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Batla House and the problem with the deluded journalist: Manisha Sethi

February 28, 2012

This guest post by MANISHA SETHI is a response to “Congress and the Problem with the Deluded Liberals” by Mihir Srivastava in Open magazine

Mihir Srivastava is very upset that the debate on Batla House refuses to die down. In his view, his piece in India Today - “Inside the Mind of the Bombers – appearing soon after the ‘encounter’ should have settled the debate once and for all. But he was surprised that it wasn’t received as a resolution. He is even more upset that deluded liberals (read Arundhati Roy) are no longer on talking terms with him.

“In the Batla House case, which I reported much the same way I had reported so many of the cases they were happy with, it is just that the facts I saw and reported did not mesh with what they wanted to believe.”

This is simply not true. The many stories that deluded liberals approved of, according to, Mr. Srivastava, and which he cites to bolster his own reputation, are in fact very different from his India Today’s ‘story’. His expose on the Red Fort terror attack in Tehelka, for example, critically examined the evidence produced by the police, verified and cross checked the statements made by the accused in court and even brought out the discrepancies in the observations made by the court and its eventual judgement which upheld the death sentence of Md. Arif alias Ashfaq alias Abu Hamad. ‘Wrong Man to the Gallows’ is an example of good investigative journalism, not because it confirms our worst suspicions about the ways in which investigative agencies frame innocents, but because it painstakingly pieces together evidence and doesn’t get swamped under nationalist hyperbole spun by the mainstream media to take a cold, hard look at the evidence.

Similarly, Srivastava himself acknowledges that he worked hard to probe if 13 December was an inside job by the intelligence agencies. In doing so, he followed the lead that four LeT men had been held in Thane a year before the Parliament attack, but were taken away by the J & K Police, never to be produced for their trial in Thane since then. Srivastava says he worked hard to match the details of these four men with the terrorists killed in the attack case. He however had to give up when he could not get conclusive forensic evidence to back up his story.

Compare this now with his Batla House report and “the available facts”.

It was sheer coincidence that I was present at Batla House in the evening the three were picked up, a day after the encounter.

Sure, reporters can get lucky and a good story can literally fall into their laps. No quibble with that.  However, all three whom he supposedly conversed with at the local police station had not even been arrested, “a day after the encounter”.  In fact, Zia and his father, Mr. Rehman, the caretaker of the flat L 18, and the landlord of the flat, had gone to the Jamia Nagar PS voluntarily around noon on 20th September to discuss with them the tenant verification form, which the local thana had verified a few days ago. This surely must be a first for a ‘bomber’.

Md. Shakeel was picked up from his home in Sangam Vihar (about 7-8 kms from Jamia Nagar) in the early morning hours of 21st September and was never taken to the Jamia Nagar police station. So did Mr. Srivastava imagine his presence there?

He writes that he was able to chat up the young men “as no one was guarding the arrested men closely”.  No one was guarding the alleged kingpins of the serial blasts? And instead of trying to escape, they turned to our reporter for a therapeutic heart-to-heart? Moreover, there was no mob like situation at the Jamia Nagar PS that day –as any resident of that area can testify – and the cops were not “trying to hold off the mobs”. Yes, there was public milling about but hardly a riotous mob that would engage the attention of the entire thana, forcing them to neglect their prize catches.

I certainly do know for sure that I heard the three men say what they told me, and they did so freely at the police station shortly after their detention, without the police—in all the commotion—being aware of the conversation.

Free conversations in the custody of the police can only be a sick joke. There are very good reasons why confessions made in police custody are not admissible in court under the Indian Evidence Act. Anti-terror legislation such as TADA and POTA have sought to dislodge the protection afforded to the accused by the IEA. Even in the Kartar Singh v. State of Punjab, which upheld the constitutionality of the TADA, the court did insist that any confession made to police must be recorded “in a free atmosphere.” And as deluded liberals have documented amply, TADA resulted in the detention, torture and human rights violations of tens of thousands. There is no “free atmosphere” in the thana. It is for this reason that the SC threw out even Afzal Guru’s custodial confession.

A calm examination of the facts as presented and claimed by the police and those arrested was necessary.

Certainly, those arrested have pleaded not guilty before the court and sought a trial. Recall also, the interview given by Saquib Nisar on the night of 19th September in the Headlines Today studio, where he denied that Atif Amin, the slain youth, was a terrorist.

The facts gathered by Mr. Srivastava are not admissible in court for examination. Meanwhile the court has calmly examined the facts presented by the police and already discharged one of the arrested, Md. Salman.

Mr. Srivastava could have followed his own lead in subjecting the police claims to scrutiny and would have discovered the gaping holes in their formulation about the ‘encounter’. The fact that the alleged terrorists had submitted their authentic details and address proofs for verification at the local thana; that the police story about terrorists escaping the building which had been surrounded by police could simply not be true; that the pictures of the dead youth – with bullet marks in the back and head – clearly called the bluff of cross fire. The post mortem confirmed this and more—that there were non-fire arm wounds on the bodies of Sajid and Atif (see JTSA report on Batla House, Unanswered Qustions).

Batla House will be invoked—with anger, frustration and in a struggle for justice by the deluded liberals, and cynically, calculatedly by the Congress. There will be no closure till a free and fair probe is ordered into the ‘encounter’. Justice must not only be done, but also must seen to be done. But this would perhaps sound deluded liberal hyperbole to Mr. Srivastava’s ears.

(Manisha Sethi is with the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association.)

From Kafila archives:

9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2012 4:44 PM

    Here is one more journalist with a fairly decent record of untutored reporting who has been compromised and is now as embedded as the some others that we know of

  2. Chris permalink
    February 28, 2012 6:06 PM

    I don’t get it — a journalist goes from Tehelka to India Today — and then he completely loses all respect for his own previous work, for his own profession, and writes such bilge…? And this fellow doesn’t even know the meaning of the word ‘liberal’ — from what angle is arundhati, a self-proclaimed Maoist sympathiser, and an eloquent trasher of indian democracy, a liberal?

  3. Bikram permalink
    February 28, 2012 7:39 PM

    The “expose” on the red-fort case too was almost entirely based on the PUDR report (without even a reference, much less any acknowledgement) released much before his story!
    http://www.pudr.org/content/unfair-verdict-critique-red-fort-judgment
    Although the Tehelka story was updated to include the High Court judgement, virtually all the trial court evidence, statements etc is built on PUDR research. Read the report and then the story, to see for yourself.

  4. sudeep permalink
    February 29, 2012 1:25 AM

    How come I never read any stories about Islamist radicalism on Kafila? Going by Kafilas coverage, one would think that is not a problem at all

    Stories along these lines prove nothing, and mean little, apart from emphasizing that we are now in a post fact world. You can pick and choose your facts, and spin theories around them, based on your political opinions.

    • February 29, 2012 5:55 PM

      Just to remind Mr Sudeep, the policy of ‘pick and choose’ facts and ‘spin theories’ around them, almost never works and collapses under the overwhelming weight of hoax, falsehood and fabricated ‘evidence’. History is full of instances of theories built on such shored up or manufactured ‘facts/evidence’ which on closer scrutiny have crumbled and much more, turned out to be absolute hoax. A classic case is that of the ‘Piltdown Man hoax’ of the early 20th century. Decades later it was exposed to be an act of deliberate forgery; committed by joining together the lower jawbone of an orangutan with the skull of a fully developed modern human. This notable paleontological hoax and forgery was committed to suit a particular human evolution theory. But it did not sustain long.

      If Mr Sudeeo thinks that one can pick and choose facts and spin stories or theories around them to suit one’s political views then in this particular case he is well advised to do so according to his picking of facts and spinning theories around them, based on his political/ideological stream and one will see if such a theory is able to sustain itself against the scrutiny based on ‘the’ hardcore facts.

      • Sudeep permalink
        March 1, 2012 1:27 AM

        Sohaib saab,

        Reading your comment, one would think that the police version of the story is the one that is the conspiracy theory and the version being peddled by Sengupta and Manisha Sethi and JMTA is the widely accepted version. May I be so rude to suggest that it is so, but only in the Kafila echo chamber. :-)

        Even the NHRC has given a clean chit to Delhi police, yet anyone who disagrees with JMTAs version is disregarded and considered to be a part of a giant conspiracy, to kill the two boys and a Delhi police officer, in some sort of a filmy “cleaning house” operation.

        The political implications of this sort of Zid, is that all elements of the Indian state, from the police, to the judiciary, to the press, to the politicians – are against muslims, and its impossible for a muslim “encountered” to get any justice or a fair hearing.

        Yet, there are Congress bigwigs who pander to hardline muslims all the time and even in the case of an extra judicial killing of a known, habitual, violent criminal (Sohrabudding Sheikh), police officers are in prison!

        >> the policy of ‘pick and choose’ facts and ‘spin theories’ around them, almost never works and collapses under the overwhelming weight of hoax, falsehood and fabricated ‘evidence’.

        Even today, a significant portion of the US public, and an even bigger portion of the muslim population believes that 9/11 was done by the CIA/Mossad :-D so dont count out the idiocy of the public at large, especially if it allows them to square their beliefs about their own selves with fairly messy reality. Shuddhabrata and Manisha are our desi ‘loose change’ gang, except the original loose change wallahs were a lot more polished in their presentation.

    • Javed permalink
      March 8, 2012 4:41 PM

      Sudeep,

      Kafila’s focus is a critique of big media and its distortions. And one of the biggest distortions of the last many years is the mainstream media coverage of terrorism in India, which has in no way helped address this dreaded phenomenon with courage and clarity. Crucial and straightforward questions have been drowned in a convenient celebration of the ‘terrorist’. And there has a been a disproportionate projection of the ‘Islamic Radical’ or whatever one chooses to call it, which has obscured the rise of radicalism itself. And this dangerous rise of radicalism cuts across community boundaries. Our country and the world are clearly at risk both from terrorism and its distorted coverage.

      Kafila’s intervention, in my opinion, seeks to make the picture less disproportionate, and helps us engage with the problem in a more balanced way. The notion of a ‘post fact’ world is definitely a serious one. But don’t you sometimes think that is a rather easy way out of the many contradictory assessments of events we read about? I feel that working a little harder on the news we get, does help us go beyond the helplessness of relativism to a certain extent. Isn’t there some hope for justice?

      By the way, following your question, I searched ‘islamic’ on the Kafila website. Check out the results.

  5. March 1, 2012 4:57 PM

    Mr sudeep, to say that the ‘supposed’ conspiracy theory and the “version being peddled by Sengupta and Manisha” is only accepted “in the Kafila echo chamber” is not merely a blatantly impertinent suggestion but belies you absolute ignorance of other realities and fairly widespread critique and questioning of the ‘official police version’ that exists beyond the confines of Kafila; if only you could open your eyes if not your (closed) mind, you would know it.

    Now the second point: one is sick of people like you time and again pedaling the NHRC’s clean chit to Delhi Police, as a proof to bolster their point. NHRC’s clean chit was, and continues to be a sick joke. The NHRC never, ever visited the locality for a fact-finding exercise (a fact, residents of the area vouch) and the commission wrote the report after much dithering, largely based on the reply that the NHRC got from Delhi Police: you only have to compare the Delhi Police reply and the NHRC report to see the reality. And quite interestingly, the NHRC for a few days listed on its website, the Batla House ‘encounter’ in the list of ‘fake’ encounters across the country in 2008. It quickly removed it later for best known reasons.

    Thirdly: why is the government shying away from a judicial probe, if there is nothing to hide and everything was ‘fair’ (?) about the Batla House ‘encounter’. Let us not just probe the how and why the two young boys (Atif and Sajid) were slain but let us also probe how and why did Inspector M.C. Sharma die in spite being hit in the lower abdomen with no critical organs (spleens, kidney, pancreas, lungs, etc) being even grazed by bullets? (as his two and a half page post-mortem report clearly states). Why is the hospital that treated him after receiving bullet injuries refusing to even give his clinical treatment reports to an RTI activist? Surely a lot is sought to be hidden and hence the government’s refusal to order a probe and settle the dust over it.

    So long as the Govt. is obstinate about not ordering a probe into the ‘encounter’, people shall continue to have legitimate doubts about it, notwithstanding your types’ distaste for “desi ‘loose change’ gang” comprising Manisha, Sengupta, et.al. At least we are not badly corroded coins, only fit to be thrown to metal junks’ heap. Hence the absolute idiocy of those who act as unsolicited stenographers of the police and security agencies—bulk of mainstream media and blind-followers like you—shall continue to be questioned and subjected to scrutiny, however much it may make them squirm.

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  1. The Batla House Judgement and the Impossibility of Closure | Kafila

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