Coming in the wake of the Delhi High Court bomb blast on September 7, the third anniversary of the 2008 Batla House encounter on September 19 was no ordinary remembrance. A quick recap: there was an alleged encounter between suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists in the Batla House locality in Jamia Nagar, Delhi, in which two suspected terrorists, Atif Amin and Mohammad Sajid were killed. Three other suspects, Mohammad Saif, Zia-ur-Rehman and Zeeshan, were arrested from the Jamia area, and numerous others taken into custody from other locations in India. Delhi Police inspector and acknowledged 'encounter' specialist Mohan Chand Sharma who led the police action was also killed during the incident.
There was a sense of outrage among locals and protests were organised by civil society groups and a section of teachers from the Jamia Millia Islamia. As fresh versions of the encounter began to appear in the papers, political parties jumped into the fray with the Samajwadi Party and the BSP demanding a judicial enquiry. Strangely, a judicial enquiry was denied.
Governments often accede to requests from pressure groups for a probe into such actions. So why was a judicial enquiry denied into the Batla House encounter? This isn't about whether the encounter was 'genuine' or not. This is about Delhi being exposed to a series of bomb blasts and the ensuing leads that led the police to L-18 Batla House. Three lives were lost and many are in jail with little hope of redemption.
After the public demand for a judicial enquiry, the local police travelled through India and apparently found connections to those arrested with criminal/terrorist activities in places including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. A number of cases were filed against them in different states. Since it would be difficult to club these cases and try them in a single court, the cases will probably never be concluded.
The country needs to know the true, full story. Were these real terrorists? If so, who were behind them? Who provided them local shelter and weapons? How did they hide all this in a crowded locality living cheek by jowl with neighbours? Have their deaths and incarcerations been based on flawed information and evidence? Also, what legal or constitutional sanction do 'encounter' specialists have? These are serious questions that need to be asked and answered.
The judicial enquiry would not only bring us closer to the truth but it would also provide a balm to many. Meanwhile, the 'Batla House encounter' continues to stigmatise an entire community. Fast-food chains refuse to deliver to Jamia Nagar and taxis often refuse a booking from the area. The general apathy of the police and civic authorities often leads residents taking the law into their own hands. This is evident from the illegal constructions, the senseless digging of tube-wells for homes (and for the illegal constructions), and the general lack of civic discipline that pervades this area.
In a way, Batla House has become a manifestation of the general sense of apathy and malaise that pervades the rest of India.
(Najeeb Jung is vice-chancellor, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal.)