Bhopal Encounter: Fact Finding Team Trashes Police Version, Says Jailbreak ‘Impossible’

0
Bodies of SIMI members who were killed in an encounter after they escaped from the Bhopal Central Jail, being handed over to their relatives and family members after post-mortem in Bhopal. (PTI photo)
Bodies of SIMI members who were killed in an encounter after they escaped from the Bhopal Central Jail, being handed over to their relatives and family members after post-mortem in Bhopal. (PTI photo)
A nine-member Fact Finding Team from various civil society organizations and institutions visited Bhopal from November 4 to 6 to look into the encounter of 8 SIMI undertrials, as well as the alleged murder of a security guard.  Many mandatory legal procedures were bypassed by the authorities in the entire episode. Post-mortem was done in great haste in the absence of Magistrate which is against the law. FFT did not see any consistency in narratives of different stakeholders and witnesses of the incident. Prize money was declared without going through an official process. The guidelines provided for mandatory investigation of encounter killings provided by Supreme Court were ignored. There were efforts by the police to hide information and not to genuinely investigate it

BHOPAL (TCN) — A nine-member Fact Finding Team (FFT) from various civil society organizations and institutions visited Bhopal from November 4 to 6 to look into the encounter of 8 SIMI undertrials, as well as the alleged murder of a security guard. The team visited the encounter site, spoke to the officials, visited the family of the deceased, and interviewed some of the prime witnesses and investigating officers in the case.

The following are the key points of the findings:

Non cooperation and hostility from MP government

The team received zero cooperation from the police. The team wrote several letters seeking permission to visit the Jail as well as the senior officials of the prison. However, all permission was peremptorily denied. In fact, the police as well as other official tried all means to prevent the team from getting any information. They even tried to dissuade the team from speaking to different stakeholders in the issue.

Members of the FFT also felt that they were being continuously followed. They were also intimidated by people who claimed to be from media. One of these ‘media’ personnel later confessed to one of the member of FFT that he was from Crime Branch.

FFT did not see any consistency in narratives of different stakeholders and witnesses of the incident. Hence, the FFT concluded that it was difficult to believe the popular state version of the murder, jailbreak and encounter.

Questions surrounding Ramshankar Yadav’s Murder:

There are several questions that raise serious doubts about official version of death of Ramashankar Yadav, (the security personnel in Prison) allegedly at the hands of the eight under-trial prisoners. FFT met his family and found that his family was extremely scared and totally unsatisfied by state’s version of the story.

They shared about health issues of Ramshankar Yadav (he was a Heart Patient), his bad relationship with Prison officials, forcing him for night shifts against his wish, the strange and unexplained shift in his duty on the date of incident (He had a day shift on that particular day and not a night one), etc. Interaction with the family convinced the FFT that story shared by official sources could not be relied upon and there is a need of proper investigation.

The most important finding at Ramshankar’s house was that his family is under serious threat from some unknown “media sources”. The family was not just in shock but also under tremendous amount of fear. They told the FFT that they wanted to raise many questions but couldn’t do it and requested the FFT to do so.

Questions about eyewitnesses to murder

Chandan Ahirwal (also a prison security personnel), who was supposedly very good friend of Ram Shankar Yadav is the only eyewitness to the official version of Ramshankar’s murder. FFT was informed through various sources that Chandan was being hidden from media and he is also under serious threat. FFT was informed by one of the officials that he only repeats the fact that he has a nine-year-old daughter and he fears for her security. FFT felt that threat on Chandan was not unrelated to threat faced by Ram Shankar’s family.

FFT also interviewed Investigating officers at the site of encounter who reiterated the official version of the story. FFT found the story unbelievable. For instance, the details of how Chandan was tied down as hostage while his friend Ramshankar Yadav was killed and he didn’t raise alarm for next one hour is difficult to believe by any stretch of imagination.

Police officers and Special Task Force soldiers stand beside dead bodies of the suspected members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), who earlier today escaped the high security jail in Bhopal, and later got killed in an encounter at the Acharpura village on the outskirts of Bhopal, India, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Raj Patidar
Police officers and Special Task Force soldiers stand beside dead bodies of the suspected members of the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), who earlier today escaped the high security jail in Bhopal, and later got killed in an encounter at the Acharpura village on the outskirts of Bhopal, India, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Raj Patidar

Virtual impossibility of jailbreak

Despite repeated attempts, the FFT was denied permission to visit the Bhopal Central Prison. The FFT met an undertrial prisoner who was bailed a week before the incident. He shared details of security in Bhopal Central Prison (along with hand-drawn map of prison layout) and explained that the Jail could not be broken down. He demonstrated to the FFT how it was impossible for someone to escape from Bhopal Prison without anyone taking notice of it. He also told the FFT that there was no point in probing on encounter site as encounter story could be believed only if story of prison break could be proved, which according to him was next to impossible.

Questions about the Encounter site

FFT found that the alleged encounter site was a hill cliff which had a dead end. The site of encounter was neither preserved nor cordoned off. Tampering of evidence could be done by anyone at that site. The marking where dead body was found suggested that all the encountered men were standing very close to each other and seems inconsistent with the official version(s) that they were firing. The FFT felt that if bodies were lying close to each other, there could be only three possibilities,

(1) either they were collectively offering to surrender, or (2) they were collectively challenging to fire (prepared to die) or (3) they were not actually encountered there but were brought there after being encountered somewhere else.

Inconsistencies in eyewitness accounts

FFT also interviewed some of the eye witnesses to the entire episode and there were number of inconsistencies with respect to eyewitness account of timing of the incident, weapons used in the incident, etc. FFT felt that there were certain tutored eye-witnesses whose accounts were similar but when details were asked contradictions became apparent. Also, account of tutored witnesses were not same as that of untutored witnesses. For instance, the account of Suraj Singh Meena (tutored witness) about timing of encounter (11:30 am) was very different from account of another eye witness who said that he reached at 10:00 am sharp and the encounter process was already over.

Some of the villagers shared that a small group of police had initially met the Sarpanch of village, Madan Meena. FFT felt that there was a possibility of connivance between the Sarpanch and the police personnel in planning and fabricating the encounter incident. Many of the videos made by eyewitnesses were deleted from their mobile by police. Some villagers also shared that they were promised a cash reward from the police.

Injuries on the bodies of the victims

The FFT looked at the videos of Dead bodies prepared by family members before their final rituals. The bullet marks suggest that all the bullets were fired from a very close range and above the waist. Proper investigation needs to be done regarding the same.

Families of undertrials

FFT met families of five out of the eight encountered people. Family of the encountered people were extremely scared for their family and children. They feared that rest of their children could also be booked under terror case. Some of the family members have been severely harassed just before and after the encounter. All the eight accused were undertrial prisoners and no terror case was proved against any of them.

Flouting of mandatory procedures

Many mandatory legal procedures have been bypassed by the authorities in the entire episode. For instance, post-mortem was done in great haste in the absence of Magistrate which is against the law. Prize money was declared without going through an official process. The guidelines provided for mandatory investigation of encounter killings provided by Supreme Court were totally breached. FFT strongly feels that there were efforts by the police to hide information and not to genuinely investigate it.

Members of the Fact-Finding Team included:

Ashok Kumari: National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation
Ansar Indori: National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation
Hisham: Solidarity Youth Movement, Kerala
M H Banna: Senior Journalist, Madhyamam Daily
Salman Khan: TISS fellow (Rehabilitation of wrongly prosecuted/Innocents
Swati Gupta: Bastar Solidarity Network
Surya Ghildyal: Research Associate, Quill Foundation
Timisha Dadhich: MA Criminology and Justice, TISS (Student, 2nd Year)
Vipul Kumar: Researcher, Quill Foundation

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here