an almost voyeurish interest in her relationship with Javed Shaikh has turned a straightforward case of encounter killing, into a high drama pitting the Congress against the BJP, and the CBI against the IB. The media, of course, has shed all sense of responsibility and has decided to sit back and have a ball, regardless of the damage done in the process.

The first point that needs to be made, is that the issue is not about the innocence or otherwise of the young girl. This can be fought and decided upon in the courts by her family who obviously do not want her reputation to be sullied, and as Ishrat Jahan’s sister told a crowded public meeting in Delhi recently, they have been made to pay a high price for this by a moralistic society that was and is more bothered about her personal behaviour, than the fact that she was shot dead in a staged encounter by the Gujarat police. The issue is, she and three others were shot dead in cold blood by policemen in what is now clearly recognised, by even the CBI, as a staged encounter.

The polarising arguments around the case almost make it seem that if Ishrat Jahan is proven to be a terrorist, the fake encounter is justified. So conversely, if she is innocent, then of course, the police had no right to kill her in cold blood. In the midst of the passionate debate, the fact that the police does not have the right to shoot anyone down in cold blood – criminal, terrorist, sex worker, trade unionist, Muslim, Dalit – is being lost sight of. And her innocence is thus irrelevant to the case in which the police not only gunned down four persons, but created evidence to insist that it was a genuine and not a fake encounter. And this is a severe human rights violation that needs quick dispensation of justice so that those responsible are made accountable by the State institutions for cold blooded murder.

Unfortunately civil rights groups have all become investigators, with many having placed themselves dangerously in the midst of the ongoing CBI versus IB slug-fest by supporting the former against the latter. Seasoned journalists will be the first to tell them that these agency wars are old hat, and when these come out into the open as has happened over the Ishrat Jahan case, truth becomes the first casualty. Neither the CBI nor the IB have done themselves proud, and while it is always exciting to nip at their heels, this never really works for citizens in the long run. Both agencies are highly politicised, both come with bad baggage, both are expert at media manipulation, and at the end of it, both serve the government of the day with fissures only temporary. It is important thus, for civil rights activists not to allow themselves to be painted into a corner, and understand that the differing stories from the IB and the CBI today could become just the one story tomorrow that would then take away from the legitimacy of the Ishrat Jahan case by insisting that she was a terrorist.

In other words, her innocence should not become the issue. The manner in which the Gujarat police has acted in this case, and several other encounter cases during that period is the sole issue. How did the police acquire such authority? Who were the political leaders behind these decisions? What were the Home Minister of Gujarat and the Chief Minister of Gujarat doing those days? Did the police stage such dramatic encounters without their knowledge? Was that possible in a state where the Chief Minister claimed to be in complete control? How was it that only Muslims were killed in these fake encounters? How was it that the cover-up was never busted? There are answers to all these questions with officials who had served in the administration at that time. And this is the real story that could then through Ishrat Jahan and the three others killed with her, take the conspiracy to the very top.

In this, it does not matter whether Ishrat Jahan was innocent or not. That is like said earlier, an issue that can be fought in the courts but cannot become the basis for rights and justice.  After all, justice ensures that a sex worker retains the right to say ‘no’ and if this right is violated and she is raped, she must be given full justice under the law. Similarly a person, proven to be a terrorist or not, cannot be shot down by the police in a fake encounter. The issue has to be tried in court. After all, even the most famous terrorist of all Ajmal Kasab was arrested, and not killed by the police in Maharashtra at that time.

Ishrat Jahan's death in cold blood makes it imperative for concerned citizens and organisations to ensure that the Gujarat police and its political mentors are made accountable for the murders. The fact that she was just 19 years old, and clearly a victim of manipulations, makes her case more poignant but in terms of cold justice, the murder of the other three men with her is as important. There is no justification for the police to shoot them down in cold blood. This can then feed into the larger issue of wrongful arrests, poor evidence, fake encounters and custodial deaths with every single person entitled to protection and trial under the law. Too many deaths have taken place at the hands of the police outside the law, and this needs to be stopped through the combined efforts of all. The Gujarat police in recent years has become notorious for these outside-the-law murders, and the government in that state must be held responsible for the trigger happy, rampaging men in uniform. The presence of the IB should be at best another nail in the coffin, not turned into the coffin itself.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick


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