New Delhi: Exposing the lies and falsehood peddled by the Madhya Pradesh BJP-led government and the Police about the alleged Bhopal Encounter, a fact-finding report suggested that it was a pre-planned ‘cold-blooded’ murder of 8 undertrials on the outskirt of Bhopal. The Report, released at the Press Club of India here today, also revealed that the families of victims were being so terrified by the state machinery that they are even hesitant to talk about the killings.
The report on the alleged Bhopal jailbreak and encounter that took place on October 31, 2016, raised many questions regarding the whole bloodthirsty episode. Vipul Kumar of Quill Foundation, and Ansar Indori of NCHRO, who were both part of the Fact-Finding Team (FFT), said it was virtually impossible for the eight inmates to break the high-security jail who were put under separate cells.
Despite repeated attempts, the FFT was denied permission to visit the Bhopal Central Prison. The FFT met an under-trial prisoner who was bailed a week before the incident. He shared details of security in Bhopal Central Prison (along with the hand-drawn map of prison layout) and explained that the Jail could not be broken out of. He demonstrated to the FFT how it was impossible for someone to escape from Bhopal Prison without anyone taking notice of it. He also told the FFT that there was no point in probing on encounter site as encounter story could be believed only if the story of prison break could be proved, which according to him was next to impossible.
Questions at the Encounter site: FFT found that the alleged encounter site was a hill/ cliff which had steep fall/ravine on one side. The site of the encounter was neither preserved nor cordoned off. Tampering of evidence could be done by anyone at that site. The markings where the dead body was found suggested that all the encountered men were standing very close to each other and seems inconsistent with the official version(s) that they were firing. The FFT felt that if bodies were lying close to each other, there could be only three possibilities, (1) either they were collectively offering to surrender, or (2) they were collectively challenging to fire (prepared to die) or (3) they were not actually encountered there but were brought there after being encountered somewhere else.
Inconsistencies in eyewitness accounts: FFT also interviewed some of the eye witnesses to the episode and found a number of inconsistencies with respect to the timing of the incident, weapons used in the incident, etc. FFT felt that there were certain tutored eye-witnesses whose accounts were similar but when details were asked, many contradictions became apparent. Also, accounts of tutored witnesses were not same as that of untutored witnesses. For instance, the account of Suraj Singh Meena (tutored witness) about timing of encounter (11:30 am) was very different from account of another eye-witness who said that he reached at 10:00 am sharp and the encounter process was already over. Some of the villagers also shared that a small group of policemen had initially met the Sarpanch of the village, Madan Meena, who is also a prime witness, raising the possibility of connivance between the Sarpanch and the police personnel in the entire incident.
Ramshankar Yadav’s murder: According to the official version, Ramshankar Yadav was killed by the 8 accused while they were escaping. When the FFT visited the family, they found that not only were the families grieving but also in fear- claiming that they were being threatened by ‘media sources’. The family also conveyed that they were not entirely satisfied with the official version of his death, but were afraid to raise questions.
Addressing the press conference, Prof Manisha Sethi of JTSA said ‘the way the MP police dealt with particular sections of people after SIMI was banned. More than 89 cases were made against Muslims in, and all of them were cases of conspiracy which were only about ‘banned literature’. And these banned body of literature were school textbooks, sometimes, legal magazines, and children’s books in Urdu. Interestingly Delhi Urdu Academy’s children magazine, ‘Umang’ presented as incriminating evidence. So the eight alleged SIMI people that you hearing, are mostly undertrials in cases pertaining to literature and not of real violence’.
She underlined that one Aqueel Khilji, who was one of them killed in the ‘encounter’ was convicted in one case on low-grade evidence by a trial court. The case of all other undertrials was also identical as they were charged under clauses 10 and 13 of the UAPA which deal having an association with a proscribed organization.
Strongly criticizing MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for his ‘Biryani’ remarks, Independent Legal Scholar Usha Ramanatha said it speaks very, very poorly and extremely worrying.
It is the worst kind of impunity as the State is running amok as well the police are running amok.
“How the criminal law is moving from punishing criminals to basing itself entirely on what you are reading, thinking, and even who you are and that the state is increasingly becoming criminalized, and is refusing to follow procedures and established constitutional principles”.
She gave the example that in political cases- especially like this encounter- the following of rule of law tests how much belief we have in our constitution. Hence this majaritarianism is not just acceptable’
Adv Sarim Naved, who has been fighting terror cases, drew attention to ‘other similar cases that have taken place in the recent past, and pointed out ‘the legalities involved in a high-security prison, and how difficult it is even for lawyers to meet terror accused.
There are several layers of security and procedure. Hence, even at the very first glance, the narrative of the encounter seems very implausible legally’, Naved adding that out of 16 guidelines set up by the Supreme Court, not single one was followed by the MP Police in this case.
The fact-finding team consisted of Ashok Kumari (Research scholar at Delhi University), Ansar Indori (NCHRO), Hisham (Solidarity Youth Movement, Kerela), M H Banna (Senior Journalist, Madhyamam Daily), Salman (Criminal-justice fellow, TISS), Swati Gupta (Bastar Solidarity Network), Surya Ghildyal (Research Associate, Quill Foundation) Timisha Dadhich (MA Criminology and Justice, TISS) and Vipul Kumar, Researcher, Quill Foundation.