The report of the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate is a scathing indictment of the Gujarat government, no stranger to ugly controversies about summary executions dressed to look like police encounters. The 243-page report of S.P. Tamang on the killing of 19-year-old Mumbai student Ishrat Jehan and three others in 2004 contains a disturbing body of detail about how their lives were snuffed out. Relying mainly on evidence from a forensic laboratory and post-mortem reports, Mr. Tamang exposes the gaping holes in the State police version of events — namely, that the four, said to be involved in a plot to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi, were killed on a highway near Ahmedabad following an exchange of gunfire. According to him, the forensic evidence establishes the victims were shot at very close range and had not fired a single shot; moreover, their post-mortem reports suggest they were killed the night before the police said the encounter took place. The Gujarat government’s response to the report has been far from satisfactory. Rather than take serious note of its contents, it has chosen to flatly deny that the encounter was fake and raise technical issues about whether Mr. Tamang had overstepped his jurisdiction. An honest and reassuring response would have been to register an FIR against the police officials involved. It is a chilling coincidence that the report implicates the so-called ‘encounter specialist’ of the Gujarat police, D.G. Vanzara — now in jail for the killing of the alleged gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife in 2005 in a fake encounter.
The issue of killing people in cold blood should not be clouded or sidetracked by debates about whether Ishrat Jehan was a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative or not. Her family and many others have strongly affirmed her innocence — something that the Tamang report reflects. On the other hand, it is not only the Narendra Modi government but also the Centre — the latter in an affidavit in the Gujarat High Court — that has described her as belonging to the terrorist group. What is germane here is that extra-judicial killing is a brutal subversion of the rule of law, reflecting a total contempt for the basic principles on which the criminal justice system is founded. Alarmingly, the Tamang report suggests that such fake encounters in Gujarat are staged not merely to get rid of inconvenient people, but also to win appreciation and rewards from those who control political power. Rather than adopt a posture of hurt innocence, the Modi government should act on the findings of the probe and proceed against those who have been accused of murder.