The case into the fake-encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh has seen the CBI special court in Mumbai discharge 16 accused individuals. Among them are senior officers of the Indian Police Services, such as the former deputy inspector general of police in Gujarat, DG Vanzara, the former superintendent of Rajasthan police, Dinesh MN, and the former superintendent of Gujarat police’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, Rajkumar Pandiyan. Since the trial began, in November 2017, over 90 witnesses have turned hostile. On 21 September this year, the court has summoned a key witness to depose—VL Solanki, a retired police inspector who played a central role in the investigation that led to the arrest of these senior police officials.
Solanki was an investigating officer in the Sohrabuddin case, who conducted a preliminary enquiry, which determined that Sohrabuddin’s death was staged. On the basis of Solanki’s enquiry, the Gujarat Police filed the first chargesheet of the case in January 2007. Three years later, acting on a petition that Sohrabuddin’s brother Rubabuddin had moved six days after the police filed its chargesheet, the Supreme Court transferred the investigation to the CBI. In July 2010, the CBI filed a chargesheet, which accused, in addition to the senior police officials, the then minister of state in the Gujarat home ministry and the current BJP national president, Amit Shah. Shah, too, was subsequently discharged in December 2014, by MB Gosavi, who took over as the presiding judge of the CBI special court after the death of the judge BH Loya. Gosavi passed the discharge order in Shah’s favour in the same month that he began hearing the case.
According to the CBI’s chargesheet, on the night of 22 November 2005, Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati were travelling by a luxury bus from Hyderabad to Sangli, in Maharashtra, when their journey was intercepted by Gujarat and Rajasthan police officials. All three were then taken to Valsad, in Gujarat. While Prajapati was then taken to Udaipur by the Rajasthan police, where he was kept in custody for five days, Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were taken to Disha farm-house, near Ahmedabad. On the night of 25 November, Sohrabuddin was shot dead. The next morning, his wife, Kauser Bi, too, was shot and her body was burnt, and in December 2006, Prajapati was killed as well. Solanki’s investigation was crucial in establishing the chain of events—for instance, he identified key witnesses such as Sharad Apte, a passenger in the bus, who confirmed that Sohrabuddin and Kauser Bi were travelling in it.
In July this year, after the Gujarat police withdrew the protection that had been granted to Solanki and his family, the retired inspector wrote a letter to the Ahmedabad police commissioner expressing fear for their lives and safety, and requesting him to reinstate the security. Solanki also copied the letter to, among others, the director general of police of Gujarat, the director general of Gujarat Police’s Criminal Investigation Department, the Gujarat government and the CBI special court adjudicating the Sohrabuddin case. He asks in the letter, “Should we now believe that the security cover has been lifted to mentally pressurise me and my family with the intention of making us hostile witnesses?” On the eve of his date to appear in court, Solanki spoke to Sagar, a staff writer at The Caravan, about the investigation and findings in the Sohrabuddin case, and the impact the case has had on his life.
Sagar: You have written a letter to the Gujarat police that you and your family’s lives are under threat because you are a prime witness in the Soharabuddin case. What kind of pressure are you going through?