Her family recalled her patriotism, the Gujarat government insisted she was a terrorist and political parties called for Chief Minister Narendra Modi's resignation. The death of Mumbai collegian Ishrat Jahan five years ago continued to polarise on Tuesday, a day after a court report said she was killed in a "fake encounter".
Undeterred by the report of Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang that 19-year-old Ishrat and her three friends were gunned down in cold blood by Ahmedabad Police's Crime Branch (Detection) on June 5, 2004 in a "fake encounter", the Gujarat government insisted they were terrorists.
According to the 240-page report, the four -- Ishrat Jahan, Javed Ghulam Sheikh alias Pranesh Kumar Pillai, Amjad Ali alias Rajkumar Akbar Ali Rana and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani -- were not linked to any terror group.
State government spokesperson and cabinet minister Jay Narayan Vyas told reporters that the inquiry report was "bad in law and so the state government will challenge it".
Backing what the police had said at the time, the government also maintained that the four were Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives who had been tasked to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and organise terror attacks in India.
The Gujarat government spokesperson said magistrate Tamang's inquiry was bad in law for two reasons.
"One, the process of natural justice demands that the accused should be given an opportunity to reply but no such opportunity was given. Secondly, since the high court had constituted a team and gave time to it till November, it was not fair that any other judicial officer also inquired into the case," Vyas said.
He sought to cite an affidavit of the union ministry of home affairs filed in the Supreme Court to insist that the four had links with the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Reading out from the affidavit, Vyas said a mouthpiece of LeT, Ghazwa Times, had said soon after the encounter that Ishrat Jahan was an activist of the terror outfit.
While the Gujarat remained adamant in its stance, Ishrat's family, still coming to terms with the enormity of the death and the fact that she had been branded a terrorist, spoke out to demand the sternest punishment possible for the guilty policemen.
"She was as patriotic and loved the country as much as you and we do," said an impassioned Nusrat, Ishrat's younger sister.
"We are happy that finally the blot on our family has been erased and she has been proved innocent," the 22-year-old said, adding that the family knew right from the beginning that her killing was a "conspiracy".
Her mother Shamima Jahan added tearfully that Ishrat's killing had branded their entire lives and affected the job and educational prospects of her six other children.
With the terrorist slur finally being removed, "our lives can come back on track", she said.
Ishrat, a resident of Mumbra suburb in Thane district, was a second year B.Sc student at Mumbai's Guru Nanak Khalsa College. Having lost her father two years before her death, she embroidered clothes and gave tuitions to help support her family of eight -- including her mother and six brothers and sisters.
Political parties, with the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), reacted with outrage to the magistrate's report nailing the state government's lie and demanded Modi's resignation.
The Congress said there was a "a man eating government in Gujarat".
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari also appealed to the Supreme Court and Gujarat High Court to "take suo motu cognizance of all the encounter killings between 2001 and 2009 where there are allegations of fake killings".
"This is inhuman, if a proper investigation is done then many more skeletons will come out," Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily told IANS.
"Given the spate of illegal encounter killings which took place under the encouragement of the state government, Narendra Modi should take moral responsibility and quit office," the CPI-M politburo said in a statement.
BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, however, said that the central government had accepted that Ishrat was a terrorist.
"The Gujarat government has also said it was a correct, legally required encounter," he said.