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Sunday 18 December 2011

Indian media’s muted response to Ishrat Jahan’s case

Indian media’s muted response to Ishrat Jahan’s case


“Almost two weeks after the encounter that claimed Ishrat's life, along with those of Pune resident Javed Sheikh and two Pakistani nationals,” wrote India’s respected English newspaper, ‘The Hindu on June 27, 2004’, “it is still unclear just what motivated the young college student to join the ranks of the Lashkar.”
The reporter, considered close to privy sources of intelligence and police, wrote further in his report: “That she did so, in at least some peripheral form, seems probable. Evidence has emerged that Ishrat maintained telephone contact with Javed, and that codenames entered in her diary match those in a separate register maintained by her associate” (Praveen Swami: ‘Lashkar fishes in troubled waters’ The Hindu, June 27, 2004).
That the story was concocted and canards spread were finally shown in two investigations done.
On 21 November 2011, the Special Investigation Team, constituted by the Gujarat High Court, probing the 2004 Ishrat Jehan murder case, concluded that the college girl was killed in a fake encounter.
Prior to this report, a judicial inquiry by metropolitan magistrate S P Tamang also concluded the same in his report submitted on 7 September 2009.
Her mother, Shamina, from the beginning asserted that Ishrat was murdered in a fake encounter by the Detention of Crime Branch, of Ahmadabad police in June, 2004. Following this, the Court ordered a judicial probe into the incident.
The story
On 15 June 2004, Ishrat and three others — Javed Ghulam Sheikh alias Pranesh Kumar Pillai, Amjad Ali alias Rajkumar Akbar Ali Rana and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani — were gunned down by the Gujarat police who claimed they were linked to Lashkar-e-Toiba militant outfit and were planning to ‘kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’. The team was led by then Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dhananjay Vanzara, currently in jail for involvement in the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh.
“Little was known about the duo as no one claimed their bodies. But Monday's order established they were Indians, not Pakistanis as the Gujarat cops had claimed.” (TOI, Murdered In Cold Blood, 8 Sept 2009)
“The 2004 police encounter in which Mumbra college girl Ishrat Jahan and three others were gunned down in Ahmedabad was fake and executed in cold blood,” noted the judicial probe in its report on September 7, 2009. The panel was appointed by the Gujarat HC to investigate the encounter. The then Home Secretary of India, G K Pillai had stated that Ishrat was working in the sleeper module of LeT.
However, Magistrate S P Tamang, conducting the probe, said the four victims had no links to Lashkar. The report said the encounter was “planned” and executed “mercilessly” — the victims were shot from a “close range”. The judicial probe has stated that the senior police officers, including the then City Police Commissioner, K R Kaushik, planned the encounter to impress Modi, get promotion and secure their positions.
How Indian media covered it then
The media in India, which claims itself free from the partisan view, at that time gleefully accepted the police version. No one from the media questioned that out of supposed 42 bullets fired by the “terrorists”: Why no policemen were injured. Why no bullet holes were found in the police jeep. “No bullet marks or damages were observed on the road or the divider,” noted the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in its report. The media even remained silent why didn’t the “terrorists” tried to run?
“While members of the group,” wrote Mr Swami, who is considered close to privy sources of intelligence and police, in the sister publication of The Hindu, ‘Frontline’ a weekly newsmagazine, “did indeed plan a suicide-squad attack on Hindu fundamentalist leaders, the mission was monitored by Indian intelligence at each stage, and infiltrated from its outset. It was an intelligence coup: a fiction conceived by an Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) mole in the Lashkar, and authored by his handlers.” (The wages of hate”, July 03 – 16).
In the first report, he said that the assassinators were planning to kill only Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, however, in this news report he changed the tone.
The same writer two years later again changed his stance. On 2 June 2006, ‘The Hindu’ carried a news report by the same writer, “Terror strike on RSS headquarters foiled” in which he goes on to add that the same four members were actually, “Seeking to assassinate the former Union Home Minister, L K Advani, and bomb the Bombay Stock Exchange.”
Two years further the same newsman in the daily ‘The Hindu’ wrote: “In June 2004, the LeT despatched two Pakistani nationals from Jammu and Kashmir to execute a fidayeen attack in Gujarat. Jishan Johar of Gujranwala in Pakistan and Amjad Ali Rana, who hailed form Sargodha, were killed in a along with SIMI activist Javed Sheikh and his friend, Ishrat Jehan Raza” (Ahmedabad blasts: the usual suspects 01 August 2008). Throughout these seven years, the media verdict was against the slain four people. Unnamed sources were used in the stories. The so-called analytical stories on them were not without bias or deliberate distortions. The Indian media blindly followed the State narrative and didn’t questioned the police version.
Muted response to SIT report
Now as the SIT report came out the Indian media didn’t give it much coverage. The prime news gathering agency of India, PTI, in his 21 November report, while describing the finding of  SIT termed it as ‘setback’ to Gujarat government! The premier satellite English news channel of India—NDTV was busy inviting ‘The Dirty Picture’ actor for various shows. Even, Editor, Indian Express, Shekhar Gupta in his ‘Walk the Talk’ show shoed away the Ishrat Jahan topic and got showy with the producer of ‘The Dirty Picture’.
There generally was muted response in print media. The daily English newspaper, ‘The Hindu’ published a banal editorially on Nov 24. Unlike the sustained reportage in the same newspaper by a particular reporter to tarnish the image of 19-year-old lady, the Hindu’s editorial was spineless. It took ‘Indian Express’ nearly two weeks to realise that SIT report is out and what did it came up with? A cautious editorial on the same report on Dec 03.
In the teenage Arushi murder case the Indian media didn’t buy the police version and in fact started parallel investigations. Same happened with the model Jessica Lal case. Both Arushi and Jessica had two things going for them: Both belonged to majority community and came from upper middle class family. Ishrat had no such tag and like millions of Indian Muslims, was vulnerable.
No newsmen thought it fit to question police verdict.  The orphan daughter ran tuition classes and undertook embroidery jobs in Mumbra to support the family income. How would a girl, who migrated from Bihar to Mumbai and was busy with many jobs throughout the day, find time to be a member of LeT? The Indian media even choose to remain silent on how Indian citizens were passed as Pakistani nationals. In fact the Indian media had delivered their verdict against Ishrat and the other three. Her fault was that she didn’t belong to ‘shining’ middle class of India. Worse, she was Muslim who was aspiring to shine in the ‘rising India’. The Muslims cannot do that. They got to die in gutters. A population of 200 million Muslims in India is a dangerous sign. Half a century ago, much less then in numbers, these four worded Muslims partitioned India. They are a nation and they must be oppressed so much that they loath themselves why they were born in India. After all, the majority community of India in 1990s coined the slogan: Babar ki santan: jao Pakistan ya Kabristan.
(Inam-ul-Rehman is a journalist based in Kashmir)

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