The Batla House encounter: Some disturbing aspects
by J P Sharma on 25 Feb 2010 8 Comments

“I’m aware that I suffer from multiple handicaps as I stand to defend myself and my police force for planning and executing ‘Operation Green Hunt’ against the Maoist insurgents in the dense jungles of Bastar. I’m acutely aware of the truth of a metaphor I flippantly coined many years ago - that in India’s transformed caste system of today, a policeman is a Shudra, someone to be ridiculed, shouted at, spat upon. …And, who are the Brahmins? The Anglophile Indians are the Brahmins - those who write and think in English, those who teach in the colleges of Delhi and other big cities” — Vishwa Ranjan, DGP Chattisgarh


The arrest of Indian Mujahideen fugitive terrorist Shahzad alias Guddu from Khalispur area of Azamgarh district by the ATS team of UP Police has once again turned media spotlight on the Batla House encounter.


It may be recalled that following a series of ghastly attacks in the major Indian cities of Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Delhi etc. by the Indian Mujahideen, the Delhi Police had raided a terrorist hide out at Batla House, Jamia Nagar, Delhi, on 19 September 2008. During the raid, two terrorists, Atif Ameen alias Bashir and Fakhruddin alias Sajid were killed, while a third, Saif, was arrested. Two others, Shahzad and Junaid, managed to escape. 


Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma who led the raiding party was fatally injured and succumbed to his injuries after a few hours. Three other suspects, all belonging to Azamgarh, were arrested by the police two days later. Even though press reports of the disclosures made by Shahzad during his interrogation confirm the story given out by Delhi Police about the terrorists involved in the encounter, the critics refuse to budge from their stand that the Batla House encounter was fake and an enquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court is necessary to establish the truth.


The conduct of the protesters, the politicians, the intelligentsia and the general public, raises some disturbing questions about the implications of such behaviour on the part of radical sections of minorities and their sympathizers for the future of the nation. It is deplorable that our “secular” media has in keeping with its established pattern of reporting, refrained from informing the national audience of many relevant facts.


Batla House and Jamia Nagar


According to a gentleman familiar with the area, the densely populated Muslim dominated Jamia Nagar is a no go area for police and BSES meter readers. Over the years, poor Muslims from UP, Bihar and Bangladesh have been encouraged to settle in the area. One prominent resident is Asif Mohammad Khan, an ex MLC who had spent time in Tihar Jail under a POTA case.


At election time, voter identity cards can be obtained by anybody for just Rs 100, no questions asked. A few years ago, someone engineered a fight with a police constable by deliberately knocking a small copy of the Koran off a thela. The local sub-inspector Sharma and some other policemen who went to help the constable were roughed up by a crowd and Sharma beaten so severely that he barely escaped with his life. Okhla Chowki was burnt down. Shaheen Bagh Chowki became a Thana with all-Muslim staff. Since then, the police keep a safe distance from the whole area. Congress leader Salman Khurshid lives close to Batla House, but has done nothing to stem the rot.


While reporters were covering the live action on the weekend following the encounter, Asif M. Khan was hovering in the area and people had started concocting stories that the police had come around 3 a.m. with 3-4 of those killed, planted them in the flat, and then came back in the morning for the fake encounter. Huge crowds gathered behind the police lines and about midday you could already hear loud anti-police noises. Had the police not been present in strength they would have been massacred. According to a reliable eye witness, while the encounter was in progress, police vehicles were pelted with stones. The crowd also shouted slogans like “Pakistan Zindabad; Hindustan Murdabad.”


It is not that all Muslims of Jamia Nagar are anti-national; the majority is surely peaceful and law abiding and want to get on in life. A small group of extremists, particularly those controlling the mosques, use them for their ends by manipulating the feelings of the poor by instilling them with a sense of victimhood and police excess. For instance, the mosque in Zakir Bagh has been taken over by outsiders and even VIPs like ex Governor Kidwai whose family lives close by, are unable to do any thing against them.


The Ulema Council


The Ulema Council formed in the wake of the Batla House encounter is a body of Islamic clerics of Azamgarh. Some clerics are those whose sons were arrested during the police investigations in to the terrorist attacks. After mobilizing the local population, the Ulema Council announced plans of holding protest demonstrations at Delhi and Lucknow. They hired a train to bring protesters to Delhi. The first act of the Ulemas after boarding the train was to beat the RPF staff on duty and compel them to remove themselves from the train.


On reaching Delhi they held a demonstration at Jantar Mantar. Not many details of their actions are known, but BBC reported that the national flags carried by the demonstrators were held upside down i.e. the green strip at the top and saffron at the bottom. The Ulemas later took two train loads of protesters to Lucknow.


The protest campaign


Immediately after the news of the encounter broke out, a storm of protest was launched by the inhabitants of Jamia Nagar, which others joined with remarkable zeal and energy. The protests took the form of demonstrations, peace marches, petitions to the Government, High Court/Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission etc. The Jamia Millia Islamia Vice Chancellor announced that the University would provide legal aid to the detained students.


The Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group, Delhi Union of Journalists, All India Students Association and some famous and not-so-famous NGOs like People’s Union for Democratic Rights, ANHAD, Sadbhav Mission, Nishant Natya Manch and several human rights and civil liberties activists like Shabnam Hashmi, Javed Anand, Colin Gonsalves, Harsh Mander, Moushimi Basu, individually and collectively lent support to the protest. An Azamgarh based Maulana, Amir Rashadi, started a new organization - the Ulema Council - which as stated, organised local protests and brought train loads of Ulema to demonstrate at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi in February 2009, followed by bigger train-transported crowds in Lucknow.


The protests received wide coverage in the national media. One version prominently publicized, particularly in the Muslim press, alleged that to restore the reputation of the Indian security forces which had been badly mauled by successive terrorist attacks across the country, the Delhi police staged a mock encounter and killed two innocent Muslim boys by falsely branding them as terrorists. To give a semblance of reality to the so called encounter, the police caused some injuries to their own personnel, but clumsily ended up killing Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma.


A constant refrain of the protestors was that the boys killed by the police were innocent. Even after the National Human Rights Commission, which had been asked by the Delhi High Court to enquire into the matter gave a clean chit to the Delhi Police, the protests did not cease; instead NHRC was accused of covering up for the Delhi Police! In fact several leading lights of the protest movement declared that nothing short of an enquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court will be acceptable to them.


Conduct of Political parties and politicians


Political parties keen to capitalize on the slightest chance of winning the support of Muslim voters quickly jumped into the fray. The inimitable Amar Singh, then general secretary of the Samajwadi Party, told a small gathering near a mosque in Jamia Nagar: “Patil kaatil hai” (Shivraj Patil is a murderer).


Union ministers Salman Khurshid and Kapil Sibal supported the demand for an enquiry; Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit was ambivalent while sympathizing with the demands of the locals. Some politicians visited the families of the killed/arrested terrorists to show their solidarity with Muslims. Even after the early February 2010 arrest of Shahzad, Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh visited Azamgarh and demanded a fresh probe into the encounter. There are reports that Rahul Gandhi may visit Shibli College, Azamgarh, as part of the same exercise.  


Demoralization of Security forces


While politicians like Ram Vilas Paswan, Amar Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Yadav were known to be staunch supporters of Muslim organizations like SIMI, it was sad to see ministers of the Union Government and the Congress general secretary express abiding concern for the welfare of families of terrorists and undermining the morale of security forces by questioning the genuineness of an encounter in which a gallant police officer lost his life. 


The Pune blast has once again exposed the lack of preparedness and inability of our security agencies to prevent terrorist attacks. The planning for improving the capabilities of our security forces started soon after the Kargil attack, but even after ten years and despite repeated Jihadi attacks culminating in Mumbai 2008, progress has been poor. With all their inbuilt handicaps, the police forces have been trying to cope with a difficult task rendered even more difficult by political interference in their work for votebanks. Politicians even intercede to get suspects released without proper interrogation.


An extreme instance was the interception of a Rajasthan police team which had arrested a Jaipur blast suspect from Varanasi and was bringing him to Jaipur; the team was intercepted by the UP police at Kanpur railway station and forced to allow the suspect to return to Varanasi (probably fearing an agitation by locals there). The treatment of Taslima Nasreen by Hyderabad police or the arrest of the editor and publisher of the Statesman by the Kolkata police are instances of police helplessness against the clout of radical Muslims.


It is not only the domestic scene that contributes to the demoralization of the police forces. Right from Havana onwards, we have repeatedly made it clear that our tough words against the perpetrators of jihadi attacks are only meant to assuage domestic public opinion; that we are incapable of inflicting any costs on our aggressors, and that our sole strategy for making Pakistan refrain from launching Jihadi attacks against us consists of repeated concessions to American demands in the hope that someday USA will be pleased to exercise its leverage on Pakistan!


Role of the Media


While the agenda and motivations of most of our NGOs, human rights and civil liberty champions are fairly well known, our media performance is a serious cause for concern. Discarding its proper function as watchdog of democracy and informing and educating the citizenry about the vital issues facing the nation, the media has, with honorable exceptions, become a propaganda tool of its paymasters. Selective and skewed reporting is the rule.


According to P Sainath (Hindu 18 Feb 2010): “The ABC of Indian media roughly translates as Advertising, Bollywood and Corporate power. … And, of course, everything but everything, has to be bollywoodised. To now earn attention, issues have to be dressed up only in ways certified by the corporate media. They have to be justified not by their importance to the public but by their acceptability to the media, their owners and sponsors. The more entrenched that ABC gets, the greater the danger to the language of democracy the media so proudly claim to champion.”


Silence of the Intelligentsia


More distressing than the failure of other organs of the state is the meek acceptance of the flawed performance of the state organs and the media by opposition parties, intellectuals and the common citizen. One explanation for the total apathy of the bulk of the population towards developments having a momentous bearing on their welfare could be their mental conditioning by hundreds of years of alien rule, where nothing mattered except being allowed to live. Whatever be the reason, it bodes ill for the future of the nation.


The author is former Addl. Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

User Comments Post a Comment
Comments are free. However, comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate material will be removed from the site. Readers may report abuse at
Post a Comment

Back to Top