3 years

BATLA POINT

Open’s Response to an Investigation Bias Charge

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The Investigation Bias • That’s Why ‘Deluded Liberals’

The Investigation Bias

Mr Srivastava could have subjected the police claims to scrutiny

Mihir Srivastava is very upset that the debate on Batla House refuses to die down. In his view, his piece in India Today—‘Inside the Mind of the Bombers’—appearing soon after the ‘encounter’ should have settled the debate once and for all. But he was surprised that it wasn’t received as a resolution. He is even more upset that ‘deluded liberals’ (read Arundhati Roy) are no longer on talking terms with him.

‘In the Batla House case, which I reported much the same way I had reported so many of the cases they were happy with, it is just that the facts I saw and reported did not mesh with what they wanted to believe.’

This is simply not true. The many stories that ‘deluded liberals’ approved of, according to, Mr Srivastava, and which he cites to bolster his own reputation, are in fact very different from his India Today ‘story’. His exposé on the Red Fort terror attack in Tehelka, for example, critically examined the evidence produced by the police, verified and cross-checked the statements made by the accused in court and even brought out discrepancies in observations made by the court and its eventual judgement which upheld the death sentence of Md Arif alias Ashfaq alias Abu Hamad. ‘Wrong Man to the Gallows’ is an example of good investigative journalism, not because it confirms our worst suspicions about the ways in which investigative agencies frame innocents, but because it painstakingly pieces together evidence and doesn’t get swamped under nationalist hyperbole spun by the mainstream media, to take a cold, hard look at the evidence.

Similarly, Srivastava himself acknowledges that he worked hard to probe if 13 December was an inside job by intelligence agencies. In doing so, he followed the lead that four LeT men had been held in Thane a year before the Parliament attack, but were taken away by the J&K Police, never to be produced for their trial in Thane since then. Srivastava says he worked hard to match details of these four men with the terrorists killed in the attack case. He however had to give up when he could not get conclusive forensic evidence to back up his story.

Compare this now with his Batla House report and ‘the available facts’.

‘It was sheer coincidence that I was present at Batla House the evening the three were picked up, a day after the encounter.’

Sure, reporters can get lucky and a good story can literally fall into their laps. No quibble with that.  However, all three whom he supposedly conversed with at the local police station [PS] had not even been arrested, ‘a day after the encounter’.  In fact, Zia and his father, Mr Rehman, the caretaker of the flat L-18, and the landlord of the flat, had gone to the Jamia Nagar PS voluntarily around noon on 20th September to discuss with them the tenant verification form, which the local thana had verified a few days ago. This surely must be a first for a ‘bomber’.

Md Shakeel was picked up from his home in Sangam Vihar (… 7-8 km from Jamia Nagar) in the early morning hours of 21 September and was never taken to the Jamia Nagar police station. So did Mr Srivastava imagine his presence there?

He writes that he was able to chat up the young men ‘as no one was guarding the arrested men closely’. No one was guarding the alleged kingpins of serial blasts? And instead of trying to escape, they turned to our reporter for a therapeutic heart-to-heart? Moreover, there was no mob-like situation at the Jamia Nagar PS that day—as any resident of that area can testify—and the cops were not ‘trying to hold off the mobs’. Yes, there was public milling about, but hardly a riotous mob that would engage the attention of the entire thana, forcing them to neglect their prize catches.

‘I certainly do know for sure that I heard the three men say what they told me, and they did so freely at the police station shortly after their detention, without the police—in all the commotion—being aware of the conversation.’

Free conversation in the custody of the police can only be a sick joke. There are very good reasons why confessions made in police custody are not admissible in court under the Indian Evidence Act [IEA]. Anti-terror legislation such as TADA and POTA have sought to dislodge the protection afforded to the accused by the IEA. Even in Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab, which upheld the constitutionality of TADA, the court did insist that any confession made to the police must be recorded ‘in a free atmosphere’. And as ‘deluded liberals’ have documented amply, TADA resulted in the detention, torture and human rights violations of tens of thousands. There is no ‘free atmosphere’ in [any] thana. It is for this reason that the SC threw out even Afzal Guru’s custodial confession.

‘A calm examination of the facts as presented and claimed by the police and those arrested was necessary.’

Certainly, those arrested have pleaded not guilty before the court and sought a trial. Recall also, the interview given by Saquib Nisar on the night of 19 September in the Headlines Today studio, where he denied that Atif Amin, the slain youth, was a terrorist.

The facts gathered by Mr Srivastava are not admissible in court for examination. Meanwhile the court has calmly examined the facts presented by the police and already discharged one of the arrested, Md Salman. 

Mr Srivastava could have followed his own lead in subjecting the police claims to scrutiny and would have discovered gaping holes in their formulation [of] the ‘encounter’. The fact that the alleged terrorists had submitted their authentic details and address proofs for verification at the local thana; that the police story about terrorists escaping a building that had been surrounded by police could simply not be true; that the pictures of the dead youth—with bullet marks in the back and head—clearly called the bluff of ‘crossfire’. The post mortem confirmed this and more—that there were non-fire arm wounds on the bodies of Sajid and Atif. (see http://bit.ly/batlahouse-encounter).

Batla House will be invoked—with anger, frustration and in a struggle for justice by ‘deluded liberals’, and cynically, calculatedly by the Congress [too]. There will be no closure till a free and fair probe is ordered into the ‘encounter’. Justice must not only be done, but also [be] seen to be done. But this would perhaps sound deluded liberal hyperbole to Mr Srivastava’s ears.  

- Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association

Counterpoint: That’s Why ‘Deluded Liberals’

They are using the police version, which they refuse to believe, to challenge my version of events

When I used the term ‘deluded liberals’, I alluded precisely to the kind of thinking that this letter reflects. It is indicative of those who form an opinion in disregard of facts, who jump to conclusions not backed by the evidence at hand.

Let me provide a para by para rebuttal of the lies penned in this letter. 

At no point does my article suggest that I am upset that the Batla House debate refuses to die down, rather I explicitly state that this is now a matter before the court and will be settled there. What I have argued, and I would suggest those who have written the response actually go back and read the article carefully, is that my article reported facts that were difficult to reconcile with the opinion that these deluded liberals had already formed. Unable to contest the facts, they tried to pin a label on me, something that they clearly have not given up on. As for Arundhati Roy, again this reflects how easily they play with facts; it is not Arundhati who stopped talking to me, rather it is I who stopped talking to her.

Those who have composed this letter have set themselves up as arbiters of what is right and wrong without admitting they are partisan players in this game. And this takes us to the heart of their argument. They refuse to buy my claim that I spoke to the three men named in the story. And how do they go about doing this? By quoting the police version! So it seems that I was working in tandem with the police but was far too stupid to ensure a version consistent with the police claim. The truth is that I met those three men at the police station—and later during the press conference called by the South District police to announce their arrest—of my own initiative. If the police version contradicts this claim, so much the worse for the police version. It is not my job to bolster the police case, it never was, but of course I am dealing with the deluded.

If these people were honestly concerned with the truth, they should be asking the police the questions they have asked me. When I refer to the other cases I investigated, this is what they did: took my reportage at face value and questioned the police. Why they don’t do the same here is because to do so would put a question mark over their own belief about the incident. Which is why, once again, they desperately seek to knock my observations through hypothetical arguments. Not one establishes the falsehood of my version of events. Instead, they impute motives, make snide suggestions and offer no evidence.

Some of the claims here are plain silly. Consider this bizarre statement—‘And instead of trying to escape, they turned to our reporter for a therapeutic heart-to-heart?’ Again, my article is clear, they had been brought to the police station by the police; at that point they had not been officially arrested. How does the question of escaping arise?

They proceed from hypothesis to manufacturing words that I did not use. Where did I say the mob was riotous? I did say that the cops were busy preventing a mob of people gathered there from entering the police station.

They then use the term ‘confession’. No confessions were made to me by anyone. I struck up a conversation with the three men. They were not being interrogated when I met them. If anything, they should be asked why they felt the need to tell me what they did. Perhaps they felt the need to vent pent up emotions. They said so ‘freely’ because there was no police involvement in this conversation. Just terming it a ‘sick joke’ is exactly the kind of ad hominem attack these people have specialised in. It in no way counters the truth of what I wrote.

Just to exemplify the delusional thinking that has gone into the claims made by these people, let me subject their ‘gaping holes’ to the same scrutiny they try and bring to other accounts.

‘The fact that the alleged terrorists had submitted their authentic details and address proofs for verification at the local thana’ How does that preclude an actual encounter?

‘That the pictures of the dead youth—with bullet marks in the back and head—clearly called the bluff of crossfire.’ As those who have written the letter well know, the same pictures can be interpreted in an absolutely different manner much more convincingly. If they would have only bothered to talk to the policeman injured in the encounter, they would have obtained a version far more plausible than the one they have tried to concoct.

‘The post mortem confirmed this and more—that there were non-fire arm wounds on the bodies of Sajid and Atif.’ This does not in any way show that the encounter was fake, all it indicates is that there was a scuffle before the gunbattle happened. Look at the accompanying picture of MC Sharma closely: a shoe is missing. Presumably this is a new tactic by the police to engineer a fake encounter: shoot a senior cop in the back and chuck away a shoe.

‘Batla House will be invoked—with anger, frustration and in a struggle for justice by deluded liberals, and cynically, calculatedly by the Congress.’ By all means continue to struggle for justice. Just do not sacrifice facts while doing so.

- Mihir Srivastava