Fake Encounter Killings in Gujarat: Background

Today's Hindustan Times carries an opinion piece by NDTV 24x7's Barkha Dutt on fake encounters:

And yet, the cynics among us wondered about the pattern to these arrests and how miraculous it was that each time a terrorist was caught, he always had his passport or identity card on him. Not to forget, the hand-scrawled letter in Urdu faithfully ferried in his back pocket.

No one wants to trivialise the gigantic challenge of battling terrorism or undermine the sacrifice of our soldiers and policemen.

So why is there such a crisis of credibility? Why is it that we don’t automatically believe the men and women we count on to keep us safe?

The problem is that ‘encounters’ have become a military euphemism for murder (Hindustan Times).

On April 24, 2007, three officials in the Indian Police Service (IPS) were arrested in connection with a fake encounter death in Ahmedabad in November, 2005:

The arrests were made by CID (Crime) in connection with the death of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a Madhya Pradesh-based criminal allegedly killed in a gun battle on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on November 26, 2005 during a joint operation by Gujarat's Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and the Rajasthan police.

After killing Sheikh, police had claimed he was an LeT terrorist on a mission to kill senior BJP leaders, including Chief Minister Narendra Modi (The Hindu).

An aside: one of the accused, DG Vanzara, was greeted at the courthouse by Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists and people from his nearby hometown. They shouted pro-Vanzara slogans and garlanded him (CNN-IBN).

As facts emerged, it appeared that Sheikh, along with his wife Kausar and an associate, Tulsiram Prajapati, had been taken off a bus from Hyderabad to Belgaum on the night of November 22, 2005:

Three plainclothesmen carrying guns identified themselves as ‘police’ and barged into the bus. They went straight to the three passengers and forced them to disembark at Tadola village in Bidar, about 20 km from AP. That was the last anyone saw of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, his wife Kauserbi and Tulsiram. All this according to the staff of Sangita Travels on whose bus the three were travelling (Times of India).

In a new report, Inspector General of Police Geetha Johri has managed to piece together what happened to Sohrabuddin Sheikh during the time between his abduction and his death four days later:

Eyewitness accounts in Johri’s report are damning, sources said. A statement by Constable Ajay Parmar, who said he was present when Sohrabuddin was shot, says: "On November 26 at 4 am, Anti-Terrorism Squad officers from Gujarat, including DG Vanzara and RK Pandayan, and Rajasthan Superintendent of Police MN Dinesh... were present at a place between Ahmedabad circle and Vishala circle toll points.

The report says: "constable Ajay Parmar was asked to bring a Hero Honda motorcycle lying in the backyard of an ATS office here. Sohrabudin was also brought here. A sub-inspector of Rajasthan police rode the bike for a short distance and jumped off it. As it fell, Sohrabuddin was pulled out of the car and thrown on the road. Four police inspectors fired eight rounds from their service pistols. Vanzara then asked Parmar to take Sohrabuddin to the civil hospital."

The report also says police officials from Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan were involved in the episode. But Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy said on Tuesday that no police official from his state was involved.

The CID report says Sohrabudin and Kausar, along with a possible third victim, Tulsiram Prajapati, were intercepted in a bus going from Hyderabad to Sangli by Gujarat ATS and Rajasthan police officers late on November 22 night. The couple were then kept locked in a room of the farmhouse called Disha at Jamiyatpura on the outskirts of Gandhinagar, owned by a certain Girish Patel — also a witness in the Johri report — from Nov 24 to 25.

"ATS officers led by Vanzara asked for favours in this encounter as in the past like loaning of cars and houses. He was rarely refused," said a senior police official.

After Sohrabuddin was taken away, Kausar Bi was removed from the farmhouse on the morning of November 26 on the request of the owner. She was last seen in a white Maruti car with plainclothes policemen from Gujarat, the report says (Hindustan Times).

Then, on April 30, 2007, nearly a year and a half after Kausar Bi was last seen:

The Gujarat Government on Monday admitted in the Supreme Court that Kausar Bi, wife of Sohrabuddin, was murdered a few days after he was killed in a fake encounter.

The admission was made in a report submitted to the court in a sealed cover by senior counsel K.T.S. Tulsi.

Though the contents were not made public, it is understood that the State told the court that Kausar Bi was killed, the body burnt in Vanjara village and ashes strewn on the fields.

The police were trying to locate the burnt pieces of Kausar Bi's body so that DNA tests could be conducted (The Hindu).

As for Tulsiram Prajapati, he appears to have been killed in another fake encounter in December 2006:

It was 5 am, a police jeep sped down the road linking Abu Road and Ambaji on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border, hunting for a criminal on the run. A little ahead, three persons first tried to stop their vehicle, then began fleeing and even fired. The police fired back, killing one. The other two escaped.

This is how Tulsiram Prajapati, alias Praful, alias Sameer — a notorious criminal with charges of murder, extortion and kidnapping against him — was killed by the police on December 28, 2006. Like Sohrabuddin Sheikh, Tulsiram’s encounter, too, seems to have been staged (Times of India).

It appears that Prajapati knew what was coming:

Tulsiram Prajapati, a friend of Sohrabuddin Sheikh whose killing in a fake encounter by Gujarat police has led to the arrest of three IPS officers, had written to an Udaipur court that he too feared elimination. Eventually, Prajapati was killed near Ambaji in north Gujarat on December 28, a few days after an interim report by Inspector-General Geeta Johri found that the Sheikh encounter had been faked. Police claimed Prajapati was also killed in an encounter after he escaped from police custody.

Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin, whose petition in Supreme Court led to the arrest of DIG D G Vanjhara and two other IPS officers for faking the Sheikh encounter, told The Indian Express that “Prajapati always knew he was going to be killed. In fact, he had even asked the police why they didn’t kill him with Sohrabuddin”.

Rubabuddin quoted Prajapati as saying that “the only reason they did not kill me with Sohrabuddin was because, being a Hindu, I did not fit into the police story of a Lashkar plot to kill Narendra Modi” (Indian Express).

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From the Indian Express: In a

From the Indian Express:

In a statement to the CID, Gujarat police officer D G Vanzara and SP Rajkumar Pandian are said to have have admitted to killing Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausar Bi in a fake encounter.

According to news reports, Vanzara confessed that Sheikh was killed "because he was a terrorist" and his wife Kausar Bi was killed because she was a witness in the case.

The Rajasthan police said that there was a 'supari' of Rs 6 crore to kill Sheikh.

Vanzara and Pandian have been suspended from service.

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