Mumbai: Since January this year, human rights activist and ex-prisoner Wahid Shaikh has been trying to promote his recently published book Ishrat Jahan Encounter, a book he says brings out the truth behind the alleged fake encounter killing of the 19-year-old college student. The book release event, however, has been stalled each time and the police – while denying permission – have claimed that since the book is “anti-government”, they cannot allow a public event or discussion around the book.
On August 26, at an event organised in Bhiwandi, on the outskirts of Mumbai, the police revoked permission at the last minute, claiming that the event would attract the wrath of Hindu organisations in the vicinity. Navid Ahmed Momin, the organiser and a local rights activist, told The Wire that he first approached the police on August 12 for the requisite permission. “I had handed over a letter, the names of the speakers and also a copy of the book. But for an entire week, the police kept asking me to keep visiting the police station. They refused to acknowledge the letter,” Momin claimed.
Finally, just days before the event, the senior police inspector (PI) of Nizampur police station issued a letter, rejecting permission for the meeting. In the letter, senior PI Naresh Pawar claims that since the book is “anti-government” and has garnered “enough controversy” in the past, it could trigger objection from the Hindu right-wing groups in the vicinity. For these reasons, he cannot allow the event to take place, Pawar said.
The book, published eight months ago in Urdu, had a limited reach and has not particularly led to any public discourse so far. The Wire tried contacting Pawar several times – both on his personal phone number and at the police station – but is yet to get any response. The story will be updated if Pawar responds.
Shaikh was arrested in 2006 as an accused in the July 11, 2006 Mumbai serial train blasts case. He suffered a prolonged incarceration for about nine years, after which he was acquitted of all charges by the special MCOCA court. Shaikh, while in jail, began writing his memoir, which was later published in Urdu and subsequently translated into multiple languages. Shaikh has also continued to advocate for the others implicated in the case and convicted. Shaikh maintains that, like him, the others convicted in the case are all innocent and were made scapegoats by the Mumbai police.
Shaikh’s book on the Ishrat Jahan encounter killing is based on information in the public domain, the CBI investigation into the case and interviews of her mother and other family members. Jahan, a teenage woman from Mumbra, was killed in June 2004 by the Gujarat police in an ‘encounter’ along with three men. A magisterial enquiry, an SIT probe and a CBI investigation subsequently all concluded that this was a fake encounter – that the police claim of having fired on her in ‘self-defence’ was a lie. In July 2013, almost a decade after the fake encounter, a chargesheet was filed against seven Gujarat police officials and (in a supplementary chargesheet in February 2014) four Intelligence Bureau officials for the unlawful killings, abduction, criminal conspiracy etc.
The CBI investigation had pointed to evidence of the possibility that the fake encounter had the prior approval of the then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and even the chief minister Narendra Modi.
Before organising a public event in Bhiwandi, Shaikh had tried to organise similar book discussions in Mumbra, Jalgaon and Pune – all in Maharashtra. Each time, the police, he says, tried to stop the event, claiming that it was controversial and against the ruling BJP government. While the Jalgaon and Pune events were cancelled, the ones in Bhiwandi and Mumbra continued amidst police pushback and alleged threats.
In Bhiwandi, the police gathered in large numbers, Momin says. “It was meant to be a small event and open only to the invitees. We had told the police that not more than 40-50 people would be attending the event. Still, the police didn’t grant us permission. Instead, they converged in large numbers at the event, filming and documenting every attendee. They wanted to intimidate those attending the event,” Momin says.
The police, Momin claims, have not read the book as it is only published in Urdu so far. “So, they don’t know what the author has actually written in the book. But they are so scared of disappointing their masters [the BJP government] that they are going all out to stop a book from reaching the public.”