Failure of justice: on Sohrabuddin case verdict

The omnibus acquittal of all the police personnel accused of eliminating Sohrabuddin Sheikh in a ‘fake encounter’ in Gujarat in 2005 represents a substantial failure of justice. It is true that it is not easy to obtain an order of conviction against police personnel accused of killing suspects in a fake encounter. It becomes that much harder for any agency when influential political leaders and top police officers are cited as accused. It is unsurprising that the case, in which BJP president Amit Shah and a few Indian Police Service officers had been discharged earlier, ended with the acquittal of 22 men, all but one of them policemen. As many as 92 of the 210 witnesses turned hostile. The trial judge himself appeared to be saddened by the outcome, but it is difficult to agree with his observation that one could not fault the CBI for witnesses going back on their statements. It is the prosecution’s duty to ensure the safety of witnesses and give them the confidence and courage to speak the truth under oath. While it is perhaps not surprising that witnesses in the police did not support the prosecution, it is disappointing that others could not be encouraged to do so. For instance, the driver and a passenger in a bus, allegedly intercepted by the police team and from which Sohrabuddin, his wife Kausar Bi and an associate, Tulsiram Prajapati, were taken away, denied such an incident took place.


It is unfortunate that the families of the victims do not have the consolation of anyone being brought to justice. While Sohrabuddin’s killing has ‘encounter’ as an explanation, his wife’s disappearance remains a mystery. It was not proved that she was taken to a farm, killed and her body burnt. And it cannot be a coincidence that Prajapati was killed a year later in Rajasthan in another encounter. It was under a cloud of suspicion over the circumstances of their death that Sohrabuddin’s brother had approached the Supreme Court and obtained an order for an investigation, which was subsequently handed over to the CBI. In losing this case, the CBI has shown that it continues to struggle when it comes to handling cases with political overtones. The 2014 discharge of Mr. Shah and the subsequent pre-trial exoneration of senior police officer D.G. Vanzara had come as a boost to the BJP. The final decision in the trial is also likely to be interpreted as a justification for some encounters that took place in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister. Mr. Vanzara has implied as much in controversial tweets. He has also claimed that such ‘pre-emptive encounters’ were needed to save Mr. Modi. This is a tacit acknowledgement that these may not have been chance encounters, as genuine ones are supposed to be, but part of a plan to eliminate a threat to the leader’s life through extrajudicial killings. It is regrettable that such a triumphalist narrative is sought to be built around such incidents.


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Printable version | Jun 19, 2022 6:56:23 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/failure-of-justice/article59780288.ece