Bhopal encounter story has only holes, finds legal team
“They were shouting slogans like Hindustan Murdabad, Pakistan Murdabad…they had kishmish (raisins) and dry dates,” said Suraj Meena, a police witness. Don’t be confused. Suraj Meena is not a witness in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack and he is not talking about 26/11.
Meena is the “key” witness to the recent Bhopal encounter where eight Muslim undertrials were killed in an alleged encounter by Madhya Pradesh Police. I have quoted Meena, the most important police witness, from a lengthy recorded conversation he had with a Fact Finding Team (FFT) sent to Bhopal by Quill Foundation, a legal research and advocacy institution based out of Delhi. Their interim Fact Finding Report (FFR) titled “Bhopal Encounter” was released on November 29 and has ripped apart all claims by the BJP government ruling Madhya Pradesh about the encounter of “SIMI terrorists”.
Even a cursory reading of the conversation between Meena and FFT points to the criminal conspiracy by the MP government to cover up the illegal and brutal killing of eight Muslim youth. The FFR exposes the “tutored” and “self-contradictory” “eyewitness” accounts of Suraj Meena and his cousin Madan Meena, the sarpanch of the Khejradev village, where the encounter took place.
“Whenever pointed questions were asked about conversations they had with the escapees, they said they did not understand the language, as it was a foreign language (probably because they thought these “terrorists” came from a foreign country), not realising that most of the escapees were from their native state. While they claimed several times that escapees spoke foreign language, they contradicted themselves by claiming to have heard that “you will get killed if you come near us”, the FFR says.
Suraj’s account of the timing of the encounter is also contradicted by other villagers, who were not “tutored”. “For instance, the account of Suraj Singh Meena (tutored witness) about timing of encounter (11:30 am) was very different from account of another eyewitness who said that he reached at 10:00 am sharp and the encounter process was already over”.
The FFR also questions the premises of the official encounter narrative and the very possibility of jail break itself. “Despite repeated attempts, the FFT was denied permission to visit 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 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 story of prison break could be proved, which according to him was next to impossible”.
When criticism mounted against the BJP and MP government soon after the encounter, both had tried to invoke nationalistic fury by playing up the martyrdom of Ram Shankar Yadav, the security guard killed by “SIMI terrorists”. But FFR demolishes that claim too.
There are several questions that raise serious doubts about the official version of the death of Ram Shankar Yadav, allegedly by the eight undertrials. FFT met his family and found that his family was extremely scared and totally unsatisfied by the state version of the story. They shared about health issues of Ram Shankar Yadav (he was a heart patient), his bad relationship with Prison officials, forcing him to do night shifts against his wish, the strange and unexplained shift in his duty on the date of incident (He had a day shift on that day and not a night one), etc. Interaction with the family convinced the FFT that story shared by official sources could not be relied upon and there is a need for proper investigation.
The most important finding at Ram Shankar’s house was that his family is under serious threat from some unknown “media sources”. The family was not just in shock but also under tremendous amount of fear. They told the FFT that “they wanted to raise many questions but couldn’t do it and requested the FFT to do so”.
FFR report raises another important question about the murder of Yadav by bringing the case of Chandan Ahirwal, another security guard who was employed with Yadav on the day of the encounter. Ahirwal is supposed to be an eyewitness to the murder of Yadav.
“Chandan Ahirwal, who was supposedly a very good friend of Ram Shankar Yadav’s, is the only eyewitness to the official version of Yadav’s murder. FFT was informed through various sources that Chandan was being hidden from media and he is also under serious threat. FFT was informed by an official that he only repeats the fact that he has a nine-year-old daughter and he fears for her security. FFT felt that threat on Chandan was not unrelated to threat faced by Ram Shankar’s family”.
“FFT also interviewed investigating officers at the site of encounter who reiterated the official version of the story. FFT found the story unbelievable. For instance, the detail of how Chandan was tied down as hostage while his friend Ram Shankar Yadav was killed and he didn’t raise alarm for next one hour is difficult to believe by any stretch of imagination.”
FFT also raises important questions about the encounter site. “FFT found that the alleged encounter site was a cliff which had a dead end. The site of encounter was neither preserved nor cordoned off. Tampering of evidence could be done by anyone at that site. The marking where 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”.
The FFR has several details that would establish the official narrative is nothing but a figment of imagination. But as legal scholar Usha Ramanathan pointed out in the discussion followed by the release of the FFR, the Indian state is increasingly showing disrespect towards the Constitution. Can a state which is absolutely becoming insensitive to the Constitution deliver justice to the encounter victims?
Graphics: M Dinesh Singh