Let’s learn the right lessons from the Batla house encounter.
After a long legal battle, a local court in Delhi has delivered its verdict on the controversial Batla House encounter. The court has not only held Shahzad Ahmed guilty of killing Delhi police inspector M.C. Sharma, it has also clearly ruled that the encounter was genuine. Obviously, the legal battle continues as the guilty party would appeal to the higher courts. Nevertheless, there are three clear messages from this rather sordid episode.
First, the verdict is a resounding rejection of the ‘theories’ advanced by the likes of Digvijay Singh and Salman Khurshid who have repeatedly argued that the encounter was ‘fake’. At the time of the Batla House encounter, Delhi was ruled by the Congress government both at the state as well as the central level (as it continues to be the case to this day.) Therefore, Digvijay Singh played a particularly perverse kind of politics in which he claimed that they were merely demanding a judicial inquiry in the encounter while the Congress ‘officially’ disassociated itself from the demands of its maverick leader. For obvious reasons, the Singh-Khurshid duo had little interest in actually discovering what really happened on that particular day; keeping the pot boiling perpetually is what really serves their purpose. (Useful analogy: BJP and the Ram Temple issue.) Not to put too fine a point on it: it was communal politics of the worst kind in which the Muslim community was merely a sacrificial lamb for Digvijay Singh to achieve his political ends. In this endeavor, he was aided by the so-called ‘Muslim leadership’ which specializes in politics of permanent victimhood where the Indian state is always at fault and no Muslims are ever involved in terror attacks. And while these purveyors of victimhood gain followers and public acceptability, who really suffers are ordinary Indians—both Hindu and Muslims. Let’s not mince words here: This isn’t secularism by any stretch of imagination but naked communalism. And it is time Digvijay Singh is called out what he truly is: a communal opportunist who preys and feasts on the fears of ordinary Muslims.
Second, the human rights organizations and particularly the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association (JTSA) need to introspect on their role. The essential argument against these organizations is not that they fight for human rights—a worthy goal in a constitutional republic—but that they believe the Indian state is inherently biased against Muslims. And nothing will convince them otherwise. So if a court judgment establishes that in a particular case Muslims were wrongly accused, then it proves their point. However, if another court rules against terror accused, then it affirms the prejudice of the Indian state! Heads I win; tails you lose. In a country like India where police brutality is unfortunately all too common, an organization like JTSA can play an effective role. However, their attempts to ride roughshod over the judicial process through their own ‘investigations’ is something which must be stoutly resisted. As Ashish Khetan has pointed out, Atif Ameen (one of the suspect killed in the Batla house encounter) was possibly responsible for deaths of over 300 Indians. If JTSA wants to defend Ameen, it is their choice; however then others are as much entitled to draw their own conclusions about it’s credibility. They also must understand that the police are not always the enemy. For instance, the ‘encounter culture’ in India has thrived with the de facto approval of the political class. After all, it is much simpler to encourage trigger happy cops rather than improving their investigative skills or ensuring that the glacial judicial process can move faster.
Third, the police and security agencies in India must introspect why they have such low credibility amongst Indian Muslims (and in the general population as well.) Here’s a starting point: The vast majority of Indian Muslims have no sympathy for genuine terrorists just like the vast majority of Hindus have no sympathy for those accused of setting off blasts in Malegaon. What the ordinary Muslims truly fear is this: That he would be held responsible and an entire community tarred for the terror activities of the likes of Indian Mujahideen. This fear is strengthened when cases like Malegaon merge where ordinary Muslims are incarcerated for years for crimes they never committed.The security establishment must commit to a zero tolerance policy for instances when their officers transgress the limits imposed by the law. More importantly, to the extent it is possible, the security establishment should reflect the demographics of the population they serve; the low percentage of Muslims in the police is an issue which needs to be addressed urgently. This is something police forces all over the world recognize as essential to improving their effectiveness.
As the recent blasts in Hyderabad and Bangalore have demonstrated, the war on terror is an ongoing battle in India. There can be no sympathy—none whatsoever—with those who kill ordinary Indians. In this war, everyone has a role to play from the political class to the police as well as human rights groups. If India can learn the right lessons from the Batla house encounter, the fight against terror would only be more effective.