On September 23, ten days after a series of blasts rocked New Delhi [Images], some men in plainclothes came knocking on 19-year-old Mohammed Saqib's door in Jamia Nagar. They were policemen who claimed to be looking for Saqib's brother, Talib. When Saqib said his brother was not at home, the policemen gagged him and took him away.
Thankfully for Saqib, his neighbours alerted a cousin living nearby. The cousin, Atif, knew that some activists were in the neighbourhood discussing the Batla House encounters. "This youngster came running to us," said Collin Gonsalves, a lawyer and human rights activist, who was in the area discussing the police excess with the locals.
Since it was really 'unknown' persons who had dragged away Saqib, Gonsalves and his friends decided to lodge a police complaint with the local police station. "Initially they were reluctant to entertain us. Then, after we insisted a lot, they registered a complaint. They told us that the special cell had 'picked him up' for questioning and gave us his whereabouts," said Collin.
When the group went to the said place, they had another surprise in store. "The special cell cops said, hand over his brother and take him. Again we had a verbal duel and we insisted that they send the boy with us. Finally, they let us take him home," said Collin, who said he shudders to think what would have happened to the teenager had the activists not been around and alerted in time. "In our country, the difference between life and death is only that much... a matter of minutes," he said.
Saqib is not an exception. More often than not, his is just one case --and that too one where help was at hand--among the many where Muslim youngsters are 'picked up' for questioning by unknown policemen. Some of them never return. And most of those who do return come limping back home or with a bruised face.
Teachers of the Jamia Millia Islamia have painstakingly put together a report that not only raises questions about the Batla House encounter and the antecedents of the special cell team that was involved, but also looks to take the debate on state brutality to its logical conclusion. Apart from recording the plight of several Muslim youngsters in and around
Jamia Nagar, the report, released last week, also gives eyewitness accounts that lead to a lot of questions about the encounter.
The team of about 50 teachers who have brought out the report has also questioned the actions of the special cell of the Delhi police, which activists claim has become a law unto itself in the capital. Apart from highlighting several questionable 'encounters' carried out by the special cell, the report tells the story of two youngsters who the special cell picked up and labeled as Al Badr terrorists. A thorough investigation revealed that they were actually informers of the
A Central Bureau of Investigation report slammed the special cell. Three of the sub-inspectors in the team were recommended for prosecution. "And who were in that team? Officer Mohan Chand Sharma and Rajbir Singh, and the same team of sub-inspectors who participated in the Batla House encounters," Manisha Sethi, a lecturer at Jamia's Centre for the Study of Comparative Religion, and a teacher behind the report, said.
"It is shocking that the officers recommended for prosecution are allowed to continue serving in the force and are free to carry out encounters almost at will," says Dr Hari Kishan, an eye-witness in Delhi's most notorious encounter, the Ansal Plaza encounter, where two youngsters were killed in cold blood in a shopping mall in south Delhi.
"I can't tell you how much I was hounded. I was the only person who saw the incident and even before anybody could get in and verify the facts, the reporters outside started saying two dreaded terrorists were gunned down inside the mall. When I decided to come out and speak the truth, a few officers called me and asked who are the victims to you? I told them I am just a fellow countryman and that is enough for me to stand up and tell the truth," Dr Kishan said, adding that he however got quite a few phone calls from good officers who said they were with him. "They said we know the kind of elements that are in our department and thanked me for standing up against them," he added.
Dr Kishan said the only way to fight these alleged extrajudicial killings is to turn the tables on the cops. "File a case of murder against these officers and thoroughly investigate every incident of 'encounter'. It is nothing but murder by men in uniform," he said. Collin agreed. "All over the world, it is standard procedure and the law to register a case of unnatural death and investigate the matter. This investigation is done by a body outside the police department with sweeping powers similar to that of the police to ensure a fair investigation," he said.
In India, the situation works in the reverse with reference to both these points. "First they register a case against the dead person. Then when activists appeal against it, the case is sent to the very same police station whose policemen carried out killings for verification. This should change," he said.
Asked what the teachers association hopes to achieve in this particular case, Sethi said, "We want a judicial probe into the killings. We have a lot of unanswered questions and they must be investigated. In all, this is just a small effort to bring accountability in out system," she said.
Activist and writer Arundhati Roy, who has lent her support to the initiative of the Jamia Teachers Association, said it is not just the police, but also the judiciary and the executive that are responsible for the situation. "The police cannot do what they are doing unless others allow them to do it. There is very close collusion among the judiciary, the police and the media," she said.
She said the biggest question that faces the country today is not whether which political party will form the government or which community suffers the most. "It is not a BJP vs Congress fight. It is not about whether the Muslims or the adivasis are the more suppressed people. The biggest question that faces us is what kind of society we want to live in. How do we know who is a terrorist and who is not a terrorist? And until the state allows us to find the answer for that question, we will have to keep fighting," she said.