Few cases have raised the emotional pitch quite as much as Ishrat Jahan's killing at the hands of the Gujarat police nine years ago. And this is perhaps why it has been so difficult to arrive at the truth.
The encounter killing of Ishrat and three others who were supposed to have been Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives out of kill chief minister Narendra Modi was once touted as an achievement of the Ahmedabad crime branch and Intelligence Bureau officials.
Now, it turns out, according to the CBI investigation, it was actually a planned and fake encounter specifically aimed at framing the four young people. Predictably, many have sought to make this a Hindu-Muslim issue and a BJP vs Congress issue.
It is none of these. It is a damning case of the police and intelligence officials not having followed the letter and spirit of the law. Such is the public aversion to ‘terrorists' that questions are rarely asked if people with purported extremist links are killed in ‘encounters'.
But encounters of the sort we have witnessed in Mumbai when the police were taking on the underworld or in Punjab when the police were hunting down militants or in Kashmir where this happens very often are nothing more than extra-judicial killings.
The ‘terrorists' who are killed are considered so much beyond the pale that few people question as to why the law has been flouted and murder has been sanctioned.
Often the innocent fall through the cracks as has apparently happened to Ishrat Jahan and the three others. It would now appear that Ishrat and her associates were abducted, drugged and killed and evidence planted on them.
There will be many arguments about the interpretations of the many communications between the police and politicians, but the main issue is that we cannot, as a functioning democracy, give any sanction which legitimises unlawful killings.
In the case of many of the Mumbai encounter killings for which many policemen were feted, it later turned out that some of them were acting at the behest of vested interests.
Instead of getting into a political slugfest, the important thing here is to put an end to these kinds of operations that are beyond the scope of the law.
And if the CBI chargesheet is borne out, the next issue would be due restitution for the families who have suffered the loss of face and the loss of their loved ones all these years.
Those guilty of sanctioning and carrying out the killings should not be allowed to get away on technicalities for if the findings are borne out as the judicial process gets underway, this is nothing short of cold-blooded murder. There can be no exceptions in the law and this is a test case for that.