A Decade after Batla House ‘encounter’: Haunting injustice and stigmatization

Hisham ul Wahab P

Batla House, the overpopulated and dense area in the South-Eastern part of Delhi, has been getting a wider attention for the last decade over an ‘Encounter’ happened on 19th September 2008. In its adjacent portions, one of the major minority institutions, Jamia Millia Islamia is located. You can experience a different/ another face of Delhi, the capital city of India, in Jamia Nagar, where the most underdeveloped part of Delhi situates just outskirts of vivid New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) area. Here you can feel the suffocating air and dust-filled wind with damaged roads leading to the narrow passes of Gallis. Lakhs of people, mostly Muslims from the remote villages of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Bihar find a solace and shelter from the posh life of New Delhi. What attracts them to this unattended place in the midst of Capital glories is that of ‘Sense of association’ and ‘security dilemma’. As the domain of all-India Muslim organizations, Jamia Nagar is filled with religious symbols and soundness of five-time Azaan, whereas the governmental authorities turn a blind eye on its development and left its destiny on the shoulders of its own people.

It has been ten years since the controversial ‘Batla House Encounter’ occurred in this ‘Muslim Ghetto’. The term ‘Encounter’ itself is vague and fake in this case, as the term bears an attempt by the State to fight against militant terrorists with the exchange of fire. But what happened in Batla House was a single-handed cold-blooded murder of young students in the name of ‘anti-terrorism encounter’. It was planned attempt implemented just after the alleged ‘Indian Mujahideen’ bomb blasts across Delhi in the past week. The script of the ‘encounter’ was well-written before its execution. On 19th September 2008, a team of the Delhi Police Special Cell conducted an armed operation in the L-18 flat of Batla House area and two alleged ‘terrorists’ Atif Amin and Muhammad Sajid were shot dead, whereas the police arrested one flat-mate and two persons were escaped from the site. Mohan Chand Sharma, an inspector of the Delhi Police’s Special Cell, was injured and later succumbed to his injuries in the Holy Family hospital. Atif Amin (24 years old) was a student of Jamia Millia Islamia and Sajid (17 years old) was an aspirant of Jamia School. According to the Police narrations, all the flat-mates were hailing from Azamgarh of Uttar Pradesh and were part of ‘Indian Mujahideen’.

Many civil-rights movements raised many questions about the drama of ‘encounter’ and tried to prove this incident as a ‘fake encounter’ to terrorize and witch-hunt Muslims. PUDR (Peoples’ Union for Democratic Rights), PUCL (Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties), Jan Hastakshep, APCR (Association for the Protection of Civil Rights), Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) and FDI (Forum for Democratic Initiatives) conducted the fact-finding surveys and documented the reality to expose the police narratives. They have raised the following questions over the ‘genuine encounter’:

1. If these boys were killed in a genuine encounter, how did the 17-year-old boy Sajid have four bullet holes on the top of his head, which could only happen if the boy was made to sit down and shot from above.

2. How did the skin peel off from Atif’s back? This was clearly visible in the photograph taken before his burial which is annexed to the PUDR petition. Obviously, Atif had been tortured before being killed.

3. How are the other blunt injuries on the bodies of the boys explained by the police version of the encounter?

4. If the police knew in advance (as they claimed) that these boys in the flat were the terrorists involved in the Delhi and other bomb blasts, why did Inspector Sharma go in without a bulletproof vest?

5. How could 2 of the boys escape from the flat which had only one exit (two doors next to each other) and from a building which had only one exit?

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) report dated 20th July 2009 merely relied upon the Delhi Police and it gave a clean chit to the police over ‘encounter’. In 2010, Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI activist, obtained the postmortem report of the deceased from NHRC, which claimed that ‘Atif and Sajid were hit ante-mortem by blunt weapon and then shot PIL’. Then the questions remain that “why the police resorted to physical violence on the suspects in a ‘genuine encounter’?” and “if there was an exchange of fire, how the entry points of all the shots on the body of Sajid were from backside?”. The key accused in the case is Shahzad Ahmad, who allegedly escaped from the site and was arrested in February 2010. Even though they could not prove that Shahzad was present in the flat at the time of operation, the police have approached the court pleading for the death penalty to him.

The whole propaganda of the Delhi Police has been scrutinized and rejected by the activists, whereas the accused persons related to the ‘encounter’ are still bear the brunt of state. Most of them are in the Tihar Jail as under-trials and have been treated in the worst manner by the investigative agencies. Even till now, a half of the witnesses listed have been examined and the delay in the investigation would negatively impact on the accused. The accused people in jail have been trying to get bail, but the court their applications were always rejected. Meanwhile, the whole area comes under the tag of terrorism as the BJP leader VK Malhotra accused that “Jamia Nagar and Batla House in Delhi have become the hub of terrorists”.

We can draw a similar line between the Batla House Encounter and the ‘Bhopal Encounter’ held on 31st October 2016. The only difference was that the former was during the UPA rule in the hands of Delhi Police and the latter was during the NDA regime in the center under a BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. The Police narrations in both the cases were similar as there was an exchange of fire and a murder of a  policeman. The Bhopal encounter was obviously fake without any doubt that, the whole story -Jailbreak of 8 under-trials related with SIMI and an encounter happened in a distance of 10 kilometers- questions the human common sense. In this case, the murder of a guard happened at the hands of accused by using plates and brushes. Eventually, in June 2018, the judicial commission has given a clean chit to the Madhya Pradesh police and almost closed the case of the ‘encounter’, while there are many questions remain unanswered.

In both cases of Batla House and Bhopal, the same logic has been executed that, the state or the ruling regime needs to show its strong anti-terrorist position by killing its own citizens at various occasions. The brunt of the state was always shown on the bodies of Muslims without any counter-question and the people are compelled to believe the police narrations. During the Batla House trail, the court has endorsed the plea that the “majority of residents of that area are followers of the religion, as was of those suspects”. This generalization is a product of the ‘Collective Conscience’ in India, where the Muslims are by default assigned to the tags of ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Villains’. This fear-mongering propaganda can be seen in the enforced disappearance of Najeeb Ahmed from Jawaharlal Nehru University by the ABVP, as they have written in the campus walls that “Muslims are Terrorists”. The same Delhi Police made many stories about Najeeb, as he went to Jamia Millia Islamia by auto and he was found at Darbhanga of Bihar – a place infamous for ‘Indian Mujahideen’. While we travel in the Delhi Metro, we are reminded of an alarm near to Jamia Millia Islamia station: “In case you find an unclaimed bag/briefcase in the metro do not go near it. It might be a bomb or some other explosive substance”. While we look at the symbolic nature of these normalized accusations -even after many years-, we could understand the gravity of stigmatization and otherization of Muslims in our daily lives.

Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association Group, the forerunner of justice in the Batla House case demands the following:

1) A Judicial Probe headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court,

2) the Investigations must be transferred from the Delhi Police to the CBI,

3) exemplary punishment should be meted to police officers guilty of implicating innocent Muslim youth in false cases of terrorism and

4) adequate compensation and jobs should be provided to those acquitted in the terror-related cases.

As a decade passes on over the fake encounter in Batla House, we need to to keep our memories alive. Many have surprised at the fact that the news about belligerent ‘Indian Mujahideen’ is nowhere in present times, as it seems to be a conspiracy/propaganda during the UPA rule. At the same time, the most acclaimed and confessed terrorists like Swami Asimanand, Colonel Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya are getting bail and acquitted. When the people in power want us to forget the reality and to believe false narratives, we must remind Milan Kundera’s words, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Memories must expose the dark pages in the past and must energize the present struggle for justice and survival.

References:

Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association, “On the 9th anniversary of the Batla House ‘Encounter’, the case so far”, 19 September 2017.

https://goo.gl/7pVSpo

Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group, ‘Encounter’ at Batla House: Unanswered Questions,

http://revolutionarydemocracy.org/batla/batla.htm

Citizen’s Forum, Bhopal Encounter- Interim Fact Finding Report, November 2016.

Falahi, Mumtaz Alam. “Batla House Fake Encounter confirmed”, Milli Gazette, 15 April 2010.

http://www.milligazette.com/news/6278-batla-house-fake-encounter-confirmed

Hashmi, Shabnam. “Unanswered Questions”, Outlook, 23 July 2009.

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/unanswered-questions/260092

Khalidi, Omar. Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India: Armed Forces, Police and Paramilitary During Communal Riots, New Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2010.

Sethi, Manisha, Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India, New Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2014.

Hisham ul Wahab P is a research fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University

Photo: Nabeela Paniyath

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