“We firmly believe that those killed in the said encounter with the Special Cell and arrested in that connection are innocent, but are not at all surprised over the court judgment convicting one of the accused,” said a resident of Batla House, living close to the four-storey building where a police team had a gunfight with suspected Indian Mujahideen militants in September 2008.
While life in the Batla House area of Jamia Nagar moved on as usual and the locals seemed indifferent to the outcome of the case, some in the neighbourhood started gathering outside the L-18 apartments -- on the fourth floor of which the alleged encounter had taken place on September 19, 2008 -- as media representatives arrived there on Thursday afternoon to record reactions on the court judgment.
“I do not find Shahzad’s conviction surprising. We all expected that he would be held guilty. Despite repeated requests, the Central Government and the Union Home Ministry had refused to conduct a judicial inquiry into the killings, citing the National Human Rights Commission’s clean chit to the Special Cell. This was done on the pretext that it would lower the morale of the police force. Under such circumstances, for them acquittal of Shahzad would have also lowered the police morale,” said Amanatullah Khan, an area resident who is also the national general secretary of the youth wing of the Lok Janshakti Party.
Mr. Khan accused the Special Cell of concocting evidence to frame the young men, two of whom were killed in the alleged encounter carried out six days after the serial blasts in the Capital on September 13, 2008. “I sat on a hunger strike several times demanding a judicial inquiry. It is not in all encounter cases that people in such large numbers raise suspicion. If the residents of Batla House had expressed doubts over the authenticity of the Special Cell version, what was the harm in conducting an independent inquiry into the entire episode to unearth the truth?” he asked.
On condition of anonymity, the owner of one of the flats at L-18 said he was in his house when the police struck. “I heard gunshots in the staircase around 10-30 a.m. that day and ran towards the balcony from where I saw policemen deployed outside the building. Two of the young men (Atif Ameen and Mohd Sajid) -- who had been living on the fourth-floor flat since August 2008 -- were killed in cold blood. The police had come all prepared,” he alleged.
Mohammad Feroze Alam, who was a witness to the operation on the fateful day, also voiced similar concerns asserting that the police had stage-managed the encounter. “They claim that two of the occupants had jumped out of the fourth floor and escaped. Anyone leaping off such a height would get killed instantly,” he said.
The locals who had assembled eagerly awaiting the court verdict quietly dispersed ambling back home soon after media persons declared around 3 p.m. that the court had pronounced Shahzad guilty.