Subhashini Ali speaks on the Batla House Encounter and the refusal of the Lt.Governor of Delhi to order a magisterial enquiry on the same.
The Batla House encounter has thrown up many questions of significance not limited to the incident itself. Encounters by the police not only in situations of extremist violence but as part of everyday policing are increasing exponentially. What was touted as a method of countering hardened criminals, terrorists, separatist militants was able to gain some public support or to be more accurate it was condoned by many and even greater numbers preferred to turn a blind eye which has only encouraged its adoption as routine police and security forces’ procedure. Horrific incidents have occurred as the recent gory killings in Manipur testify. It is also a fact that police killings of innocent people belonging to ‘mainstream’ India – shop-keepers, businessmen, young people specially in Delhi elicited much greater outrage than the those in which people belonging to the minorities, ethnic groups etc. There is, therefore, a great need for creating an effective campaign against all such killings which are not only unacceptable in a civilized society but actually renders it less civilized. Encounters must be looked upon as murders and the accused should have to prove either that they are innocent or that they acted in self-defense.
With the threat of terrorist attacks increasing, the police often justify the use of encounters as the only way to effectively deal with this problem because of the deficiencies of our judicial processes. This argument must be dealt with because not only is it colouring public perception but it is influencing even those agencies that are supposed to enquire into encounter killings. The refusal of the Lt. Governor of Delhi to order a Magisterial Enquiry into the Batla House encounter on the basis of police reports and the subsequent report of the NHRC which exonerates the police on the basis of its own reports are examples of this. The police report on the Lt. Governor’s decision that was submitted to the NHRC and is quoted in its own report says:
subjecting police officers,(to a magisterial enquiry) who have worked out this case at the cost of loosing a gallant colleague and nearly loosing another would be highly demoralizing and would weaken the resolve of the police officers to fight against terrorists. A police officer confronted by armed terrorists should not have to start thinking whether to die of the firing from the militants or if the militant dies to face the magisterial enquiries which are to follow.
The specious nature of the argument is only too apparent.
My party, the CPI(M) took an unequivocal stand after the Batla House encounter that a judicial enquiry should be ordered so that all the facts could be brought to light – whether the police acted out of self-defence or not, whether the non-police persons killed were in fact involved in any way with terrorist activity etc. The Central Govt.’s refusal to order such an enquiry later compounded by the Lt. Governor’s action and the NHRC report have done great damage to the credibility of various institutions of the State without in anyway establishing either the innocence of the police or the guilt of Atif and Shahid who were killed.
A digression – the fact that one of the terrorists involved with the wanton massacres perpetrated in Mumbai on 26/11/08 was taken alive has been an act of great significance. His trial in open court, his photographs and his interviews leave no doubt as to his identity. His being a Pakistani is not under severe dispute and the motives of those who have recruited and trained him are also fairly clear. There is no doubt that his not having been killed by the police as his companions were has contributed significantly in many ways to efficient counter-terrorist processes like intelligence-gathering, preventive measures etc.
It is in this context that we should try and understand what the repercussions of an encounter like the one perpetrated last year in Batla House can be.
The first is that they strengthen a belief that the State is neither impartial nor just. The Batla House encounter is one of many in which the victims have been members of the minority community.
The second is that the absence of any serious effort to present the truth about the encounter strengthens the perception that a grave injustice is has been meted out to members of a particular community as also the perception that those killed as terrorists are actually innocent. This in turn, strengthens the sense of denial that many members of the minority community feel as far as the possibility of any of its members being involved in acts of terrorism is concerned. This sense of denial is very dangerous for the community concerned.
This is not all. The feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, alienation etc. that such an encounter and the State’s refusal to order an enquiry create in the minds of many members of the minority community, specially young men and women, can also render them vulnerable to the propaganda and seduction of organizations that use terror as an instrument to realize their political agendas which are often cloaked in religious phraseology.
The report of the National Human Rights Commission exonerating the Delhi Police has served only to reduce the credibility of an institution in which many otherwise alienated from the State had much faith. Reading the report is shocking. Not a single witness has been examined, the neighbours have not been questioned and the police reports on which its conclusions are based rely heavily on the confessions made in police custody by one of the accused Saif which is not admissible in a court of law. The Lt. Governor of Delhi has also refused to order a Magisterial Enquiry on the basis of the police reports one of which states that the fact that such an enquiry maybe ordered acts as a deterrent to proper police action against suspected terrorists.
The recent judgment of the Magistrate in the Ishrat Jehan case makes the NHRC report and the decision of the Lt. Governor seem very suspect.
29th September is the anniversary of the 2nd bombing incident in Malegaon, Maharashtra. In the course of investigations into this incident, the ATS Chief, Hemant Karkare, uncovered evidence of the involvement of Hindu terrorists. He gave a statement to the Press saying
"We are being very very careful. In fact, when we want to question a suspect and if he or she has any Hindutvawadi connections, we make sure once, twice, thrice, that we have enough reason and evidence to even question. Normally it is not like that. We are able to freely question anyone we suspect"
It is also important to remember that when LK Advani made a complaint to the Prime Minister that the Hindu Jagran Manch activists arrested in the case were being ill-treated, he was immediately assured that this would be enquired into. The way in which the accused were treated with kid gloves and publicly lionized and the myriad ways in which the prosecution of that case differs from the prosecution of cases in which Muslims are the accused will only make the task of organizations attempting to recruit Muslims to their cause which involves the use of terror so much the easier. It is also a fact that very large sections of the majority community were just not prepared to believe that men and women belonging to their community could be involved in terrorist acts. Simultaneously, a significant number including many national and state leaders also openly supported such acts saying that they were a ‘natural’ response to the terrorism of others. They did not invite any kind of action or even criticism for patently anti-national and divisive statements. These examples of partial treatment and behaviour on the part of State institutions have their own, dangerous repercussions.
Acts of terror in which Muslims are allegedly involved have been used by political and communal organizations to increase polarization of our polity. This results in many of our citizens feeling that encounters like Batla House are the need of the hour. Simultaneously, other sections feel that these only illustrate the fact that members of their communities cannot expect justice.
The remedies lie in more transparent and convincing enquiries not less. They also lie in effective campaigns for justice and strict implementation of the rule of law not only to prevent injustice but also to see that justice is done i.e. all those against whom there is proven evidence of involvement in terrorist activities. One kind of denial cannot be fought by another kind.