Muhammad Sajid came to New Delhi with an astronomical aspiration to take admission in Jamia School. When a 17-year-old boy from Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh could not clear Jamia’s entrance examination, he decided not to return to his hometown and instead enrolled in an English-speaking course. Back in the days, being able to communicate in English gave you an illusion that you can dream big. But not everyone can afford the luxury called dreams.

Despite life not going out the way he envisioned, Sajid’s smile was nothing less than radiant. But the morning of 19 September 2008 had altogether a different plan for him. It had a plan for all the residents of Delhi’s Batla House—where Sajid lived in a rented flat—and for Indian Muslims in general.

It was 10:30 AM and Batla house was washed with thick silence. 6 days ago, New Delhi was hit by a succession of bomb blasts and within half-an-hour, it left 30 people dead and over 100 injured. Delhi police’s special cell was picking up Muslim boys—mostly students of Jamia Millia Islamia, in suspicion with their alleged involvement in the blast, across Jamia Nagar. It is home to over 5 lakh Muslims and Batla house is situated there. Detained students and activists underwent hours and hours of the probe and some also faced custodial torture. Most of them were later released as Delhi police had no piece of evidence to validate their suspicion.

A cadre of either 6 or 15 policemen either “cordoned off” Sajid’s flat named L-18 or merely visited it for reconnaissance after Special Cell learned from its intelligence sources that “terrorists” that were involved in the Delhi blast have taken shelter in it. One police source claimed that the special cell visited Sajid’s flat because intelligence sources reported that the “physical appearance” of one of its residents matches with an accused in 2008 Ahmedabad bombings (it turns out Kapro Sai Pehchanna isn’t a new practice after all). When a team of policemen “went up to the flat on the fourth floor” where Sajid lived “and knocked the door”, he and the other “terrorists” residing in the flat started launching bullets at the team, to possibly “evade their arrest”. When the police returned the fire, it killed Muhammad Sajid and his flatmate, Atif Ameen. While one more “terrorist” was arrested, the remaining managed to escape. An inspector of Delhi police’s special cell, Mohan Chand Sharma, also died. He was the only police officer in the operation not wearing a bullet-proof vest.

There are too many eithers and ors in the story as police and media reports contradicted themselves like anything. Whether it be the number of rounds that were exchanged or the “explosive stuff” later confiscated from Sajid’s flat, they were full of contradictions.

A police commissioner claimed that 17-year-old Sajid was the “bomb-maker” and his flatmate Atif was the “mastermind” who was a “key Indian Mujahideen functionary” that claimed the responsibility of Delhi serial blast and “played a major role in the Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad (and) Delhi serial blasts” happened earlier. Atif also hailed from Azamgarh. He was pursuing masters in Jamia Millia Islamia.

report by Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Group titled “’Encounter’ at Batla House” asked some imperative questions that are still unanswered:

  • “Why was the late Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, a veteran of dozens of encounter operations, the only officer in the operation not wearing a bullet-proof vest?
  • According to the press statement issued by Holy Family Hospital on September 19, 2008, X-rays of the chest and abdomen of M.C. Sharma had “not revealed any foreign bodies”. The question remains: what has happened to the bullets fired on him?
  • The police officials claim that an AK-47 and pistols were recovered from L-18. What was the weapon that killed Inspector Sharma? Was the AK- 47 used at all and if so, then by whom was it used? Going by some reports that have appeared (see The Times of India, 20.09.08), the AK-47s have been used by the police only. Is it not strange that alleged terrorists did not use a more deadly and sophisticated weapon like the AK-47, which they purportedly possessed, preferring to use pistols?
  • After the operation ended some policemen climbed on the roof of L-18 and fired several rounds in the air and some were “seen breaking windows and even throwing flower pots to the ground from flats adjacent or opposite to” L-18.. Why were the police firing in the air and why did it indulge in destruction of property around L-18 after the encounter?
  • The four-storey house L-18 in Batla House where the alleged terrorists were staying has only one access point, through the staircase, which is covered by an iron grill. It is impossible to leave the house except from the staircase. By all reports, the staircase was taken over by the Special Cell and/ or other agencies during the counterterror operation. The house, indeed the entire block, was cordoned off at the time of the operation. The building is abutted on the left and right by two buildings which are only about two floors high. There is a narrow lane to the front and an even narrower lane at the back. How then was it then possible, as claimed by the police, for two alleged terrorists to escape the premises during the police operation?”

The full report is a must-read. It rightly notes the contribution of “Azamgarh phobia”—a stereotype that it is a hotbed of terrorism—which explains why all the accused were from Azamgarh. The police’s claim about the Atif and Sajid being overconfident and living peacefully in Batla house was an indirect hint that Batla House is another Azamgarh—a hotbed of terrorism.

Sajid was not buried in Okhla graveyard. His family already faced enough abjection to receive Sajid’s dead body. There was no way they would be allowed to bury his son where they wanted. Human rights conventions just went for a toss there. Scores of Muslims were falsely incarcerated after that. The glaring contradictions made by police and the media reports that made even bigger blunders were endorsed. The Batla House encounter was justified. A Bollywood movie was made on it. But dreams—they remained a luxury for Sajid.

Pro-tip: If you are a Muslim in India, never enrol in an English-speaking course.

Ahmad Khan is a freelance writer and a masters student at Indira Gandhi National Open University.


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWSLETTER


 

Comments are closed.