The magisterial inquiry report declaring the killing of 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan and three others on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in June 2004 as cold-blooded murder by the police has turned the spotlight on a documentary film trying to expose the politics of fake encounters in Gujarat, which was prevented from being screened here in Jaipur last year.
The Pink City Press Club, acting under pressure from the then BJP regime in Rajasthan, turned away the Delhi-based film-maker Shubhradeep Chakravorty while the police chased him and did not allow him to show his movie anywhere in the city. He was then hounded out of Jaipur on the pretext of a threat to public order.
The documentary “Encountered on Saffron Agenda?” covers the encounters of Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh (June 2004), Sohrabuddin Sheikh (November 2005), Sameer Khan Pathan (October 2002) and Sadiq Jamal (January 2003) – all in Gujarat, with the police claiming that those killed were out to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
The freelance film-maker interviewed the families of victims, independent investigators, lawyers and eyewitnesses to conclude that these fake encounters not only violated the victims’ fundamental right to life and liberty but were used to “demonise minorities and strengthen the politics of hatred” in Gujarat.
Mr. Chakravorty, speaking to The Hindu over phone from Delhi on Wednesday, said the Pink City Press Club – which should have protected his freedom of speech – turned him away on March 13 last year and did not allow him to organise the film show for the invited audience. Press Club president Virendra Singh Rathore and general secretary Pankaj Soni flatly told Mr. Chakravorty that his documentary was “too controversial” and gave excuses like the Press Club building standing on land leased out by the State Government. Civil rights groups here later slammed the nexus among the police, BJP leaders and a section of the media throttling the voice of dissent.
Mr. Chakravorty said his investigative documentation of Ishrat Jahan’s fake encounter had been vindicated now by the report of Metropolitan Magistrate S. P. Tamang. “Police officers in Gujarat have colluded with the Sangh Parivar to give the latter a political tool to show that Muslims are targeting Narendra Modi who alone can fight against Islamic terrorism,” he added.
The documentary shows Ishrat Jahan’s mother Shamima Raza and younger sister Musarrat, Javed Sheikh’s wife Sajida and father Gopinathan Pillai, lawyers Mukul Sinha and Asim Sarode and journalist Harinder Baweja arguing that the theory forwarded by the police was full of discrepancies. All of them charged the Gujarat police officers with gunning down the innocent victims in cold blood.
The film shows Musarrat saying her family believes Ishrat Jahan was raped before being killed. Gopinathan Pillai also says that his son Javed, who converted to Islam, was brutally tortured before the encounter.
Mr. Chakravorty said the poor families of Ishrat Jahan and Javed Sheikh were shattered after the encounter. “The five siblings of Ishrat Jahan are out of school and facing extreme poverty and disgrace for belonging to an alleged terrorist,” he said, adding that the background of the two other youngsters picked up and killed after being branded Pakistanis is yet to be confirmed.
The film-maker said only exemplary punishment like death for the guilty police officers identified in the magisterial report would meet the ends of justice. Besides, the Gujarat Government should be told to pay a hefty compensation to the next of kin of the deceased, as was done in the case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh’s fake encounter.
Mr. Chakravorty said though he had not screened the documentary anywhere in the country since his unpleasant experience in Jaipur, he would take it to “Film South Asia ’09” – the biennial festival of South Asian documentaries – being held in Kathmandu this September 17 to 20. Later he will screen it in Kolkata and Mumbai.