SAD TIMES…by HUMRA QURAISHI March 30 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 8 mins, 9 secs
Humra Quraishi reports on mindless encounters taking place in UP and harks to understand why they have almost become the norm today.
A news report states, "The UP Police has conducted 10713 encounters since 2017 of which the highest, 3152, were conducted by the Meerut police, followed by the Agra Police, which carried out 1844 encounters in which 4654 criminals were arrested while 14 dreaded criminals were killed and 55 cops were injured, and Bareilly where as many as 1497 encounters were conducted in which 3410 criminals were arrested and 7 died. During the encounters in Bareilly, 437 criminals were injured. In these operations, 296 brave police personnel were injured, while 1 was martyred."
After reading the details, one asks this: Why are these encounters taking place?
Previously, the term ‘encounter killings’ was reserved for those living in the so-called conflict zones of the country or for those attached to the underworld, but today the State has adopted this strategy to do away anything ‘suspicious’ that it deems is coming in its way. Victims could range from political opponents and rebels, to those who are not a part of the nexus controlling the system, to those indulging in crime. Shouldn’t the encounters be investigated by independent commissions? Unfortunately nothing seems moving in that direction.
The alleged proximity of the former encounter-specialist of Gujarat, D.G. Vanzara, with the top political brass of Gujarat is well known. D.G. Vanzara’s resignation published in cop RB Sreekumar’s book, Gujarat Behind the Curtain, speaks volumes. It said, “DIG DG Vanzara, jailed since April 2007 for the alleged guilt of committing fake encounters, in his resignation letter to the government of Gujarat, dated 1st September 2013, captioned ‘Tendering of resignation from my service with renunciation of all post-retirement benefits’ wrote, ‘Gujarat CID/Union CBI had arrested me and my officers in different encounter cases, holding us to be responsible for carrying out alleged fake encounters - if that true then the CBI investigating officers of all the 4 encounter cases of Sohrabuddin, Tulsi Ram, Sadiq Jamal and Ishrat Jahan have to arrest the policy formulators also, as we, being field officers have simply implemented the conscious policy of this government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters. By this reasoning, I am of the firm opinion that the place of this government, instead of being in Gandhinagar, should be in Taloja Central Prison at Navi Mumbai or in the Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad.’”
Have we ever paused to reflect on what happens to the families of those killed or injured in these encounters? They are ruined and left without any resources to seek justice. And, they are tainted for the rest of their lives.
A few years ago, 19-year-old student Ishrat Jahan was killed in a much hyped encounter on an empty stretch of road between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat by the officers of the Crime Branch led by D.G. Vanzara. I had interviewed her mother, Shamima Begum, and also her younger sister, Musarrat Jahan. It gets difficult to describe the trauma they were facing. I quote Musarrat here: “It was such a blow on all possible fronts; emotionally, socially, financially. Ever since Ishrat was murdered we have just kept to ourselves and seldom moved out, we have become wary of stepping out and meeting even the neighbourhood people. Our studies got disrupted. It was difficult to even survive, forget about books and studies. I sat blank, in a trance-like condition. I gave up studies, stopped going out, and didn’t even meet any of our relatives. Even financially our situation worsened. After our father had died in 2002 because of brain tumour, the entire responsibility of the family fell on the eldest of the seven siblings, Ishrat Jahan. She had begun taking up part-time jobs and tuitions together with her college level studies, to keep the home fires burning. But with her killing we are ruined…toot se gai hain…we want justice for my sister. After all, that encounter in which my sister was gunned down was staged only for political gains. It was a well concocted false charge that my sister had gone to kill the then chief minister of Gujarat and so they had her killed in that encounter!”
Musarrat Jahan had repeatedly said that although they are ruined and devastated, they are determined to get justice. “For us it is a fight for ‘insaaf’, to remove the terrorist tag thrown at my innocent sister, at us, at my entire family. You can’t imagine how difficult it’s been for us to survive.” They were fortunate to have had the well-known lawyer, Vrinda Grover, fight their case. In fact, Grover had then told me the reason why she had decided to take up this case of slain Ishrat Jahan. She said, “It was the conviction of the mother and family in Ishrat’s innocence, and their determination to have her name cleared that persuaded me. They want their respect and dignity restored”.
To this day I haven’t read a full-fledged volume on the rising number of encounters taking place in today’s so-called developed India. However, in one of the volumes written by a former jailed inmate, there is a detailed description of his near-death in an encounter. I Am A Mufti & I Am Not A Terrorist - 11 Years Behind the Bars, written by Mufti Abdul Qayyum Husain Mansuri carries not just details of the torture inflicted on him after he was “kidnapped” by Gujarat Crime Branch and then implicated in the Akshardham case, but much more. Imprisoned for 11 long years till acquitted by the Supreme Court of India, one of the first things he did was to write this book, carrying details of his prison years and of the one encounter he had survived. I share this piece from the book:
It was the cold night of Thursday, 18 September 2003. I was sleeping in Vanaar’s office in such a position/condition that one of my hands was cliffed and locked with the table. I was asleep with great difficulty when one of the officers awakened me by kicking me on my back with his shoes. Singhal was standing in front of me and the best kind of Awadh’s fragrance was coming from his clothes. Behind Singhal one face was seen. He was V.D. Vanaar. On Singhal’s order, the hand cliff was unlocked from my hand. V.D. Vanaar took me along and said, “Come on, it’s Sahab’s order today, your encounter has to be done”. I was told you offer namaaz/salat for dead persons, today offer namaaz for yourself. I was pushed to sit in a Tata Sumo [car]. After misfiring on me in one or two places, Vanaar asked for the revolver from P.S.I., R.I. Patel, and after directing the vehicle on two, three roads, he told the driver to take it near the canal. On the way, Vanaar also narrated the legend of his mastery in encounters and the allotment of medals from the government. He said, “See I have killed Hameed Lala. I have killed Ranapwala here on the stairs of the crime branch.” And, he counted some more names and said ‘even after so many encounters what harm the government and the court have done to me. On the contrary I was given the bravery medal of ‘Puraskar’ and Rs 51,000 as an award. Today this encounter of yours is the sixth one. Tomorrow we will give this story to the media and newspapers that are going to investigate the case.’ On getting a chance he ran away, somehow he got a revolver from somewhere and fired on us and on back-firing (from us) he was shot. The vehicle was stopped at one place in the dark night. As per my assumption, it was some place behind the airport, because the lights of the airport were seen from there. On both sides of the road there was the canal. Then they led the vehicle deep inside on the other side of the canal, on the left side, and all the braves got down from the vehicle after stopping it at a vast open space, and they also got me down by pulling my beard and abusing me. Vanaar took out the revolver and told his companions to move aside a bit after he aimed the revolver on my head. I was standing alive, dumb with amazement, and was astonished, because the bullet did not strike my head but passed by my head. After that, five shots were fired on my right and left side of the head and on the left and right side of my legs. Until now, Mr. A.A. Chauhan, being a silent audience in this blood-shedding drama, entered the scene. He came forward and said, “Vanaar sahab don’t kill him. I want to give him a last chance after talking to a superior officer”. Then he asked me, turning towards me, “If you confess all that the superior office says, then I can save your life…”
I leave you with these closing, last lines from ISHMEET KAUR CHAUDHRY’s poem titled The Road To My Home (Amity Peace Poems, Hawakal publishers): The borders and the barbed wires/the muddy potholes/the check-posts with a lot of police/do not stop us from reaching this place, our home/where peace flows in my grandmother’s veins.