'Encounter' at Batla House: Unanswered Questions
A Report by Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group (JTSG)
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Reviewed by MAHTAB ALAM
The 'encounter' took place at Batla House locality of Jamia Nagar of South Delhi has been under question marks from the day first i.e., 19th September 08. Numbers of Civil, Human and Democratic Rights activist/ group, journalist, teachers and students visited the place and came up with their preliminary reports, raising some basic but important questions, which is yet to be answered. Here is a detailed report prepared by JTSG, an independent group of teachers of Jamia Millia Islamia committed for struggle for justice, on the same explaining the rationale, why thousands of people are not ready to buy and should not buy the police theories.
'Encounter' Batla House
On 19th September 2008, in an armed operation conducted by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police, a fourth floor flat in the building L-18 in Batla House area of Jamia Nagar was raided. In the ensuing operation, two alleged 'terrorists', Atif Amin and Sajid, were shot dead by the police. Mohan Chand Sharma, an inspector of the Delhi Police's Special Cell, was injured and later succumbed to his injuries in the Holy Family hospital. A third flat mate, Md. Saif, was arrested from the site. The Delhi Police claimed that two alleged terrorists had escaped during the operation.
The Delhi Police claimed that the occupants of L-18, Batla House, all students of various universities and institutes in Delhi, and all hailing from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh were part of 'Indian Mujahedeen'—supposedly an Islamic terrorist group. Further, the Delhi Police alleged that the deceased and arrested youth were the main conspirators and executors of the Delhi bomb blasts earlier that month (13th September).
This report is based on police statements, press reports, testimonies of families and friends of the accused and other documentary evidence. It highlights the numerous contradictions in the police version(s) about the 'encounter' and the accusations.
1) Did the police have prior information about the presence of dreaded 'terrorists' in L-18 when they raided the flat? So far, conflicting versions have been provided by the police. In one version, they claim ignorance of such confirmed information, pleading that they went in only for a routine recee and were ambushed (then how did the Police Commissioner within hours declare Atif and Sajid to be the mastermind behind all blasts since 2005, when Sajid would have been 14-years-old); and in another, they claim to have put Atif under surveillance since 26th July 2008 (so how did these boys manage to plant bombs all over the city right under the Delhi Police's nose?)
2) Were the Police men wearing Bullet proof vests (BPV) or not? In some statements, the Delhi Police said that they avoided wearing the BPVs in order not to alert the 'terrorists'; in yet other statement they claim that their officer escaped all injury while firing upon an armed Sajid because he was wearing a BPV.
3) What explains the injury marks on the bodies of the deceased boys? Atif's back was sloughed off and Sajid had bullet wounds on his head as though bullets had been pumped into his head while he was made to kneel—all of which raises doubts about the genuineness of the 'shootout'.
4) The Police claim that Sajid was an expert bomb maker who used quartz clocks, detonators, ammonium nitrate, yet none of the 'recoveries' which even the police have purportedly made, comprise any of the above material that could be used for making Sajid's 'signature' bombs. So what made Dadwal and his force conclude that Sajid was the one behind the blasts in Delhi and elsewhere?
5) Why is there such rigid resistance to any independent probe on the part of the government and the Delhi Police? So much so that the Lieutenant Governor has even rejected a magisterial enquiry, which is mandatory as per NHRC guidelines on encounter killings.
6) Why are post-mortem reports of all the three killed not being made public? Is there something to hide?
The report also carries brief profiles of the accused in the case, including the two students killed. The fact that most of them were students enrolled in educational institutions, whether Jamia or elsewhere, or working gives the impression that they were regular young men in search of better opportunities in life. None of their actions puts them under suspicion: they enrolled as students, bought sim cards in their name, signed a rent lease deed, duly verified by the police (copy in report), provided genuine address details etc. Moreover, the day after the blasts in Delhi, there were several arrests and detentions in the Jamia Nagar area, which was common knowledge. It is highly unlikely that actual terrorists would make no attempt to move away from a neighbourhood which was obviously under the police scanner to a safer hideout.
Testimonies of eyewitnesses at the Jan Sunwai (12 Oct 2008, Batla House) have also been included in the report. Neighbours testified that they found nothing strange or suspicious about the boys and resented the fact that no senior local resident was taken into confidence or to crosscheck any information about suspected terrorists. The manner in which the police operated raised suspicions about their real motives. Further, they also said that while the operation was on, the policemen could be seen throwing pots etc on to the 4th floor flat of L-18, and that they heard gun shots of only one kind. This naturally raises the misgiving that the police was trying to create an impression of cross fire and struggle, where none existed.
'Encounter' at Batla House also highlights the contradictions in the 'mastermind' theories developed by various state police departments. In addition, it carries profiles of all those illegally detained by the Delhi Police Special Cell in connection with the Delhi blasts; a section on virtual terror that anti-terror or special cells of the police departments unleash in the name of fighting terror: illegal detentions, false recoveries, forging evidence etc. Special reference is made to the case of Irshad Ali and Md. Qamar, who were implicated in a false terror case by a team of the Delhi Police Special Cell. Incidentally, many members of this team were part of the Batla House 'encounter' too.
Charter of Demands:
1) A Judicial Probe headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court.
2) The Investigations must be transferred from the Delhi Police to the CBI.
3) Exemplary punishment should be meted to police officers guilty of implicating innocent Muslim youth in false cases of terrorism.
4) Adequate Compensation and Jobs should be provided to those acquitted in terror-related cases.
The report is marked by simplicity and lucidity of language in spite of its complex nature. One can find documentary evidences almost for each and every crucial argument. However, few names have been dropped due to some legal reasons. Nevertheless, this is a work of reference must for libraries, journalists, academicians, sociologist and researchers as well students of human rights and law. Civil and Human activists can hardly afford to miss it, especially those fighting for the marginalised communities.
[The reviewer is a Delhi based civil rights activist and associated with Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]