Ghazanfar Abbas | Caravan Daily
NEW DELHI — This past 19th September was the 10th anniversary of the Batla House ‘encounter’. Even ten years after the infamous shootout carried out by the Delhi police in the Muslim-dominated Batla House locality in the national capital where two Azamgarh youths – Atif Ameen and Sajid – were shot dead and a Delhi police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma died of bullet wounds, the demand from the families of the boys, community and civil rights activists for a judicial probe is still pending.
In the days, weeks, months and years after the ‘encounter’, civil rights activist Manisha Sethi, who teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, has been on the forefront of the protests and demonstrations seeking judicial probe into the incident. On its 10th anniversary, she talked to Caravan Daily recalling the ‘frustrating’ journey of the case and how Police and even NHRC did not execute their duty fairly.
“It was frustrating at times. We had demanded judicial enquiry into the Batla House case which did not come through and even the NHRC enquiry which took place was a whitewash. They (NHRC) did not visit the site, nor did they speak to any neighbours and family members. Its report was based entirely on the police version,” says Manisha, also a member of Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA), a group formed in the wake of the Batla incident to seek justice to the boys.
After the ‘encounter’, the Delhi Police described them as suspects in the 13th September 2008 serial blasts in Delhi. In the blasts at various market places in Delhi, several people were killed. Police had claimed that the two youths killed in the encounter had role in those terror blasts – the charge their families have rubbished from the day one. During the shootout, a Delhi Police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma had sustained bullet injuries and later he died at hospital.
“It is called Batla House encounter case but actually it is not an encounter because in this case the deaths of Atif and Sajid were never investigated. That was never a question to be asked in NHRC enquiry. It could have been solved in judicial probe. But this was not conducted,” she says.
Manisha emphasized that “It is basically a case of how Inspector Sharma was killed besides the two boys. Adv. Satish Tamta has repeatedly raised this question in the court. And without understanding that, it is only a half story.”
Following the shootout, several youths were picked from Azamgarh and other parts of the country in connection with the Batla encounter and the Delhi serial blasts. One of them was Shahzad Ahmed who was picked about two years after the shootout and prosecuted as an accused of murder of the police officer and was awarded life sentence by a trail court in Delhi. However, Manisha and JTSA have been raising various questions over the police claim about Shahzad.
Police had claimed that Shahzad’s passport was found in the flat where the encounter was conducted. He was arrested a year and a half later in February 2010 from his village in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. In July 2013, Delhi’s Saket court sentenced Shahzad to life imprisonment while accepting the prosecution’s charge that he had fired at Inspector Sharma on 19th September 2008. Shehzad challenged that judgment in the Delhi High Court where it is still pending.
JTSA reports say that Shahzad’s name had not even appeared in any police complaint or communication to the NHRC. Also, his fingerprints were not found in the flat, nor were any other items belonging to him – save an expired passport.
“On the conviction of Shahzad for the killing of inspector Sharma, we had brought a report – ‘Guilt Beyond Reasonable Doubt’— which questions the judgment of the lower court. We found that the court went two steps ahead of the prosecution story. The prosecution story said that somebody could have escaped. But when questioned about the possibility of escaping the house the court in fact went ahead two steps and said ‘he may be hiding in some other house’ – the point which even prosecution did not put forth — and ignored the complete lack of evidence against Shahzad. Actually, there was no evidence to show that Shahzad was present in that house at the time when encounter was happening. So, the prosecution actually failed to prove its case. Despite all this, Shahzad was convicted in the lower court,” she maintained.
Questioning the NHRC report that gave clean chit to the Delhi Police, Manisha says: “The NHRC had access to the post-mortem reports of the three deceased and referred to these reports in its enquiry to endorse its clean chit. While it spent about 630 words on the one and a half page of Inspector Sharma’s post mortem; it spent merely 73 and 17 words on Atif and Sajid’s post-mortem respectively, which were four pages each. It was as if the NHRC shrank away from explaining the deaths of the two boys.”
One Success In 10-Year Journey Of Batla Case
Manisha says that though the demand for a judicial probe into the Batla incident remains, her and other civil rights groups’ consistent push to highlight shortcomings in the police versions in the Batla House case and other cases of false implication of Muslim youths in terror cases has brought one success.
“When we started to say that innocent Muslims were being framed, everyone would say that it is a matter of national security; you can’t raise this question because there is no smoke without fire. But I think, consistently over ten years we brought out many reports and consequently there has been some dent in that narrative and many among those who did not accept it earlier, now say there is framing of innocents indeed,” says Manisha.