Jamia encounter: Unanswered questions

The Jamia encounter, in which two suspected Indian Mujahideen militants were shot dead on September 19, has come under the cloud of suspicion with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Thursday issuing a notice to the Delhi Police.

The commission has asked the city Police Commissioner Y S Dadwal to submit a report on the incident.

The NHRC notice follows a series of fact-finding visits by a number of journalists, intellectuals, students, civil rights activists and lawyers to the site where the encounter took place.

On September 19, two suspected militants, Atif and Sajid, were shot dead in a gunbattle with the police in south Delhi’s Jamia Nagar locality in which a Delhi police special cell officer lost his life.

In a series of press conferences after the encounter, the Delhi police claimed that one militant was arrested while two managed to escape after a dramatic shootout. One of the suspected militant, Zeeshan, who was alleged to have escaped was later arrested on the same day.

Thereafter, a team of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) visited the encounter site on September 21 and have picked several holes in the Delhi police’s version of events.

The members of the team were noted Supreme Court Advocate Prashant Bhushan, Dr N K Bhattacharya (Jan Hastakshep), Shahana Bhattacharya (PUDR), Dr Ish Misra (Jan Hastakhep), Delhi High Court Advocate N D Pancholi, and teachers of Jamia Milia Islamia University, Prof Mir Imtiaz and Sreerekha.

Murky encounter?

The team has raised a series of questions, which the Delhi police will have to answer to clear the suspicion surrounding the encounter.

1. How many masterminds are there? A succession of organizations, such as the HUJI, SIMI and the IM, have already been named by different state police as the organizations responsible for the blasts that have taken place in Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Delhi and the bomb scare in Surat. Atif suddenly becomes the new mastermind of all the blasts after a succession of other masterminds such as Abu Bashir, Tauqeer, Saddik Shaikh, among others. His name was never mentioned earlier, not even a few days ago when the sketches of the Delhi Bombers were released.

Media reports have suggested that the Delhi encounter might have been a fallout of a tussle between the Mumbai Police and Delhi Police to hog the limelight.

According to a media report, both Mumbai and Delhi police were behind Atif Amin and the latter went ahead with the encounter in a bid to pre-empt the former.

“We felt there was no need to plot the encounter so hurriedly and things could have been different had it been planned properly,” a senior Mumbai cop was quoted as saying by the news report.

In a hurry to get hold of Atif, the Delhi police lost one of its bright officers.

2. When did the police get to know that they were terrorists? If they knew before they entered, why did they not seal the exit to the building and ask the alleged terrorists to surrender without going in?

3. If the Special Cell knew that they were dreaded terrorists and had to be arrested/apprehended, then why was M C Sharma not wearing a bullet proof vest?

4. If the Special cell did not know that they were terrorists before they entered, how did they claim soon thereafter that these were the terrorists and masterminded the blasts without even the opportunity of an interrogation of the person arrested and a thorough investigation of the evidence from the scene of the alleged encounter?

5. Could two persons have escaped, considering there are no escape routes, save one which was the entrance from which the STF entered heavily armed?

Related facts as per the team:

* L-18 Batla house, the scene of the two ‘encounter’ killings of Atif and Sajid, is a four-storied building with two flats on each floor and a single stairwell. There is only one entrance to the building. All the other spaces are grilled and cannot be used to get out of the building, the team observed. The building is abutted on the left and right by two buildings, which are only about two floors high. There is a narrow lane to the front and an even narrower lane at the back.

6. If they were truly the terrorists behind the bombings, they would not have given their correct personal details in a tenant verification form to the police, which was just after the Ahmedabad Blasts and before the Delhi Blasts.

Related facts as per the team:

* Documentary evidence proves that Atif had submitted his correct details to the police in a tenant verification form duly received by the police on August 21, 2008. The form is a printed form which has been countersigned and bears the seal of the Jamia Nagar police station. The form also has his correct mobile phone number.

* The Special Cell now claims that the verification form is forged, despite the fact that it is countersigned and bears the seal of the Jamia Nagar Police Station. However these documents were handed over to the media by the caretaker of the apartment within two hours of the alleged encounters and hence he did not have enough time to have carried out such a forgery.

7. Zeeshan who also shared the L-18 flat was taking the IIPM entrance test at the time of the alleged encounter and was arrested later in the night of September 19 from the Head Lines Today studios at Jhandelwalan. The arrest came soon after he had given an interview at the television studio which was partially aired. On what basis was he arrested?

8. As per news reports, the police has so far not carried out a Test Identification Parade (TIP) by eyewitnesses who claim to have seen those responsible for the Delhi bomb blasts? Was a TIP done before the burial of the two boys who were shot dead? Has the police tried to match the sketches of the accused made at the time with those being arrested? What are the results of such efforts if they have been made?

9. In view of the continuing speculation and controversies surrounding the ‘encounter’ and a version of the post-mortem reports being discussed by the press, why have the post-mortem reports of the two youths and the policeman who were killed in the house not been made available to their families and to the public?

10. Has an FIR been lodged or investigation launched into the incident of the ‘encounter’ itself?

Related facts as per the team:

* This is what the law requires. NHRC guidelines on encounter killings clearly state “That when information is received that death was caused in an encounter as a result of firing by the police, prima facie the ingredients of culpable homicide under section 299 of the IPC are satisfied.” That is sufficient to suspect that an offence of culpable homicide has been committed.

11. Since, according to the press statement issued by Holy Family Hospital on September 19, 2008, X-rays of the chest and abdomen of M C Sharma had “not revealed any foreign bodies,” what has happened to the bullets fired on him? Have they been collected from the scene and sent for forensic analysis?

Key conclusions

Based on their visit and a thorough investigation of facts and media reports, the team came to certain preliminary conclusions.

1. The version of the police that they had learnt that these youths were behind the Delhi blasts when they went in to arrest them is clearly false. If that were not the case, then inspector Sharma and his team, who were experienced policemen from the Special Cell and had in fact been involved in several lethal encounters in the past, would not have entered the premises at all and certainly not without bullet proof vests.

2. The police gave the version of these youths being the terrorists behind the Delhi, Ahmedabad and Jaipur blasts and of Atif being the mastermind to the media soon after the alleged encounter. Till this point, the police had not had the time to interrogate Saif, who had been arrested, or to thoroughly investigate the laptops recovered from the scene of the incident etc. Hence, they had no actionable information on the basis of which to make such claims. Therefore, the police version that they were the terrorists behind the blasts with Atif as the mastermind clearly seems to be a story concocted by the Special Cell before they went to pick up these people.

3. The story of two people escaping from the building is an utter lie.

4. The subsequent picking up of Zia ur Rahman, the caretaker’s son, and of Shakeel and others on the pretext that they were also involved in this conspiracy is highly dubious and smacks of vindictiveness against individuals who came out with statements and evidence that contradicted the police version.

5. The claim of the police that the tenant verification form, handed over to the media by the caretaker, Rahman, only a couple of hours after the incident, is forged, is not at all credible. There appears no reason for Rahman to have forged such a form and kept it with him in advance, and there was certainly no time for him to have forged the papers and handed them to the media soon after the incident.

6. Saquib Nisar, who the police claim provided logistical support for the serial blasts in Ahmedabad and the bomb scare in Surat, was taking an MBA examination from July 23 to July 28, 2008. Copies of his admit card and exam sheets signed by the examiners are available. Nisar was picked up by the Delhi police after the Jamia encounter. He is accused of being part of the recce for Karol Bagh blasts and networking activities.

7. None of the accused who are alive and arrested have legal representation or counsel. Moreover the police have been releasing information supposedly procured from them during interrogation to the media. This further adversely affects their chances of justice.

The fact-finding team will come out with a detailed report of their findings in the coming weeks.

The idea behind raising these questions is not to question the validity of the police encounter but to highlight the lack of transparency in the whole incident.

Every other day, the media is fed with stories by various state police agencies (Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Delhi) who all claim to have arrested the mastermind.

The Jamia encounter and the subsequent events call for a coordinated effort from all state agencies in tackling terror.

(The article was published on www.newsx.com on September 27, 2008)

Harassment scandal casts ominous glow on RAW

India’s external intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), has been hit by another crisis. A senior female officer, working as a Director in the training branch of the agency at Gurgaon, attempted suicide on August 19 by consuming rat poison outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

Nisha Priya Bhatia took the extreme step after being denied entry to register a complaint regarding her allegations of sexual harassment by some colleagues in the agency. Bhatia was frustrated at the inaction of the agency as well as the government for not taking any action about her complaints of being sexually harassed.

The Supreme Court of India has clearly recognized sexual harassment as a crucial problem faced by women workers and laid down detailed guidelines for prevention and redressal of this problem. But strangely, apart from constituting inquiries, no concrete action was taken to address Bhatia’s complaint. She had even written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the harassment she was facing from some of her male colleagues within the agency.

The state of rot in the agency can be gauged from what Bhatia had alleged. According to her statement, which was widely reported in the media, Sunil Uke, a joint secretary level officer of the agency offered her around Rs 30,000 on August 3, 2007 to spend a night with him in a hotel.

According to Bhatia, her repeated pleas of an inquiry into the sexual harassment charges were scuttled by RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi himself. In fact, she even blamed Chaturvedi for using vulgar language to get sexual favour from her.

The RAW chief’s name has been under constant spotlight from sometime because of his failure to effectively lead the country’s premier intelligence agency.

So serious is the crisis within the agency that now a former RAW official has written a letter to the Prime Minister requesting him to order a CBI inquiry into the suicide attempt by Nisha Priya Bhatia and to setup grievances redressal cell in the PMO for RAW employees.

R K Yadav, a former General Secretary of RAW Employees Association in the Cabinet Secretariat, has alleged that Bhatia’s case is not the first instance of sexual harassment in the agency.

“This is not the first sexual harassment in RAW. There are many incidents in the past but most of the lady employees do not report due to fear of being sacked from service in the guise of secrecy,” Yadav’s letter, which is in possession of NewsX.com, states:

“The mindset of RAW officers is reflective of a sex oriented psyche in which they are working operationally. Most of the agents whom they developed are entertained with all these ethnic facilities like providing prostitutes for sex. This sadistic working culture has provoked many of them to exploit their own lady colleagues or they were exploited by foreign agents,” the letter adds.

According to Yadav, there are numerous instances of such exploitation. The former official has mentioned them in his letter, some of which are listed here.

* 1998: Suchit Dass, an IPS officer of Orissa cadre, was caught on camera on several occasions with a lady of the Bangladesh Mission by the surveillance team of the RAW. The lady was used by Bangladesh intelligence officials to recruit Dass as their agent while he was serving in the Indian Mission at Dhaka. Dass reverted to India on completion of his tenure. The lady was also sent by the Bangladesh intelligence to continue her liaison with Dass. She managed to get secret information from Dass but no criminal action was taken against him. Instead, he was simply reverted to his parent cadre after the exposure.

* 2006: An IPS officer serving as Joint Secretary in RAW tried to sexually exploit the wife of his IAS batch mate. On the intervention of the then Prime Minister, he was reverted to his parent cadre in Manipur. He managed to re-enter the agency after some time and while serving in Jodhpur office he tried to molest a lady employee of the agency under the influence of liquor. He was then transferred to the RAW headquarters. Here too, he used double meaning words to a lady officer for seeking sexual favour. The matter was reported to then RAW chief PKH Tharakan but no action was taken against Jha. Instead, he was posted as a RAW official in Bonn (Germany).

* June, 2006: Brigadier Ujjawal Dasgupta, Director in Computer Division of RAW was arrested for his alleged link with a lady CIA operative Rosanna Minchew working in US Embassy in Delhi. He was arrested on charges of espionage and is presently lodged in Tihar Jail.

* October 2007: Ravi Nair, a Joint Secretary of RAW was abruptly recalled from Indian Embassy in Colombo for his involvement with a suspected lady Chinese agent. According to intelligence sources, the lady got involved with Nair during his Bhutan stint. This liaison continued in Hong Kong and was finally detected in Colombo. Nair has a dubious past in RAW. He worked for more than four years in Pakistan which no other officer of the agency could ever complete due to ISI interference. There are allegations of his being hobnobbing with ISI. In the instant case of his involvement with a lady spy, no harsh action was taken against him by the current RAW chief Ashok Chaturvedi and curiously he was given a sensitive desk of North East.

* 2008: M M Sharma, a Director of Science & Technology Division of RAW was videotaped by the Chinese intelligence officials while having sex with a prostitute in Beijing where he was posted in the Indian Mission. He was declared Persona Non Grata and sent to India. No disciplinary or criminal action has been taken against him so far.

Meanwhile, in response to Nisha’s allegations, the Cabinet Secretariat issued a press release which blamed her for not cooperating with the committee instituted to inquire into her allegations against senior officials. On the contrary, the release suggested that she was mentally ill. It also details various complaints received against her from different officers in the agency.

The complaints ranged from insubordination, misbehavior, and abuse of authority to sending objectionable and offensive SMSs to senior government officials.

But Yadav’s claims that she is being portrayed as a psychiatric patient by RAW authorities as they want to save their skin in the current crisis.

While highlighting nepotism in the agency, the letter claims that there is rampant harassment and exploitation of RAW employees in general and women employees in particular.

The official has also accused the high-ups in the agency of overlooking merit while posting officers in critical regions like Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir. According to him, officers “who are to be mentally harassed are sent to hard stations to settle personal scores by the seniors.” Hence the objective of protecting India’s national interest has gone for a toss.

The letter further alleges that a fear psychosis in the agency has been created by some senior officials. The employees of the agency are working in a traumatic and pathetic state of mind due to absence of an administrative grievance redressal mechanism, Yadav pointed out.

Now it is up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is already aware (as reported in the media) of some major blunders of the current RAW chief to address the crisis in the agency at the earliest.

(The article was published on www.newsx.com on August 29, 2008)