The Narendra Modi government has reason to feel severely embarrassed and exposed by the report submitted by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) to the Gujarat High Court. In holding that Ishrat Jahan, the 19-year old Mumbai student, and three others were killed in cold blood by the Gujarat police, the SIT has dismissed the State government's persistent claim that the four died in a shootout. The evidence on which the team reached its conclusion is not yet publicly available but the High Court has revealed that the three-member SIT reached the unanimous conclusion that the four victims were murdered before their bodies were dumped on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. In short, summary extra-judicial executions were dressed up to look like a police encounter. This is exactly the same conclusion the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate had reached in 2009. Going by the forensic evidence and the post-mortem reports, the magistrate dismissed the Gujarat police's claim that the victims, who were allegedly involved in a plot to assassinate Chief Minister Narendra Modi, were killed in an exchange of gunfire on a highway. He concluded that the victims were shot dead at very close range the night before the encounter was supposed to have taken place. Instead of acting on this honest finding, the Bharatiya Janata Party State government denied that the encounter was fake and accused the magistrate of overstepping his jurisdiction by writing such a report. Now that the High Court has ordered that a fresh FIR be registered against those suspected of murdering Ishrat and the others, cover-up of the heinous crime will no longer be possible.
It has been seven years since the killings took place, a period during which the Modi government feigned a posture of hurt innocence. With the High Court declaring its intent to hand over the investigation, after the filing of a fresh FIR, to a central agency, there is no way the 21 policemen, including some officers, allegedly responsible for staging the fake encounter could be shielded. Among them is Deputy Inspector General D.G. Vanzara, the so-called ‘encounter specialist,' who was arrested and jailed for the extra-judicial murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife in 2005. The issue of staging fake encounters should be seen for what it is — murder most foul. It should not be clouded or sidetracked by questions on whether those done away with were ‘innocents' or extremists, gangsters, or whatever. Enough of rationalisations: no civilised society under the rule of law can countenance or tolerate extra-judicial killings, a practice that subverts the very principles the criminal justice system is founded upon.