Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Batla House Encounter: Unanswered Questions.

The 19th of September this year was special for the people of the Batla House area and the university of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. It was the first anniversary of the infamous Batla House encounter which took place a year ago in the L-18 building of the area. Delhi Police, in the encounter, shot down two Jamia students, Atif and Sajid in cold blood, claiming they were terrorists. Superintendent of Police (SP) Mr. Mohan Chand Sharma lost his life in the encounter. But this encounter left many unanswered questions which left a deep suspicion in the minds of many people.

As one year has passed by, we got to see that people gave mixed reactions to this incident. In Batla House, people were angry and cried foul over the actions of the police and the government. While many others mourned the day for the martyrdom of Mr. Mohan Chand Sharma. Posters praising the bravery of the late SP and the importance of the encounter could be seen in many areas of the city. The Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association and the All India Students Association (AISA) came out with a torchlight rally in Batla House on 18th September to mark the eve of the encounter.

The most noticeable thing about the encounter was the trail of unanswered questions it has left behind. The clean chit given to the Delhi Police by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has further left people fuming. And even the court has not given any definitive judgement to the case. In this scenario, are worth to be noted two RTIs (Right to Information) appeals which were filed last month. Afroz Alam Sahil, an RTI activist, filed two RTIs on the 12th of August seeking information from the NHRC and the authority of Jamia. But the replies to these two RTIs have not been given till date. And it is to be noted here that it is mandatory to give a reply to an RTI in a period of one month even if the reply is no.

One RTI had been directed to the Jamia authority about their stand on the matter of the students who had been arrested in this case. Last year, the ex-Vice-Chancellor of Jamia, Prof. Mushirul Hassan had talked of giving legal aid to the ones who had been arrested in this case. For this purpose a sum of money was collected by the students. But till date there has been no report of any legal aid given by the university. The RTI had questions relating to the number of students arrested in connection to this case and also if Jamia had taken any action against them. It also asked questions relating to the current status of the legal aid that Prof. Hassan had talked of giving. It asked questions like how much money had been spent on it and if not, then what was delaying it?

The second RTI was directed towards the NHRC. Ever since the NHRC had given the clean chit to Delhi Police in the case, its style and methods of workings have been questioned by people. This RTI asked questions which ranged from the Commission’s working patterns in investigating this case to the loopholes that had crept out in the results of their investigations. It had questions as whether the NHRC met witnesses and families of the victims and also whether they examine they examined the place of encounter. It seeked names of the witnesses that were talked to and also the names and designations of those who were members of the team investigating the case. Here again, two very important questions were raised. Firstly, there was no magistrate enquiry in the Batla House Encounter case even though this is mentioned in the NHRC guidelines. Secondly, Mr. Mohan Chand Sharma had reportedly got medical aid in five minutes after he was shot. Then how did he die of excessive bleeding?

Questions like these raise serious doubts about the authenticity of the encounter. Residents of Batla House and the Jamia fraternity swear by the fact that Atif and Sajid were innocent students who became victims of the conspiracy of the police and the government. But what really was the scene can only be speculated till some new findings come out. The questions that are asked are not just relevant in the matter of a cover-up by the police. It is more about the way the minorities in India are treated by the establishment to hide its own failures. It is also about the trust that the students of a university expect from the authorities once they are promised.
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