Wednesday 18 May 2022

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

Bloody Mary

Ishrat killing just not an encounter


The "encounter killing" or the "fake encounter" is an obscenity that should be unacceptable, indeed repugnant to a civilised society. They are criminal acts of bad policing. Only a society mesmerised by perverse fantastical machismo lends moral sanction to policemen killing suspected "terrorists" on the street.

When a woman is assaulted or killed, inevitably her morality is in doubt. The Park Street rape victim was "asking for it" because she was fixing a deal with her "clients". When Jessica Lal was killed at a Delhi party, defence lawyer Ram Jethmalani argued that Jessica Lal had insulted the "manhood" of her murderer Manu Sharma. Ishrat Jahan was, according to the CBI charge-sheet, abducted, sedated, confined and then killed in cold blood by officers of the Gujarat police. Once again the morality brigade asks what a 19 year old girl was doing travelling with a male companion and what is possibly wrong, if a "terrorist", was murdered in cold blood? The killing of Ishrat seems to satiate the inner beast of a middle class stupefied by the narrative of terrorism, violence and power. We have collectively forgotten that only a court can rule who is a "terrorist", not politicians, police or media.

The "encounter killing" or the "fake encounter" is an obscenity that should be unacceptable, indeed repugnant to a civilised society. They are criminal acts of bad policing. Only a society mesmerised by perverse fantastical machismo lends moral sanction to policemen killing suspected "terrorists" on the street. Yet the encounter killing in India, horrific as it is, when located in the context of insurgency, civil war and the underworld, has been seen as an effective instrument of the law. "Encounter specialists" like Daya Nayak and Pradeep Sharma of the Mumbai police, apparently responsible for the deaths of criminals of the Mumbai underworld, were part of the Mumbai Encounter Squad created to eliminate criminals. Bollywood films Ab Tak Chappan and Department loosely based on Daya Nayak, have created an unthinking brutal cult of spurious heroism around Dirty Harrys, who killed or were forced to kill without due process of law.

In insurgency hit regions of Punjab, Kashmir and the North East, "fake encounters" and encounter killings are seen by many as legitimate acts of law enforcement. When Maoist ideologue Kishanji was killed in an encounter in Junglemahal, it was seen as a result of the war raging between security forces and armed rebels, so was the "encounter killing" of Maoist leader Azad. The shocking fake encounter in 1997 in Delhi's Connaught Place, when two businessmen were gunned down by the Delhi police on the mistaken assumption that they were gangsters, was an act of murder by cops and led to 10 police officials and assistant commissioner SS Rathi being sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007. Thus "encounter killings", illegal as they are, have differing levels of sanction given the nature of the context. A "fake encounter" in an insurgency hit zone is often seen as a policeman's right to self-defence.

But Ishrat Jahan is not like any other encounter death so far in India. Reams of media coverage on Ishrat's life, social media debates, a poem entitled Ishrat by well known Hindi poet Laltu, interviews with Ishrat's family, her sister's press conference, have conferred on Ishrat a "personhood" that so far no anonymous encounter victim in the North East or Kashmir has had. The faceless man Salar, killed by the UP police after the Varanasi blasts of 2006, is not Ishrat. Kishanji is not similar to Ishrat. The two businessmen killed in Connaught Place in 1997, before the 24*7 media revolution, are not Ishrat either.

The argument that encounter-killings-happen-in-India-so-why-single-out Ishrat Jahan, somehow does not hold for many reasons. Why is Ishrat's killing not just another fake encounter? First, the context is very different. Peaceful Gujarat is not insurgency hit Kashmir or Punjab.

Second, the visibility of Ishrat's family, the fact that her mother and sister are giving their version of events, has made Ishrat a recognisable person, not just an unknown statistic of a distant encounter. A 19 year old urban college student, the sole breadwinner of her hand-to-mouth family, who goes on a trip with an old associate of her father's apparently in a bid to earn a little extra cash in her holidays, is surely recognisable, even identifiable for the urban middle class.

Third, Ishrat's case has been inspiringly and systematically monitored by the judiciary. Once Ishrat mother's Shamima Kauser filed a writ petition in the Gujarat High Court seeking registration of FIR against the rogue policemen, the Division Bench of the Gujarat High Court has monitored the case with determination. SP Tamang, the stout-hearted Gorkha conducted a magisterial enquiry in the Ishrat case and in a remarkable 243 pg handwritten order concluded that the encounter was fake and 21 policemen should be held responsible. The Ishrat Jahan case has come this far not because of the Congress' obsession with Modi, but because of the judiciary and activists who pursued the case.

Whatever the evidence or the lack of it on Ishrat's Lashkar/terrorist links, the fact that so many senior Gujarat police officers are accused of murdering a moon-faced teenager from Mumbra, has the potential to expose the ugly side of policing based on violence and prejudice in a state that prides itself on governance. Congress and BJP must not play politics over the dead body of Ishrat Jahan. The CBI and IB must stop selective leaks in order to discredit the other. Instead, there must now be a national catharsis on encounter killings by letting the law take its course.

What is a tipping point? A tipping point changes the discourse on an issue. A tipping point is when the feeling arises, however subliminally, that enough is enough. A tipping point shatters the manufactured consent and introduces an element of doubt in prevailing prejudices. A tipping point is reached when the high and mighty can no longer escape the law. Like Jessica Lal, like Delhi's Braveheart, Ishrat Jahan too is a tipping point in that repulsive reality known as the "fake encounter."

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Sagarikaji i was one of the advocates in Azad matter in supreme court. I do not know about Ishrat because i have not seen her brief. But i was in Tulsiram Prajapati. There is a difference in Azad and in Tulsiram. Azad was not an encounter. It was a proper genuine gun battle between security personals and the terrorist group in a forest. police success was only because of better training in fighting tactics and a good deal of luck In Tulsiram it was part of the series of cold blooded murders by a group of police personnel. I am told (you will know better) that same group was in Ishrat. If that is true then the investigation in that case should proceed with a negative presumption against Gujarat Police Officers. However no one can predict what comes out of investigation and each case stands on its own facts and circumstances.

Adv. Shriniwas Khalap |

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Sagarika Ghose

Sagarika Ghose has been a journalist for 20 years, starting her career with The Times of India, then moving to become part of the start-up team of Outlook magazine, subsequently joining The Indian Express as Senior Editor. She was anchor of the flagship BBC World programme Question Time India before moving to CNN-IBN as prime time anchor and Deputy Editor. She is the anchor of the award-winning flagship debate programme Face The Nation on CNN-IBN. She is also a columnist for the Hindustan Times. She has won numerous awards including FICCI Media Achiever Award and Gr8-ITA Award for Excellence in Journalism. She is a graduate in History from St Stephen's College and was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University where she gained an MA and M.Phil in History and International Relations. She is the author of two acclaimed novels The Gin Drinkers and Blind Faith, both published worldwide by HarperCollins Publishers.


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