The Jamia Nagar Encounter: ‘Curioser and Curioser’

The well known journalist Praveen Swami, who is celebrated by some as an ‘encounter expert’ and ‘authority on terrorism’ has finally offered his comment on the Jamia Nagar encounter in the Hindu. See Behind the Batla House Encounter. It smells fresh.

Now, I really like Lewis Carrol, and am happy that Swami has invoked Carrol, Alice and Wonderland while criticising those (like me) who have chosen to take a skeptical stance towards the official handout of what exactly happened on the 19th of October in L-18, Batla House, Jamia Nagar. With due respect to Praveen Swami, lets read him in the spirit of Carrol and come to conclusions about who is Alice, who is the Red Queen and who is the white Rabbit, in due course.

It takes far more intelligence to read Swami than it must take for Swami to write like Swami. Which is disconcerting, given, that in Swamis case, he has a whole bureau full of intelligence to back him up, and all we have is the stuff between our individual ears, and occasionally our own eyes, our own ears and our own two feet. No wonder, we have to strain our credibility to believe the six and more impossible things that the police’s special cell, the intelligence bureau and its anointed experts would have us swallow whole for breakfast, with each morning’s headlines in the newspapers.

Swami is not alone. His statements must be seen in tandem with the curt responses that the National Security Adviser, Mr. M.K. Narayanan made to a suitably deferential Barkha Dutt (“those doubting the police version of the encounter are indulging in a travesty”), the intrepid journalist Mihir Srivastava, who has apparently heard three young canaries sing of desiring to blow up their mothers, while he sits with them under police escort (see his cover story ‘Inside the Mind of the Bombers‘ in the latest India Today) That this story totally contradicts what the same three said earlier in interviews to journalists and television channels (Mail Today, and Headlines Today – both of which are ‘sister concerns’ of India Today) does not seem to concern Srivastava much. As for us, we are asked to believe that a story extracted under police ‘care’ are more credible than interviews freely given to journalists, even if they refer to the same people.

I recently attended the ‘Jan Sunwai’ that organized by the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Forum at Jamia Nagar, barely steps away from where the alleged encounter took place. And no, I will not talk of what Swami Agnivesh, or Harsh Mander, or Arundhati Roy or Tripta Wahi said or did not say at that meeting. But I will mention that I heard Badr Taslim, Fayyaz Ahmed, Masih Aalam, Hamid Ali, Sohail Khan, Abdur Rahman Abid, Reza Hyder and Ateeq Jamil. These were neighbours and acquaintances of some of those killed and detained in the Jamia Nagar encounter. I heard them recount the details of what happened that morning, what shots they heard, which directions they were coming from, how far they were from Mohan Chand Sharma as he walked out of that lane into a waiting Indica car. What was the state of his shirt. I heard Abdur Rahman Abid talk of what he saw when he bathed and prepared the bodies of Atif (in his twenties) and Sajid (seventeen, and so, a minor) and the exact location of the bullets holes on Atif’s skull.

I also heard Saquib Nisar’s father speak about how he had been allowed to meet his son only once, and that too for ten minutes, and how no other relatives had been allowed to see him. I contrasted this with the two extensive, by all accounts, lengthy meetings that Mihir Srivastava had had with three of the detenues, including Saqib Nisar, under the watchful eye and strong arm of the Delhi Police. I wondered about the legal status of confessions made to a reporter under conditions that cannot be said to be free of coercion.

Before the meeting began, I also went to the house directly behind L 18, on to the terrace above its third floor, directly behind the fourth floor of the house where Atif and Sajid were shot on that day, saw that there was no possibility of jumping on to any rooftop from the rooftop on L 18 without either breaking one’s bones, or entering and then exiting another house through the door (which would have been impossible to do given that there were some of those eight policemen who are said to have gone up on to the fourth floor, waiting in the narrow passage that runs between L 18 and the flat immediately adjacent to it). I was not alone, several people who attended this meeting were with me. We can vouch for and corroborate each others statements.

Contrary to all this, which I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears, we are being asked to believe the following:

(1) that two terrorists escaped by jumping from roofs (that are way too high to jump from in the first instance) at the same time as we were asked to believe;

(2) that they also simply walked out of the front door under the very nose of a gun wielding policeman.

(3) that there was an exchange of fire when eyewitnesses and neighbours clearly say that they did not hear the acoustic differences due to directionality that occur when people use firearms against each other.

(4) that the absence of bloodstains as a man walks down four floors and then some more on the street from a weapon fired at close range are not necessarily indicative of the absence of a lethal, life threatening gunshot wound;

(5) that the ‘two alleged terrorists’ one of whom has several bullet injuries in his cranium (and we have seen the photographs that were taken of his head, just prior to burial, which have been published in Mail Today and Rashtriya Sahara) were sustained during combat. How a man who is clearly at the feet of his assailant and is shot in the head from above can be ‘in combat’ is another matter;

(6) that a highly experienced counter-terrorism expert would go into a terrorist hideout without adequate protection, after his team had been watching this ‘hideout’ for more than two months.

That makes exactly six things that are impossible to believe, and yet, Swami and Friends (do I hear the wailing ghost of R.K. Narayan somewhere) want us to believe them all. This leads me to ask as to who exactly is the Queen here, and where, or who is Alice? And is every young man who gets caught or shot in Jamia Nagar by the long arm of the very special police, just another rabbit being made to run down a very dark hole?

When Swami writes, when the NSA comes to give his one-on-one interview to Barkha, when India Today does a cover splash, denying most of what it’s own sister publication Mail Today has been saying, then it is a sure sign that the big boys have now come out to play.

Swamiji admonishes those of us who persist in our terribly unsporting habit of asking questions about the absence of appropriate bloodstains on Mohan Chand Sharma’s shirt, or other slightly opaque details of this so called encounter by saying that we inhabit a ‘wonderland’.

Much has been made of a newspaper photograph which shows that Sharma’s shirt was not covered in blood, with some charging that it demonstrates he was shot in the back. Forensic experts, however, note that bleeding from firearms injuries takes place through exit wounds — not, as in bad pop films, at the point of entry. In the photograph, signs of a bullet having ripped through Sharma’s shirt are evident on his visible shoulder; so, too, is evidence of the profuse bleeding from the back.

It is way too convenient to dismiss this photograph simply by stating that it does not show evidence of Mohan Chand Sharma being shot from the back. The fundamental issue is not about whether he was shot from the front or the back. The fact is, we have been told that the bullet has not been found on his body. In which case, there must be an ‘exit wound’, somewhere.The dispute is not only about the trajectory and directionality of the bullet (shot from ‘back’ or ‘front’ or ‘side’) but about its timing, or, about whether or not it actually exited. The specific bloodstains that we are looking for would not appear on the shirt, either if (a) Sharma was not shot until the time this photograph was taken, or (b) if the bullet had not yet exited the body. If it is (a) we need to know who shot Sharma after this photograph was taken, when exactly was he shot (because we know that he was ‘bleeding profusely’ by the time he reached Holy Family hospital) and why he was shot. If (b) the bullet was still in Sharma’s body (if it stays inside, it can, on occasion arrest hemorrhage by blocking an outlet) then, we need to know what happened to the bullet, why did it disappear, and what kind of bullet it was in the first place (which gun was it fired from). The only way to know what happened is to do a careful analysis of the authentic untampered autopsy report. This is one of the many reasons why the incident needs to be investigated independently.

As has been stated elsewhere, the body was not given to the doctors performing the autopsy in a state where clear indications of entrance and exit wounds could be ascertained.

See “Police Theories Encountered” by Shobita Naithani, Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 39, Dated Oct 04, 2008. The Tehelka report says:

…a senior doctor who conducted the postmortem on Inspector MC Sharma at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences spoke to TEHELKA of the damage to his vital organs. “It was difficult to establish the entry and exit points of the bullet because conclusive evidence had been wiped out by the interventions of the doctors at Holy Family [where Sharma was rushed to].

Swami, in his text, says:

Judging by Sharma’s injuries, as recorded by doctors at the Holy Family Hospital in New Friend’s Colony and later re-examined at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences’ Trauma Centre, he was fired at from two directions.

Now, how can we ascertain that there were ‘two directions’ of fire, when it is not even possible to tell an entry from an exit wound because of the interventions done on the body at Holy Family Hospital. Either Swami is fantasizing about the contents of the autopsy, or he knows what the autopsy report contains, and is deliberately misleading us.

Further, while discussing what is visible in the photograph, Swami says – :so, too, is evidence of the profuse bleeding from the back”. Now, I have examined the photograph very carefully as it was reproduced in the Hindustan Times.

Finally, I come to the most colourful aspects of Swami’s theory. Once again, we are asked to attend to the arcana of telephone surveillance. Its curious, for instance, that Swami mentions the fact that one of the dead alleged terrorist’s Atif Amin’s phone (and hence his movements) was under surveillance from as early as immediately after the 19th of July (a week before the Ahmedabad bombings)  This occurred, because, a number traced to Bharuch, Gujarat, which was purported to be that of a person who had parked the bomb laden cars in Ahmedabad, had also both received calls from Jamia Nagar and had itself been traced on occasion to Jamia Nagar. Swami says ‘The authorities mounted a discreet watch on his phone but decided not to question him in the hope that he would again be contacted by the perpetrators…” (of the Ahmedabad bombings). That moreover, ‘investigations’ had revealed that an ‘assault squad’ with a ‘top commander’ called Bashir had left Ahmedabad for a ‘safe house’ in Jamia Nagar, Delhi on the 26th of July.

So the Delhi Police’s special cell, and its ‘top phone surveillance and interception’ expert, according to the ‘top counter-terrorism expert commentator’ Praveen Swami, had been watching Atif for around two months before the bomb blasts in Delhi (which Atif, and the other inhabitants and visitors to L-18, Batla House were supposed to have had a hand in). Atif, as we know, listed his name and address on numerous documents. Which included phone registrations, driving licenses, tenant verification forms. His phone number and address are said to have been uploaded even on his Orkut profile.

What can we make of the import of this suggestion, that the special cell had been ‘watching’ or ‘listening’ to Atif for two months before the alleged encounter. That the special cell, either, followed Atif and allowed him to plant his bombs (logical possibility 1), or, neglected to keep its watch (logical possibility 2) or, is inventing the story of the phone records, in exactly the same way in which it invented the story of phone records, IMEI numbers and other details in the 13 December case (logical possibility 3). Unfortunately, there are no other possibilities.

If possibilities 1 and 2 regarding the alleged phone taps are to be believed, then, the incompetence, or lethargy of the special cell, including the late Mohan Chand Sharma, is directly to blame for allowing a terrorist outrage to happen. (and this would be the only conclusions that can be drawn, were Swami to be right in this case). If Swami is right in this regard, we have to ask “what prevented the special cell from mounting a 24 hour seven days a week watch on the inhabitants of a house from which calls were made to the bombers in Gujarat, and finally, what prevented them from catching them red handed as they went to plant bombs in Delhi”

If, on the other hand, Swami and his ‘extra-curricular’ colleagues in the security apparatus are lying, and there was in fact no surveillance of the kind that they say occurred on Atif’s phone, then, the special cell is guilty of pre-meditated assassination, and bureaucrats, journalists, commentators and so called ‘experts’ who are covering for them are aiding and abetting them in their crime.

They are using our sense of danger, our daily apprehension about yet another pathetic, violent, condemnable incident of terrorism as a plaything as they go about charting their pathetic course. In all likelihood, they and their masters, which include the home minister and the prime minister of this government, and all those who ratchet up the rhetoric on the so called war against terror are either not interested in making sure that terrorism does not end, or have a vested interest in seeing the macabre dance of terror and counter terror go on, an on.

And yet, for many people, Swamiji can say no wrong. If this is indeed so, then we are truly in wonderland, and this wonderland we all inhabit, like any respectable fairground attraction has its chambers of horrors, its roller coaster rides between contradictory positions, its talking corpses and its decomposing truths. In Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat, after vanishing, left its grin behind, here, Swami and friends, having said their pieces, leaves us only with their hovering grimaces. Unfortunately, while this effort might make do as an example of the second rate variety of first information reports, it does not pass muster as a convincing body of argument. For that, Swami, Mr. Narayanan, Mihir Srivastava and all the rest who have danced their dance of death, will have to try harder.

Like Alice, the most interesting sojourner through Wonderland till date, we might be tempted to say, as we continue to read journalists with excellent sources in the intelligence apparatus, or, should we say intelligence operatives with impeccable clout and credentials within certain respectable newspapers, magazines and television channels –  ‘curioser and curioser’.

(Cross Posted from the ‘Reader List’)

11 thoughts on “The Jamia Nagar Encounter: ‘Curioser and Curioser’”

  1. The kind of damage that such people do is incalculable. In Kerala the district of Malappuram, where the Muslim population is numerous, recent years have seen a spurt in educational achievements. Gulf remittances are fuelling not just ‘saudi islam’ but also upward mobility. In the past few years, toppers in the school final exams in the State have been frequently Muslim students from Malalppuram. A number of Muslim women have entered the public through panchayats and indeed their active presence on the roads and public spaces in north Kerala is a visible difference from earlier times.

    It is possible to view this as a process of community consolidation: if the early 20th century was the period of community consolidation and modernisation for many groups in Kerala, for north-Kerala Muslims, the last decades of the 20th century have brought such a moment.
    Of course, any such consolidation, under given cultural-social conditions, will not occur untouched by dominant axes of social power. Thus new patriarchies may take shape; but so also will new agencies.

    For instance, the increasing adoption of the burqa as hijab by Muslim women may indeed be indexical of new forms of patriarchal cotntrol, but it may also be a correlate of their greater access to the public and to educational institutions. In the early 20th century, there was the drive to persuade women of many communities — including the upper caste Nairs and brahmins — to cover their upper bodies as a condition to entre the modern public and disciplinary institutions. True, feminists do not buy the standard line that spies ‘progress’in the success of this drive. But neither do they deny the fact that by opting to cover their upper bodies, these women did assert themselves as members of the expanding modern public. There is no reason, thus, to jump into conclusions about the widespread adoption of the burqa. Again, given that a majority of women in Kerala are intensely concerned about keeping their bodies covered, acutely conscious about the seemingly ever-present possibility of being reduced to being nothing but bodies for sexual consumption, there is no reason to interpret the burqa as ‘evil’.

    However, such lenses are rendered completely useless to understanding social change among the muslims of north kerala by the likes of Praveen Swami and his Malayalee counterparts (in the Hindu, prominently). For them, the present of the north kerala muslim is to be exclusively seen as a turn towards ‘anti-Indian’ radical Islam. While such shifts are indeed occuring , they do not encompass the totality of the changes. And internal debates have by not even slowed down within the Muslim community of north Kerala. Indeed, recent years have seen the publication of the translations of important Muslim feminist texts in Malayalam; and debates continue to take place around faith, practice, civic duty, and power. But this is precisely what Swami, their friends, and their masters would like to kill.


  2. Yeh to apne hain………
    delhi bombs blasts aor batla house encounter muamle men kai baten aise hain jo bahut kuch sochne par majboor kardeta hai.
    1. media khas kar electronic media ka roll janibdar nazar aaya. har giraftar mulzim ko “Terrorists” kaha, aor aksar ghalat khabar bhi di gai.
    2. police ne bhi jise mara use mastermind kaha, jise giraftar kiya woh bhi mastermind.
    3. jis L-18 men baghair tehqeeq kiye hi encounter kiya, aor use bahair tehqeeq k hi IM group se mansoob kar diya.
    4. Do Terrorist ko farar keh diya, jab k jankaron k mutabiq wahan se farar hone k liye koi rasta hi nahin tha.
    5. jin do ladkon ko farar terrorist kaha woh encounter k waqt Jamia men apne class men tha, aisa Jamia ka kehna hai.
    6. jis gun (AK47) se hamare bahdur inspector Sharma shahid huye, use encounter men mare gaye Ladke Atif k pas hi hone chahiye the, jabke police ne us gun ko chanbin men daramad dikhaya
    7. encounter men mahir inspector Sharma k baghair wardi k aor baghair hifazati libas k chale jana.
    waghaira waghaira ….
    yeh kuch baten hain jo aam awam k dil men sawal peida karte hain.
    khas kar kal ke shahin bagh men hoye hadsa police ki taraf aor bhi shak paida karta hai, jis men police wale sade libas men baghair no. plate ki kar men qabil-e-itraz samanon k sath aamir nami ladke ho ighwa kar k lijane ki koshish ki aor is koshish men nakam hogaye, police ko maskok nazron se dikhne par majboor karti hai.
    roznama rashtriya sahara men editor aziz burney apne mazmoon “Musalmanan-e Hind Mazi, Haal aor Mustaqbil” men pesh kiye gaye mukhtalif pehloo aor haqayaq se bahut kuch saf hojata hai k media aor police k kam men janibdari dekhi jarahi hai jo yaqeenan Hindustan Jaise Jamhoori Mulk k liye, jahan ganga jamni tehzeeb ki misalen di jati hain, achhi khabar nahin hai.
    yeh sab sunkar, padh kar aor dekh kar aisa lagta hai k hum apne hi mulk main ghair hogaye hain, afsos sad afsos. koi inhen inki zimedari ka ahsas to dilaye. yeh apnon ko ghair kiyon samjhne lage hain??


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