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The Second Killing of Ishrat Jahan

Vrinda Grover, lawyer for the family of the teenager shot dead by the Gujarat police in 2004, says the only question before the courts is that of her custodial killing.

Ishrat Jahan's mother, Shamima Kausar at a press conference about David Headley's statement at Thane last month. Credit: PTI

Ishrat Jahan’s mother, Shamima Kausar at a press conference in Thane last month where she refuted David Headley’s statement about her daughter being a terrorist. Credit: PTI

Ishrat Jahan, a teenaged woman from Mumbra, was killed in June 2004 by the Gujarat police in an ‘encounter’  along with three other men. A magisterial enquiry, SIT probe and CBI investigation subsequently all concluded that  this was a fake encounter – that the police claim of having fired on her in ‘self-defence’ was a lie. In July 2013, almost a decade after the fake encounter, a chargesheet was filed against 7 Gujarat police officials and (in a supplementary chargesheet in February 2014) four Intelligence Bureau officials for the unlawful killings, abduction, criminal conspiracy etc.

Ever since her death, Ishrat Jahan’s affiliation, if any, has been the subject of endless debates by political parties. The Gujarat police said she was a terrorist and several Indian newspapers carried a Delhi-datelined story by PTI which said the Ghazwa Times, a magazine published by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had described Ishrat as an operative of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. In 2007, Business Standardreported the Jamaat-ud-Dawa retracting that claim and apologising to Ishrat’s family. The fact that the erstwhile UPA government revised an affidavit it filed in the Gujarat high court in 2009 to clarify that there was no “conclusive evidence” of Ishrat being a terrorist operative has been seized upon by the BJP to suggest the Congress used the Ishrat case to “frame” the Gujarat police and target Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.

In legal terms, of course, whether Ishrat was or was not linked to the LeT is immaterial to the criminal charge of custodial murder that the Gujarat police is facing.

On March 1, 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a contempt of court plea against former Union home minister P. Chidambaram for filing that second affidavit in 2009 in the Ishrat fake encounter case.

Vrinda Grover, lawyer of Ishrat’s mother Shamima Kauser, spoke to The Wire on why political circles continue to be obsessed with this aspect, the complete lack of any intelligence linking Ishrat to the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the legally unimportant nature of the affidavits of which much is being made, and how the fake encounter trial is at a standstill. Excerpts:

As her family’s lawyer, how would you answer the question ‘who was Ishrat Jahan’?

Vrinda Grover. Credit: Akhil Mukar

Vrinda Grover. Credit: Akhil Kumar

There are many ways of answering this. So let me start with her mother, Shamima Kauser, who I represent legally. According to her, Ishrat Jahan is her daughter. Shamima’s husband used to be a builder-developer in Mumbra, a predominantly Muslim-dominated area in Thane, neighbouring Mumbai.  Shamima’s husband’s business ran into rough weather. As the business declined, he fell seriously ill and died in 2002.  Shamima Kauser was now faced with the herculean task of singlehandedly bringing up seven children.

Ishrat was her second eldest daughter. Ishrat did well in academics. To support the family, she started taking tuitions. In 2004 June, when Ishrat was killed, she was doing her B.Sc from Guru Nanak Khalsa college, and alongside taking tuitions. Tuition is actually a seasonal profession, usually immediately after exams there’s a complete drop in demand. This would directly impact the budget of Shamima’s family. So for this lean phase, through a common acquaintance living in the area, Shamima Kauser learnt that someone called Javed was looking for a woman to work with him. Javed, interestingly, had been known to Ishrat’s father, Javed used to work as an electrician on the site where he was the builder. So on 1st May 2004, for Rs. 3,500 a month, Ishrat started working with Javed.

Now let us see what the charge sheet says, filed pursuant to the SIT probe, as well as the CBI investigation, and monitored by the division bench of Gujarat high court. This charge sheet actually states very categorically who Ishrat Jahan is, so let me quote from the charge sheet. This is dated 3 July 2013, filed against 7   police officers of Gujarat for the murder of Ishrat Jahan and three others.

“… the following facts are notable at this stage. Ishrat Jahan, 19 years old and 2nd year B.Sc student, when she died had no criminal record. She had met Javed, alias Pranesh, for the first time on 1 May 2004. She had travelled with Javed … She may have understood that Javed was engaged in illegal activities involving smuggling and counterfeit currency. … However, there is no evidence to indicate that she had any terrorist links.” 

So very clearly, the charge sheet actually corroborates everything that Shamima Kauser has told us about her daughter, Ishrat Jahan, and that is really how this matter has begun. It is very important for me to say over here that in August 2004, within two months of Ishrat’s murder, it was Shamima Kauser who went and filed the writ petition in the high court in Ahmedabad. The politicisation of the case occurred much later.

Shamima was convinced of the innocence of her daughter. She said, “My daughter is not a terrorist. We had run into very hard times, she stepped up and took responsibility for the whole family. I cannot let her be pronounced a terrorist”. This is why she went and filed the writ petition in August 2004 and asked for a CBI investigation. It had nothing to do with any political party whatsoever, and in fact her claim today stands completely confirmed by what is detailed in the charge sheet after much investigation.

So according to the investigation, Ishrat came in contact with Javed only on 1st May 2004 and was shot dead on 15th June. In these 45 days, she travelled with Javed for 10 days only. For the remaining period 35 days Ishrat was attending college, as substantiated by the college attendance record. So when and how could she have become a LeT operative?

Metropolitan Magistrate Mr. SP Tamang, in his report, has also said that she was an innocent college-going 19-year-old girl who was murdered, and then because she had been murdered, in order to prop up this theory of an encounter, they   labelled her a terrorist. Otherwise how do you justify the murder of a young college going woman who has nothing to do with any terror activities? In any case, the law of the land does not allow anyone, not even the police or the IB, to kill a terrorist who has been taken into custody. In the charge sheet, evidence of eyewitnesses as well as forensic and ballistic evidence all conclusively establish that Ishrat had been taken into custody on 12th June and illegally detained by the Gujarat police in conspiracy with the IB officers.

The SIT and CBI investigation have established that Ishrat Jahan was killed in a fake encounter, you already read from the charge sheet that was filed. Where does the legal case on this stand at the moment?

Interestingly, this case has been at a stand still now for rather long. The charge sheet filed in July 2013 against 7 police officials of Gujarat, and the supplementary charge sheet of February 2014 against 4 IB officials, are pending in the Mirzapur special CBI court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. So the question that Shamima Kauser, and I as her lawyer, are asking is, now that the charge sheet is filed, why does the trial against the Gujarat IPS officers as well as the IB officials not commence?

Let me just reiterate here that the high decibel debates on her LeT links are irrelevant and redundant to the criminal case of her murder. Ishrat was taken into custody, illegally detained, and murdered in cold blood. So who she was is not relevant to the criminal case, it obviously has a bearing only for certain political interests.

A file photo of Ishrat Jahan

A file photo of Ishrat Jahan

So why is it that the BJP only wants us to focus on whether Ishrat was a terrorist or not? There is a specific reason that this particular fake encounter bothers the BJP. This is evident from the charge sheet – everything I am telling you is only from the legal records, no conjecture or inferences.

The charge sheet filed in July 2013 has a statement of DH Goswami, a retired deputy superintendent of Gujarat police. In his statement (under Section 164 of the Criminal Penal Code) to a metropolitan magistrate, he states that he was present when these 4 people were taken into custody. He says:

“On 13 June 2004, I along with GL Singhal [one of the accused] went to Khodiyar farm by private vehicle. I had prepared draft bandobast for rath yatra. Went we reached Khodiyar farm, DG Vanzara [another accused in the case] and one Rajinder Kumar [an IB officer accused in the supplementary charge sheet] were present there. I handed over the file to GL Singhal and came out. I waited two hours and returned to crime branch office at Gaikwad Haveli. In the evening, between 7:30 PM and 8:30 PM, I had gone with Singhal to Bungalow No. 15, office of Joint CP. I saw that DG Vanzara, Rajinder Kumar and one PP Pandey, Joint Commissioner of Police, were present there. They were talking about a LeT operation. That time, Kumar told Vanzara, ‘talk to Chief Minister about it’. Vanzara said he would talk to ‘safed daadhi’ (white beard) and ‘kaali daadhi’ (black beard), and thereafter I came out of Vanzara’s chamber. PP Pandey also came out. After some time, GL Singhal also came out of the chamber and returned to the Gaikwad Haveli office.

“On 14 June [the next day – the day before Ishrat and others were killed] afternoon I along with GL Singhal went to Vanzara’s chamber in the Shahbagh office. Vanzara handed over one written complaint to Singhal. There was a plan to kill some persons of LeT who intended to kill the chief minister. GL Singhal was disagreeing with the draft complaint as there was something to do about the girl Ishrat. But Vanzara was adamant. Shri Vanzara also told that he had approval from the chief minister and minister of home. Thereafter, I and GL Singhal came to Gaikwad Haveli”.

The draft complaint mentioned here refers to the FIR that was filed subsequent to the “encounter”. It had been written in advance, because it was obviously all a staged killing. In that it was mentioned that they are also killing Ishrat, who is a LeT operative. Singhal disagreed because he knew (as did everybody else) that Ishrat had no links to Lashkar, and he was of the opinion that they should let that girl go. She may have been caught by them, and was possibly at the wrong time with the wrong people, but let her go. Vanzara, according to Goswami’s statement, said that he had received permission for the encounter, including the killing of Ishrat Jahan, from the CM and home minister.

We are obviously talking about the state of Gujarat in 2004. Goswami’s statement has very high evidentiary value, and it stands in the charge sheet even today. There is also overwhelming forensic evidence including post mortem and ballistic reports that blows holes in the encounter theory. That is the reason why this fake encounter trial does not begin, even though we are told that the CBI enjoys absolute autonomy today, and also why there is such a concerted effort to constantly talk about the LeT links. The purpose is to persuade us to believe  ‘look it doesn’t matter that we killed them! It was for the good of the nation’. But since the record speaks to the contrary, this case haunts them.

What were the grounds for the first affidavit the Centre filed in 2009, the one identifying her and the three others killed wither her as LeT operatives, being withdrawn and replaced with one that said there was no conclusive evidence of this?

Let us first understand that these two counter affidavits were filed before the Gujarat High Court, in response to the writ petitions filed by Shamima Kauser and Gopinath Pillai (the father of Javed). The Union of India through its under secretary RVS Mani filed a counter affidavit on  August 6, 2009. What it says is very important, because much has been made of this affidavit without anybody actually reading its contents. What does this counter affidavit say about Ishrat?

The background and linkages of Javed are first studied in the affidavit of August 2009. Javed’s original name was Pranesh Kumar Pillai. He was a Hindu from Kerala. He converted in order to marry a Muslim woman Sajida. There really was nothing more dubious than love behind his conversion. He adopted the name Javed Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh. So who Javed was is then detailed in the affidavit, and it concludes that what is suspicious about Javed is that he was a ‘rowdy character’ who has some criminal cases registered against him. He’s probably done some illegal activities, and he had procured a passport under a Hindu name from his Kerala address where he no longer lived. So on the basis of this and the fact that he had worked in Dubai and visited Oman, they come to the conclusion that Javed was a person with a ‘criminal bent of mind’ working with some ulterior motive. There is also a general mention that agencies knew that Javed was in regular touch with LeT operatives, particularly Muzammil Bhat, to carry out terrorist actions in Gujarat.

Let us accept all that is said regarding Javed and that Javed is a criminal. Maybe he is involved in counterfeit currency or some such criminal operations. Does the affidavit say anything more precise or pointed? All that can be understood from the much-touted first affidavit is that Javed was engaged in crime and that he was in touch with the LeT operatives to carry out some operation in Gujarat.

Let us come to what the affidavit says about Ishrat. [PDF] The affidavit states:

(Para 8) “It is humbly submitted that several Indian newspapers such as, The Times of IndiaThe HinduThe Indian Express published a news item on 15 July 2004 that the Lahore-based Ghazwa Times, which is the mouthpiece of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), had said, ‘The veil of Ishrat Jahan, woman activist of LeT, was removed by Indian police and her body kept with other mujahideens on the ground. Ishrat was with her husband sitting on the front seat of the car.’ The Internet download of these reports as published in Indian and other newspapers are enclosed at Annexure…”

(End of para 9) “…In view of the news reports mentioned in Para 8 of this Counter Affidavit and facts submitted and stated in the succeeding paragraphs it is evident that Javed and Ishrat were activists of the terrorist organisation LeT.”

So the affidavit is based on newspaper reports, which in turn are citing from Ghazwa Times. It is not an intelligence input at all.

The counter affidavit further goes on to say that on May 2, 2007, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, another mouthpiece of the LeT, published a news item ‘An Apology to Ishrat Jahan’s Family’, saying that she was not a LeT member. Several Indian newspapers including Business Standard reported this as well, taking back their claims that she was a LeT operative and saying that she had nothing to do with Lashkar. On the basis of this information, the under secretary, RVS Mani states in the affidavit, “It is clear from the above that Ishrat was actively associated with LeT. An apology from the LeT mouthpiece is only tactical to discredit Indian security agencies and police, and aimed at misleading the court”.

So all of this information set out in the counter affidavit of the Union home ministry is coming from newspapers! Now my understanding of the law is that Indian courts will not rely on LeT mouthpiece proclamations and retractions to decide criminal cases, particularly a murder by men in uniform. As far as the facts are concerned, there is still no evidence that Ishrat had any linkage to LeT. On the other hand, every probe – the magisterial enquiry, SIT probe, CBI investigation – each one of them has said that Ishrat had no terrorist links.

Much was made of this affidavit in 2009, saying that the Congress government had agreed that she was LeT. As far as I’m concerned, this is not an affidavit on which any reliance can be placed in law and in court. You are telling me you read something in a newspaper? But yes, you can make a political drama out of it.

The second affidavit comes in September 2009 [PDF], within a month, from the same under secretary RVS Mani. He says:

“Para 8 [mentioned before, about the news items] does not constitute intelligence inputs and the inference drawn in relation thereto have been needlessly misinterpreted”.

Now even if this second affidavit had not been filed, any lawyer or judge reading the first affidavit would understand that this is not an intelligence input. But the Gujarat government at the time used this affidavit to create a complete media frenzy, saying that the central government had confirmed that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT operative, as though the counter affidavit was based on some heavy duty intelligence input. But the government never had any real information to that effect, and it clarifies that. The second counter affidavit doesn’t really add or detract anything.

As I’ve been saying repeatedly, against Ishrat there is no evidence. For Javed there was evidence that he was a ‘rowdy character’, was indulging in criminal activities and had links with the LeT. For the other two deceased there is some evidence that they have LeT links or links to a sleeper cell of the LeT. But even then, you cannot kill any of these individuals. That is why there is a murder charge against the police and IB officers.

There is one more important thing regarding these affidavits. There is a police officer in Gujarat named GL Singhal (mentioned before in DH Goswami’s statement) who was in the Gujarat anti-terror squad. He has come under the spotlight on may occasions – he is one of the accused in the Ishrat Jahan murder case, he is specially named in the Supreme Court judgment as the senior police office responsible for falsely implicating six Muslim men in the Akshardham attack case and torturing them. For reasons best known to the Gujarat government, Singhal has been reinstated in a very senior position in the Gujarat police force, even as he faces a quadruple murder charge.

He is also the same police officer who did the sting operation in the ‘Snoopgate’ case. He is clearly a police officer of many talents, and one of his passions seems to be doing audio sting operations. He knew that his name would eventually come up in the Ishrat Jahan case. So he started recording audio stings. He did a sting operation even on this affidavit. This sting operation is now a part of the charge sheet record.

Another reason why the fake encounter trial is stuck is that there is so much credible evidence to show how the first affidavit came about. There is a very popular phrase used particularly by politicians in this country, saying ‘let the law take its own course’. Well, there is reason that the law is not being allowed to take its own course in this case. Let me read from the sting operation:

(G.L. Singhal is talking to additional director-general of police of Gujarat, PP Pandey)

Singhal: Sir, namaskar.
Pandey: Are you in a meeting?
Singhal: Yes sir, now I have come out.
Pandey: That order for Abhichandani is done?
Singhal: Ji, ji sir.
Pandey: Tomorrow someone is coming. Under secretary from Delhi, for signing affidavit.
[RVS Mani is an under secretary from Delhi]
Singhal: Right, right sir.
Pandey: Tell Abhichandani, if he does properly, we may try to make him high court judge.
Singhal: Ji, ji sir. I will explain him. I have understood.

So who is Abhichandani? He is the advocate for RVS Mani through whom the affidavit is filed before Gujarat Hight Court. And here is the DGP telling Singhal ‘make sure Abhichandani knows what we want in the affidavit’, and he’s promised the position of a Gujarat high court judge. It is actually scandalous how a DGP can even suggest that he can have a lawyer appointed as a judge to the Gujarat high court.

So the affidavit of which much is being made – there is nothing in it, and there is an audio sting on record that shows you how this affidavit comes about. A lot of noise is made of these affidavits to say that the Congress knew that Ishrat was a LeT operative, and the Congress is now playing around with national security issues.

As Shamima’s lawyer, my question is why does the BJP want to distract us from the murder trial of the fake encounter into the LeT issue? The law is very clear: whether I’m a terrorist, a rapist, a smuggler, an ‘anti-national’, you cannot take me into custody, hold me illegally, kill me and then say it’s a cross-fire between us. After all, Ajmal Kasab was arrested, he was known to have shot many, many people dead, and yet he was tried in a court of law. As far as Ishrat is concerned we do know that she had not fired a single shot, she had no weapon. But there is a determined attempt to shape a public opinion and convince people that she was a terrorist, and does not deserve a fair trial.

In February 2016, former IB special director Rajinder Kumar has said he was offered allurements to implicate Narendra Modi, then Gujarat CM, in the fake encounter. Around the same time, the MHA has given Kumar a clean chit for his involvement in the encounter case. Closely following Kumar’s statement, David Headley and G.K. Pillai have both come out to say that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT operative. Are there any reasons to doubt the credibility of these statements?

David Coleman Headley. Credit: PBS

David Coleman Headley. Credit: PBS

Clearly police and IB officers named in the report are getting anxious, because being prosecuted for murder is no small matter, even under this regime. So we’re getting all these statements.

First comes David Headley’s testimony. Let us remember that Headley, who is a double agent, has sought pardon from death penalty, on the condition that he will tell all. He is a man that I imagine every Indian would want to have nothing to do with, for he has masterminded the 26/11 terror attack in which many Indians were killed. That is why I am a little startled when we are told that every word from the mouth of Headley is to be respected and believed.

Headley is giving evidence as an approver in the court. The evidence of an approver in law is an inherently weak piece of evidence, and has to be corroborated in all material particulars. So Headley saying so, until corroborated, has no bearing. What did he actually say? He is giving evidence in the 26/11 trial. It has nothing to do with the Ishrat Jahan case. He is supposed to be giving evidence against Abu Jundal. It would be interesting to actually go through his voluminous deposition and see what, if anything at all, he has said about Abu Jundal. Why were questions pertaining to Ishrat and the 2004 encounter even posed to him in the course of this trial is a question that we need to ask. In a trial you can only ask those questions to a witness that are relevant to the issues in the trial. So how did the court allow this to happen, and why did Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor now much decorated by a Padma Shri, ask these questions? We cannot make mockery of our national security, or our judicial process, for certain vested interests.

Reading from Headley’s testimony:

Nikam: There is a women’s wing in the LeT?
Headley: Yes.
Nikam: Are there female suicide bombers in LeT?
Headley: No. I don’t know.
Nikam: Can you name a suicide bomber?

[Vrinda Grover: This is a slightly strange sequence of questions since he just told you he doesn’t know if they have female suicide bombers – but the court allows it]

Headley: I cannot name.
Nikam: Was there a botched up operation in India?
Headley: Yes, there was a botched up operation which I learnt when Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was talking to Muzammil Bhat. Later I asked Muzammil and he told me there was a female member of LeT who was killed in a police shootout at a naka. Exact place I cannot recall.

[Vrinda Grover: Note what he is telling you – there was a botched up operation somewhere in India, some woman was shot dead, I don’t know who she was, I can’t even remember the place. Later apparently he is asked ‘do you think it was Gujarat?’, and he says yes. This is hearsay twice over, it cannot be seen as evidence in any known jurisprudence. Yet this line of question is allowed, and such answers remained on record even though it cannot be read as evidence in India]

Nikam: I will give you three options: Noor Begum, Ishrat Jahan or Mumtaz.
Headley: I think it was the second one. I have heard the name Ishrat Jahan.

Well across the globe, particularly in India, most people have by now heard the name Ishrat Jahan, thanks to the politicians who seem to want to make a circus out of a very serious case. Now what is one to do with what has been stated by Headley. It is not evidence, cannot be used in the 26/11 case, and certainly not in the quadruple murder case. This paper cannot be read in the Ishrat murder case.  First, because you can’t play a ‘Kaun Banega Terrorist’ game in court. We’re dealing with national security issues. Second, all that Headley has said is hearsay twice over and hence inadmissible in law as evidence. Third, the court is simply going to say to you, I don’t care who she was. You had her in your custody and you killed her. I’m interested in who killed her. You can’t say  “so-and-so is a Maoist, so Salwa Judum has the right to kill’, no it doesn’t. The Supreme Court, and every court, has said this more times than it should have had to.

But even after this useless testimony, you have many BJP spokespersons proclaiming, “now we know she was a terrorist”. No, we don’t. We are nowhere closer to knowing anything new. We only know that there are desperate attempts afoot which have still not succeeded in linking  Ishrat with any terror plot or group.

G.K. Pillai. Credit: PTI

G.K. Pillai. Credit: PTI

Next you have Rajinder Kumar, the accused, being interviewed on Times Now. Interestingly the interviewer forgets to mention one minor detail, that he is an accused in this very fake encounter. So everything he says, not only has to be taken with a bag of salt, it has to be heard as a a charged person offering his defence, while facing accusation of having conspired to kill four persons in cold blood and supplying the Gujarat police with weapons to plant on the dead persons to project it as an ‘encounter’.

Then on cue GK Pillai, the former home secretary, has spoken up. Incidentally, he is currently on the board of Adani ports and SEZ group, and I don’t need to explain to anybody who Adani is, or where his SEZ is located, and what his proximity to people named in the charge sheet of this case is. Also this is not the first time Pillai has spoken on this issue.  In fact he speaks on the same issue at almost regular intervals. Since none of it adds up to anything substantive, it usually fades away and nobody pays much attention.

In November 2011, Pillai said that the SIT conclusion on the encounter and Ishrat’s LeT links are two separate matters:

“We were concerned that she was a part of terrorist module. What really happened after they were apprehended by the Gujarat Police which SIT report has come up with… That is a separate issue and there are no thoughts about it. You cannot kill anybody in cold blood. Everyone has a right to be treated under the law.” (emphasis added)

In 2013, he said that he cannot say with any certainty that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT terrorist, and he would give her the benefit of doubt. So these are his previous statements. He had nothing to say while he was actually in the home ministry and had access to all documents, including IB files. I don’t understand how, while sitting on the Adani board, Mr. Pillai has secured information that he couldn’t while he was home secretary. This makes me worry for India’s national security, clearly some slightly odd things are going on here.


Photograph of Ishrat Jahan and three men taken by the Gujarat police after they were shot dead.

Now in 2016, Pillai says that there was political meddling, and that all four killed in the encounter were LeT operatives. Pillai needs to answer why he is telling us this after so many years. He has now added that ‘Ishrat knew that something was wrong. An unmarried Muslim girl went with a married man, spent nights with him as husband and wife. She was cover for them’. I personally had high regard for Pillai before this, but now he sounds much like other misogynist politicians who think they have the right to pass judgment on women, particularly working women. Whether she was traveling with a married man or not, what is the need to make a comment on her character? You’re doing this because nothing you say about the LeT link sticks to Ishrat. So let’s pull down a woman in a tried and tested manner as ‘not a good woman’. And of course, if you’re not a ‘good’ woman, and you are a Muslim, you must be a terrorist.

This is the nature of what GK Pillai has said. There is no reason for anybody to pay any attention to this, and I think he has destroyed all his credibility and work as a bureaucrat with these statements. If he wants to be the mouthpiece of the present government, he is welcome to do it, but if he is going to make defamatory comments about my client’s daughter, then my client will take whatever legal action she needs to against him also.

Further if you read carefully what Pillai has said, he is actually corroborating the CBI investigation that these persons were enticed and lured and then eliminated. So Pillai is confirming that this was indeed a fake encounter. The CBI charge sheet too states that Ishrat and the others were taken into illegal custody on different days, illegally detained in farm houses on the outskirts of Ahmedabad and then murdered.

What would you say about the timing of these “revelations”?

That charge sheet has been sitting in the trial court for over two years, and a murder trial cannot be kept pending forever. Sooner or later the trial will have to begin. Various people who have pledged their loyalty to those in power, as well as those in power themselves, have been named in the records. Judicial processes can be unpredictable, the strong and credible evidence can lead to convictions. So the BJP is desperately are trying to change the discourse, with pliant news channels they trying to take some sort of informal referendum to hold that if the dead are Lashkar operatives then we should not hold a trial.

I think they are trying to shape public opinion to say that “controlled killings” are in our “national interest”. It is a clear shift to move away from rule of law. The clear message of the political class, the IB and police is: “Give us power, with impunity, to eliminate anyone who we think is against the nation. How we deal with them is completely up to us to decide”. This is the most dangerous thing that is happening, much beyond the Ishrat case.

And in all of this, they can rationalise that Ishrat Jahan was “collateral damage”. But there is a mother Shamima Kauser here, and since I’m told that pain of the mother is understood by this government, they should know that she wants somebody held accountable for Ishrat’s murder. Shamima Kauser is demanding justice.

You’ve mentioned already that claims on Ishrat Jahan being a LeT operative hold no connection whatsoever with the fake encounter case. But do you think there is a chance that they will effect the legal outcome? 

They can say it as many times as they want – every lawyer, politician, news anchor justifying the encounter can say it, every cop and IB accused can say it – but the court and the judge can do nothing but ignore all this. Indian criminal law has only one word to describe and define the killing of Ishrat – murder. It is an open and shut case – you don’t have to dig very deep, the Gujarat cops have proclaimed loudly that they shot Ishrat. Conviction is therefore only a matter of time once the trial actually begins. The CBI as the prosecuting agency has to ensure that it is fair trial where Shamima Kauser’s right to justice is upheld. No matter what parliamentary majority a political party may have, criminal jurisprudence and the penal code cannot be overturned.

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