By Abhishek Jha:
The family members of the 8 alleged SIMI activists, who were shot and killed in an encounter recently, are about to file a complaint at the MIDC police station in Solapur, Maharashtra, Thahavur Khan, one of the defence advocates of the slain prisoners, told YKA on November 3. This will include cases against high-profile office bearers, he said.
The police version of the October 31 encounter, which took place after an alleged jailbreak from the Bhopal Central Jail, has since run into contradictions with questions being raised about the veracity of the claims being made.
Two videos of the encounter, contradictory accounts given by officials as to whether or not the accused were armed, court documents, and defence lawyers– all argue against the police narrative. Despite these questions, both Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and MoS (Home Affairs) Kiren Rijiju have been reiterating that doubts should not be raised since those killed were accused of acts of crime and terrorism.
Such an approach, Prof. Manisha Sethi- who is a member of the Jamia Teacher Solidarity Association (JTSA)- says, mixes up the terms of the debate. JTSA was formed after the infamous Batla House Encounter in 2008 by teachers of Jamia and has since done extensive documentation on false terror cases. Most recently they have supported the questions raised in the Bhopal encounter and raised some of their own in a press statement.
Sethi says that what is being defended is the “rule of law, on which alone democracies can be based. Our Constitution mandates a trial regardless of the charges against the accused” responding to the refrain that one should not defend criminals. Madhya Pradesh CM Chouhan has, for instance, in various manners expressed shock that “dreaded terrorists” are being sympathised with. “It is at the conclusion of the trial that the courts decide the punishment. No one, not the Home Minister, not the Chief Minister, not the DIG, not the jailor, has the power to mete out justice through the gun”. Article 21, she adds, grants the right to life to all citizens, irrespective of what they are accused of, Sethi says.
“Second, there are many who will say today that these Constitutional principles ought not to apply to terrorists. This is a very dangerous argument,” she explains. The reason she cites is this might lead to a slippery slope where, once the principle of the rule of law is eroded, it would not apply to even thieves, pick-pockets, striking workers- “any one in fact whose ‘crimes’ can be shown to be horrible enough“- and eventually to none of us.
Furthering the acceptance of the encounter is the fact that they were allegedly members of a banned organisation. This fact that SIMI was banned, Sethi says, has become a convenient excuse for filing cases against Muslim youth.
“If you were to look at the FIRs in these SIMI cases from Madhya Pradesh, you would realize how they are basically copies of each other: similar charges, similar stories, even identical accused and evidence in different cases. It’s a mockery of the criminal justice system. The same copy of a magazine has been produced in at least 4 different cases across the state, clippings of newspapers carrying reports about SIMI activists arrests, posters and pamphlets of meetings that dated to the time before SIMI was banned – this is the kind of evidence that is produced against these ‘dreaded SIMI terrorists’,” she tells YKA. These cases were recorded in the JTSA report ‘Guilt by Association’ published in 2013.
Chouhan has also reportedly said that he “would have understood” in case the jail guard Rama Shankar Yadav was mourned. Sethi says that the death of the jail guard, Rama Shankar Yadav, is “senseless and condemnable as all violent deaths are“. “Only a free and fair enquiry can establish the course of events that took place in the jail. But alongside there is a question: will the death of the jail guard be used cynically by the police establishment and the ruling dispensation to throw the Constitution into the dustbin?” she asks.
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