I remember the incident very clearly. It was in the morning of a June day in 2004 in hot, happening Ahmedabad, that our reporters informed me that a group of terrorists had been killed by the city cops at dawn. They were on the way to assassinate the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, reporters said, quoting the cops. A little later, photographers brought the pictures of the slain — all lying on the road. Among the slain was a young lady who was later identified as Ishrat Jahan from Mumbra near Mumbai.
It is the picture of the young lady that gave rise to skepticism amongst us. If this was a group of terrorists, what was this innocent looking Ishrat Jahan doing amongst them, was the big question on our minds. She did not look like a terrorist at all. Had these five been bumped off in cold blood, we wondered.
Who Was Ishrat? What Was the Connection Between Her & Pranesh Pillai?
At that time I was the resident editor of the top English daily in Ahmedabad. The next day, our headlines reflected the skepticism, and even the top Gujarati daily had doubts about the veracity of the story dished out by the cops (to the best of my memory). It became big news.
Subsequently it transpired that Ishrat Jahan was a poor girl who used to travel to Thane to study from her home. It was said that she had been befriended by one Pranesh Pillai in Thane. Pillai was a young lad who had married a Muslim girl and had converted to Islam. Information from official sources claimed that Pillai had joined the Lashkar-e- Taiba and wanted to come to Ahmedabad to target Modi for the 2002 Gujarat riots. He had reportedly convinced Ishrat Jahan to join in.
Some contra news also appeared in the press: one item suggested that the duo had been picked up by the Ahmedabad Police in Mumbai and brought to Ahmedabad, where they were bumped off.
Ishrat Jahan Encounter: What Pranesh Pillai’s Father Had to Say
Much later, an interview of Gopinath Pillai, the father of Pranesh Pillai, appeared in the press. In the interview he asserted that Pranesh had taken Ishrat under his wings because the father of the latter, on his death bed, had pleaded for this. Gopinath also revealed that Pranesh was a trained technician who worked in the Gulf. Pranesh had also converted into Islam to respect the wishes of his beloved whom he married.
Sajida, the girl he wedded was from his neighbourhood where he worked before going to the Gulf.
Gopinath was unable to explain what his son Pranesh and Ishrat Jahan were doing together when they were gunned down. But he claimed that the other two young men who were ‘encountered’ along with Pranesh and Ishrat Jahan were from elsewhere.
They were unconnected to Pranesh, but were suggested by the police to be his accomplices.
How UPA Govt Treated Ishrat Jahan Case
The case took interesting turns with the UPA government getting elected to power in Delhi. In 2009, the metropolitan magistrate in Ahmedabad, SP Tamang, ruled that the encounter was staged, thus knocking out the police version. The state government went on appeal to the Gujarat High Court, which set up a special investigations team (SIT). The SIT — in 2011 — said that the encounter was not a genuine one, and the victims were killed prior to the date of the staged encounter.
Those killed were already in custody and were killed in what was a joint operation of the state police and central intelligence.
On 3 July 2013, the CBI, in a charge sheet filed before an Ahmedabad court, said that the shooting was a ‘staged encounter’ carried out ‘in cold blood’. Among those charged were Deputy Commissioner DG Vanjara, Assistant Commissioner GL Singhal, and Inspector Tarun Barot.
Are Judgments Given to ‘Suit the Establishment’?
The Special Director of IB, Rajinder Kumar, could not be charged because the IB director did not give permission for prosecution. Vanjara remained in jail for many years because he was accused in another case — the Sohrabuddin case — in which the latter and his wife had been bumped off.
After going on for a long time at the end of March 2021 the case was closed, because the CBI court said that the act that had been done by the accused had been done in the ‘discharge of their duties’.
End of matter? Is it or not? Or are judgments given to suit political masters whatever be their colour?
Does this mean that in future, the case can be taken up again if a party with a different persuasion comes to office? Meanwhile, the soul of Ishrat Jahan may wail for justice from the other world where she has gone to.
(The writer is the former Resident Editor of the Ahmedabad and later Hyderabad editions of the Times of India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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