Batla House and the problem with the deluded journalist: Manisha Sethi
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:
- 21 February 2012: Delhi Police Special Cell – Encounters, Frame-ups, Impunity: Manisha Sethi
- 14 January 2012: JTSA lists some more ‘genuine’ encounters in Delhi for the Home Minister
- 22 November 2011: JTSA welcomes the SIT report on Ishrat Jahan, demands free and fair probe into Batla House ‘Encounter’
- 24 September 2011: Revealed: The Jihadi Literature that Delhi Police Recovered from the Terrorists They Killed in Batla House
- 21 September 2008: Some Questions About the Delhi Encounter
- 22 September 2008: A Little Less Melodrama and a Lot More Forensics
- 26 September 2008: Shame is a revolutionary sentiment
- 13 October 2008: Some Questions for the Delhi Police and Embedded ‘Journalists’
- 14 October 2008: Was it a recce or a planned raid?
- 15 October 2008: The Jamia Nagar Encounter: ‘Curioser and Curioser’
- 3 April 2009: A Report on the Batla House Encounter
- 11 July 2009: A Tale of Two Encounters: Dehradun and Batla House
- 14 April 2010: Batla House ‘Encounter’: Whom is the JP Trauma Centre Shielding?
- 11 February 2011: Ravinder Tyagi of Batla House (in)fame in yet another frame up!
- 17 July 2011: Delhi Police Solve Mumbai Blasts Case