SIGNS OF THE TIMES

Several academics and activists together with legal experts have countered the NHRC report on the alleged encounter at Batla House. Space constraints will come in way so let me focus only on two such reports –

This report sent by Anhad’s Shabnam Hashmi- "On 20th May, the Delhi High Court, acting on a petition filed by the People’s union for democratic rights and Anhad, had asked the National Human rights commission to conduct their own inqury into the alleged Batla House encounter of September 2008 and give a report upon it. This order of the High Court was made after the High Court was shownÿ reports of four independent organisations into the encounter, including the report of PUDR, the Delhi union of journalists, the Jamia Teachers Solidarity group, all of which seriously questioned the version of the Delhi police regarding the encounter. These reports and the petition filed by the PUDRÿ had pointed out several specific problems with the version of the Delhi police. In particular, the following questions were raised about the version of the Delhi Police

1. If these boys were killed in a genuine encounter, how did the 17-year-old boy Sajid have four bullet holes on the top of his head, which could only happen if the boy was made to sit down and shot from above.

2. How is the skin peeled off from Atif’s back? This was clearly visible in the photograph taken before his burial which is annexed to the PUDR petition. Obviously Atif had been tortured before being killed.

3. How are the other blunt injuries on the bodies of the boys explained by the police version of the encounter?

4. If the police knew in advance (as they claimed) that these boys in the flat were the terrorists involved in the Delhi and other bomb blasts, why did Inspector Sharma go in without a bullet proof vest?

5. How could 2 of the boys escape from the flat which had only one exit (two doors next to each other) and from a building which had only one exit?

It was expected that in these circumstances, the NHRC, would conduct its own investigation into the matter. The report dated 20th July 2009 of the NHRC given to the High Court on 22nd July, however shows that far from conducting any investigation into the matter, the NHRC has merely relied upon the Police reports for their report. They have not even examined or investigated the above questions which were squarely raised in the PUDR petition on which the High Court order was issued to the NHRC.

They have not even examined Saif, the third boy picked up by the police from the flat, nor even any of the witnesses of the Batla house area who had deposed before the People’s Tribunal. They have just swallowed the police version hook, line and sinker. And this is despite the fact that there has been no independant police investigation or even a Magisterial enquiry into the encounter as mandated by the NHRC’s own guidelines.

It is extremely unfortunate that the premier Human Rights Body set up to investigate Human Rights violations is becoming a rubber stamp for the police. The same attitude of the NHRC was evident when the Supreme Court asked the NHRC to investigate allegations of Rape and Murder against the Salwa Judum. The NHRC send a team of essentially police officers whoÿ spoke mainly to the local police and other officials and gave a white washing report.

The time has come to seriously reexamine the manner of appointment of members of the NHRC and its powers. The present system of appointment by a committee of Prime Minister, Home Minister, Speaker and Leader of Opposition etc. is not working satisfactorily. All of them seem to want a toothless and tame body which will not question those in power.

Since the NHRC report does not address or answer the disquieting questions raised by the several independent fact finding reports about encounter, it is therefore essential that there be an investigation into the "encounter" by an SIT appointed by the Delhi High Court." This report has been signed by Shabnam Hashmi, Colin Gonsalves, Harsh Mander, Moushimi Basu, Prashant Bhushan, Aroop Saraya and several other leading activists and legal experts.

Then, another report sent by Javed Anand, puts forth some more details and this report has been put together by Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group, All India Students Association, Association for The Protection of Civil Rights. I quote from it – "The National Human Rights Commission’s so-called enquiry into the Batla House ‘encounter’ has pronounced the Delhi Police innocent of any foul play. Interestingly, the NHRC’s investigations into the police action on 19th September are based on evidences provided by those accused of encounter alone…As it appears from the Report, the Commission did not even bother to pay a visit to the Batla House locality and Flat No. 108, L-18, the site of the said encounter. There has been no attempt to collect the versions of the eyewitnesses, neighbours or relatives of those killed. The Fact-finding reports of various civil rights groups including JTSG’s Encounter at Batla House: Unanswered Questions, a damning indictment of the police version with corroborative evidence has been given no cognizance. Applications filed by individuals from Azamgarh wishing to depose before the Commission were ignored and not even acknowledged….

Further, in both Atif and Sajid’s case, the postmorten report mentions ‘several ante-mortem injuries including firearm wounds’. This only suggests that there were at least a few ‘non-firearm wound’. In what circumstances were these caused? The enquiry team provides us with no explanation. In the absence of any description, the suspicion that they could have been tortured before being encountered gets strengthened…

It also refuses to comment on questions being raised on the police claim that two alleged terrorists escaped during the operation, declaring it to be beyond the scope of its enquiry. In fact, it seems to be accepting the police version that ‘each flat has two doors and a crowd had gathered outside at the time when the exchange of fire was on’. Going by the police version the NHRC concludes, ‘in the melee it was possible for some persons to escape’. But the contradiction in the police report itself is not taken note wherein it is claimed that while Inspector Sharma led a few staff inside the building, the rest of the team members were guarding the ground floor. Now, had the NHRC team visited the site, it would have noticed that even if the flats have two gates, but the entry gate to the building is only one, on the ground floor and that was being manned by the police party. The residents of the other flats had been told to stay inside, but this again could be gathered only if the NHRC team had recorded the eyewitness accounts. How could it be possible for the two alleged ‘terrorists’ to flee?

The NHRC has conveniently skirted all uncomfortable questions in its urgent rush to declare the innocence of the Delhi Police. Coming as it does, in the wake of the botched up enquiry into the Shopian rape and murder case, raises serious doubts over the credibility of enquiry commissions and bodies such as the NHRC. By ignoring all contrary voices, the NHRC has proved itself to be a propaganda arm of the state, and not the independent custodian of human rights of the country’s citizens, as it was created to be.

All those interested in the pursuance of truth and justice, reject this farcical, partisan and shameful mockery of an enquiry. We reiterate our demand for an impartial judicial enquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court to look into the entire issue emerging from the Batla House encounter…" (end of the report)

WHAT HAD STOOD OUT IN SHOPIAN…

Today, as news reports of the Shopian rapes and murders continue to hit, I’m reminded of what I’d seen and heard in Shopian, during the autumn of 2002. Covering the then 2002 elections in the Valley and also researching for my book on the Valley, I had traveled with a group of journalists to Shopian. Seeing the heavy security presence one took it as one of those routine measures undertaken duringÿ electioneering. But as one moved into those interiors, horrifying details emerged. We saw uniformed men with black scarves, recklessly barging into civilian homes, jumping over small structured outer walls. What followed was nerve wrecking, as shrieks and counter shrieks and cries of children and women had surcharged the atmosphere…Those shrieks echoing, hitting…I recall asking one of their officers hovering around why these searches are conducted in what seemed brutal display of authority/brute powerÿ but he ‘d assured us that they were routine searches. But, no, they didn’t really seem ‘routine’, as several locals ran behind us, pleading that we help them out…one aged bearded Kashmiriÿ wouldn’t really let me go ahead – saying he’d feared for his life and that of his young daughters. He’d kept pointing towards his home and saying that we protect his daughters from the security forces who’d entered his home with dogs ! To sniff bombs or to leave a trail of fear and devastation !

And just few feet away from this cluster as we hit the main road, stood a group of young Kashmiri boys huddled in a corner. I’d asked one of the RRÿ(Rashtriya Rifles) men to stand close to those boys so that I could take a picture He’d agreed but no sooner he neared that group, those boys not just looked very tense but frightened, almost trembling with fear. This one incident relayed what seems the crux – the very crux of the prevailing grim reality. Call it the very disgust of the apolitical civilian against the brute might of the boot.

In fact, around the same period when I was visiting a friend’s orchard in village Romo that lies off the Pulwana – Shopian Road, I was introduced byÿ my host, S. K. Dhar, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Indian army – to the commanding officer of the BSF company stationed in that particular village and what appalled me is the manner in which he’d bragged of the harshest measures used on youth, even on those who are picked up and interrogated on grounds of mere suspicion…Unsettling was this man’s brazen manner and on our way back SK Dhar had told me that he was himself appalled with what’s been happening around, adding – "I’d even lodged an official complaint in late 2001. I wrote to the corps commander about the attitude of the army…it seems an army of occupation…but I got no reply…"

And what’s worrying is that these harsh brutal ways are being witnessed by almost everyone and yet there’s no countering…take a bus-ride or a even a scooter ride or just about walk in Srinagar city and you have to be cautious at every turn, even as security vehicles pass by. There exists an unwritten law-you cannot overtake those security vehicles, otherwise hell will break loose…Like a mute spectator I’d sat when the a young student accompanying me on a bus ride was fiercely pulled by his collar by security forces for a search. Again like a mute spectator I’d sat when the auto driver driving me around was pushed and almost pulled apart by cops manning the Amar Singh Club. This hapless driver’sÿ fault? He had braked close to the main gates.

In these recent years one has come across not just cases of fake encounter killings, disappearances, illegal detentions, unearthing of mass graves but even instances where men in authority have complained about the very behavior of the paramilitary. A particular news report published in a leading daily, dated June 7, 2004 stated – "Discipline CRPF… The Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission has directed the CRPF director general to ensure ‘proper’ and ‘decent’ behavior from his personnel…the commission had received a complaint from residents of Buchwara against the CRPF stationed in a hotel. They made obscene remarks when women passed by the hotel. The complaint also said that they were involved in power theft from the service line Justice AM Mir took strong exception to the passing of the obscene remarks and described it as a violation of the human rights…" In fact, it is relevant to mention here that in 2006 Justice AM Mir resigned from the post of chairman of the State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). And as news reports had more than hinted that he’d resigned to protest against the ‘growing human rights violationsÿ in the state and the non -implementation of the commission’s recommendations’

WHY THIS FUSS ABOUT ‘SACH KA SAAMNA’?

If an individual wants to talk, to bare all those details, then what’s the problem? Why is the television program ‘sach ka saamna’ making our politicians go berserk with insecurities of the worst kind. After all, it’s a harmless program, where individuals sit and answer those queries…baring those details of their personal lives, relationships, sexual slants, professional lows and highs…

You know what, it’s that hypocrisy streak that’s making the politician go hopping mad hearing a this and that. He wants to live and die shrouded with those layers of hypocrisy. Fine. But, at least let others talk…pour out.

*(Humra Quraishi is a freelance columnist based in Delhi and is currently a visiting Professor in the Academy of Third World Studies in Jamia Milia University).ÿ

With a pinch of salt