The death of Ishrat Jahan and the cover-up that followed

18 February 2016
People carrying the body of Ishrat Jahan from her residence on the outskirts of Mumbai for burial on 19 June 2004
REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe PP/BY
People carrying the body of Ishrat Jahan from her residence on the outskirts of Mumbai for burial on 19 June 2004
REUTERS/Punit Paranjpe PP/BY

On 15 June 2004, four people suspected to be Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives were killed by members of the Crime Branch (CB) of Ahmedabad City Police in an early-morning shootout on the outskirts of the city. Top police officials such as KR Kaushik, who was the commissioner of the Ahmedabad police at that time, and the CB claimed that Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Ghulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were on a mission to assassinate Narendra Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat who is now India’s prime minister, for his alleged inaction during the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Four years later, in September 2009, the Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate SP Tamang was the first to call the incident a “fake encounter.” In his 243-page, hand-written report, Tamang explained how the concerned policemen had abducted the deceased from Mumbai and brought them to Ahmedabad on 12 June 2004, before killing them on the night of 14 June in police custody. According to Tamang, the policemen concocted the narrative of an encounter the next morning. The report concluded that these policemen had committed “cold-blooded murder,” and planted weapons and explosives to implicate the deceased, with the motive of earning the appreciation of the then CM.

Some of the policemen accused in this incident—such as the then Additional Commissioner of Police, CB, and “encounter specialist” Dahyaji Gobarji Vanzara and his then deputy in the CB, Narendra K Amin—have also been implicated in a similar encounter in November 2005, during which the gangster Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were killed. Vanzara and Amin were also accused in the case of the custodial death of Tulsiram Prajapati on 28 December 2006. Prajapati was a witness to Sheikh’s death. Yet, at present, all those who were accused in these cases are out on bail, and most of them have been reinstated.

As for the alleged terrorist links in Ishrat Jahan encounter case, no conclusive evidence has been produced in court apart from rumours based on hearsay and unsubstantiated claims in the media. These include the recent testimony of David Headley, presently convicted in the United States for his role in the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008. In 2010, and on 11 February 2016, Headley identified Jahan as an LeT operative. At the time of her death, Jahan was a 19-year-old student who was pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Science (BSc) student in Mumbai.

On the day of the purported encounter, JG Parmar—then a police inspector at the CB, in Ahmedabad—filed a First Information Report (FIR), detailing the background and the circumstances of the shootout. The report painted an elaborate and graphic narrative. Parmar claimed that on 1 June, KR Kaushik—then Commissioner of Police (CP), Ahmedabad City—received information that three suspected terrorists were on their way to Ahmedabad “to attempt a suicidal attack” on CM Modi. Soon after, on 14 June 2004, at around 11 pm, PP Pandey—then the joint commissioner of police (JCP), CB—received information that a “blue coloured Indica car” carrying three men with firearms and explosives would reach Ahmedabad from Mumbai the following morning. Prompted by this information, DG Vanzara organised “under his direct guidance a light nakabandi (blockade)” at six locations around Ahmedabad.

Ishan Marvel is a reporter at Vantage, The Caravan.

Keywords: Narendra Modi Gujarat David Headley Amit Shah Fake encounter killings