In a huge setback to the Gujarat government, court-appointed investigators Monday concluded that college girl Ishrat Jahan and her three friends were murdered by the state police in a staged shootout and later passed off as militants.
The conclusion by the special investigation team (SIT) probing the 2004 killings prompted the Gujarat High Court to order a fresh complaint against the accused police officers for the murder under Section 302 that covers the death penalty.
The court-appointed SIT, headed by police officer R.R. Verma, said that Jahan, a 19-year-old girl from Mumbai, Javed Sheikh alias Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were killed earlier than the shootout date of June 15, 2004.
They were shot dead on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in a private car. Police claimed that they were linked to the Lashkar-e Taiba terror outfit and were in the city to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.
A total of 21 policemen, including four Indian Police Service (IPS) officers – then joint commissioner P.P. Pande, suspended deputy inspector general D.G. Vanzara, then assistant commissioner G.L. Singhal and assistant commissioner N.K. Amin – were involved in the staged shootout.
The court didn’t divulge details of the SIT report because it would prejudice and hamper further investigations.
The court is to decide now on which agency will conduct further probe into the case. It sought suggestions from petitioners and the state government on whether to entrust the job to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or the National Investigation Agency (NIA)
“The probe agency needs to find out who played the key role in the encounter… what was the motive and what was the actual time of the death of the four people,” the court said.
The SIT report gave relief to Jahan’s family who called it a “victory because it washed away the terror blot police had stamped on them”.
“She was innocent when she was alive, she was innocent when her body was brought to us. It is our victory,” her uncle Rauf Lala told reporters, outside the court.
Her mother Shamima Kausar thanked the court but said the justice was still awaited till the culprits were punished.
“They should be hanged. They have ruined our lives. They killed my innocent daughter,” a choking Kausar told reporters.
Human rights activists and lawyers also hailed the SIT conclusion and sought public apology from police and the media for tarnishing the image of the family and the young girl with a terror tag.
“They made their life hell. The family stands vindicated. They killed and tarnished the image of a young girl and her family. They should apologise publicly,” lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover shouted outside the court.
In Alappuzha,Kerala, Gopinathan Pillai, the father of Pranesh Kumar Pillai alias Javed Shaikh, said he was a much relieved man with the SIT report saying the shootout was not genuine.
Gopinathan Pillai had sought an inquiry by a SIT.
“I am a much relieved person because with this none will accuse me as the father of a terrorist,” Pillai told the media.