Fr. Cedric Prakash sj
In the small hours of November 26th 2005, in a fairly isolated area on the outskirts of Ahmedabad city, near the Vishala Tolnaka, Sohrabuddin Sheikh was gunned down in a fake police encounter. The Gujarat police in a matter-of-fact statement, the next day asserted that Sohrabuddin was a member of the militant organization Lashkar-e-Toiba and was on a terrorist mission to kill the Gujarat CM Narendra Modi.
All would have been well and become part of the institutionalized violence in Gujarat State (particularly against minorities and other vulnerable groups), were it not for a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India demanding that the apex court of the country order an independent probe of atleast twenty-one police encounter deaths which have taken place in Gujarat State since 2002. Very strangely, all those killed, happen to be those belonging to the Muslim community.
The story about Sohrabuddin is stranger than fiction. Apparently, in his native Rajasthan, he had a criminal past, but all these cases were related to extortion, murder and kidnapping. None of them related to any kind of terrorist activity.
According to the facts which have been unfolding, on the night of November 22nd, 2005, he and his wife Kauserbi, were traveling by a bus from Hyderabad to Sangli. Sometime in the middle of the night, a Qualis Jeep overtook the bus and made it stop. Some men, claiming to be police officers entered the bus, made a quick search and took Sohrabuddin, Kauserbi and a third person off the bus. (This third person is suspected to be one, Tulsiram Prajapati, an associate of Sohrabuddin but also an alleged police informer who tipped the police about Sohrabuddin's whereabouts). Sohrabuddin was then brought to Ahmedabad and in a fake encounter, on November 26th, was gunned down by the police .
The whereabouts of his wife Kauserbi are still unknown, but according to news trickling in at this moment, from various media sources, since she was an eye witness, she too has been killed. One reputed paper, in a front-page article on April 28th, even suspects that she might be buried below the house of the Deputy Inspector General of Police, D G Vanzara. Vanzara has built recently, a huge red-coloured three-storeyed bungalow, conspicuous by its size and opulence in village Ilol in Sabarkantha District. Even as this piece is being written, journalists who went to visit Ilol, were attacked by henchmen of Vanzara and his whole house is being doubly barricaded to prevent snooping journalists and other unauthorized visitors.
The Supreme Court, after receiving the writ petition, demanded from the Gujarat Government the status of these encounter deaths, and very particularly, the one of Sohrabuddin. The Counsel for the Gujarat Government admitted that the case of Sohrabuddin was indeed was indeed a fake encounter and sought four weeks to provide the Apex Court with a detailed report.
However, in a surprise move, the Gujarat Government, on April 24th, arrested three IPS Officers Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian a Supdt. of Police (Intelligence) and Dineshkumar, a Supdt. of Police from Alwar, Rajasthan and charged them with murder for the fake encounter in which Sohrabuddin Sheikh was killed.
Whilst at this juncture, the hearings continue in the Supreme Court, what is bound to happen in the next few weeks is that several skeletons from the cupboard are bound to tumble.
It is universal knowledge that police forces consistently take recourse to third degree methods in order to extract truth from alleged criminals. However, from a position of human rights, such methods are not acceptable. What makes the matter even more serious is when police kill alleged criminals in encounters with total impunity and immunity.
The story the police dish out is absolutely naïve; a third rate thriller plotted and written by people who have blood on their hands and who think that any fiction foisted on the public will just be swallowed by them, hook, line and sinker ! The plot is thus : a lonely isolated spot, the alleged criminal suddenly appears (or he is brought to a particular spot to reconstruct a previous crime); in the spur of a moment, he apparently begins attacking the police, and in self-defense, the police have no option but to kill him. Then ofcourse, his links with the underworld, with militant terrorist organizations are brought to the fore. They try to show the good that they have done to society by alienating someone who deserved to be killed....!!! Even a moron can see through such plots !
In less than three years, the Gujarat police have gunned down not one but twenty-one persons....their own people....the citizens of India. The questions which the Gujarat Government now has to answer are the following :
1. Why is it that they permitted the arrest of two of its Senior IPS Officers ? Why at this juncture ? Could they not have done it immediately after the "encounter" took place ? Or have these officers been arrested to thwart a CBI enquiry from taking place ?
2. What about the twenty other (perhaps more) encounters that have taken place recently ?
3. Who is behind these fake encounters ? Is it only the work of the police ? Are the political bosses of these police behind them ?
4. Why are those killed in these police encounters mainly from the minority community ?
5. How is it that encounter specialists like Vanzara have huge financial and material resources at their disposal and are able to flaunt their wealth ? ( According to media reports, Vanzara, it is estimated, has amassed asserts worth more than Rs. 150 crores ! )
From the way the Gujarat Government has been dealing with its citizens, very specially the poor and vulnerable, the marginalized like the dalits, the adivasis and minorities, it is amply clear that indulging in terror activities : harassing, intimidating and killing its citizens. Its track record since 2002, on all fronts, makes it amply evident that it is the Rule of Draco that prevails.
The fake encounter resulting in the killing of Sohrabuddin is very definitely the tip of the iceberg. The Gujarat Government has blood on its hands. The judiciary and civil society from all over the country must wake up immediately must not allow the Gujarat Government to get away with murder.
Fr. Cedric Prakash is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.
28th April 2007