Spent bullet casings weren’t among items recovered from a place on the outskirts of the Madhya Pradesh capital where police gunned down eight members of the banned group, SIMI, on Monday after they escaped from prison.
This missing item from the inventory is important to prove the police account that the prisoners fired at the policemen searching for them after the jailbreak and they were killed in retaliatory firing.
The BJP government in the state defended the police action, which human rights campaigners and opposition leaders called a staged, extra-judicial murder.
Police said three of their men suffered pellet wounds, though details were not revealed. Also, police records show four homemade pistols and three knives, allegedly carved out of kitchen utensils, were recovered from the slain SIMI men.
But eyewitnesses gave conflicting versions of the alleged shootout in Khijradev village, about 15km from Bhopal central jail.
Some villagers said both sides shot at each other, others claimed the fugitives threw stones and shouted anti-India and pro-Islamic slogans, but never fired shots.
“They pelted stones and were shouting slogans. Then they ran into the thickets,” said Rakesh Meena, a resident of the area.
A video that purportedly shows the SIMI operatives atop a hillock, waving hands, fits the narrative.
Another villager said a gunfight ensued as the SIMI men fired at police and started pelting stones.
Also, a knife recovered from one of the slain men is among a raft of unanswered questions.
Police recovered a crude, sharp weapon that the prisoners allegedly used to slit the throat of jail warder Ramashankar Yadav before they climbed a 30-feet perimeter wall and escaped.
The weapon was allegedly found on one of the slain men, but media reported its discovery and details three hours before police said they had tracked down the fugitives and killed them.
Then, a purported video of the shooting emerged, showing policemen recovering a sharp metallic object from a slain man. The weapon fitted the description of the knife reported by TV channels.
The video showed a man, probably policeman, reach straight for the knife inside the dead man’s shirt — almost as if he knew where to find it.
Questions arise about how was it possible to know Yadav was killed with a knife made out of kitchen utensils even before any such weapon was found.
The prisoners chose to scale a stretch of the outer wall that was next to a watch tower manned by two sentries round-the-clock, who were from the special armed force of state police.
The Bhopal central jail has two concentric circles with an outer wall and a 12-feet inner barrier. Barracks are inside the inner perimeter, making it nearly impossible to escape undetected. The jail has more than 2,000 prisoners and hundreds of guards and watch towers.
What’s more, the ISO-9001-2015 certified jail has a D-shaped top; deliberately made to not support any hook.
After crossing the first perimeter, they successfully crossed at least 200 meters of well-lit distance between the two walls before scaling the last. Curious enough, the jail surveillance cameras weren’t working either.
This cuts both ways – because it might have helped the jailbreak or anyone trying to herd out the eight men.
Parvez Alam, the advocate for the slain SIMI activists, said: “Four of them were near acquittal and it defies logic to believe they would do something like this. And, whoever arranged for a shaving kit and good clothes could have also arranged for a cab to escape. We will go to high court for an independent inquiry.”