Magistrate Tamang, a hero: Vasudha Nagaraj

By VASUDHA NAGARAJ via FeministsIndia List

You can download here the report by Magistrate Tamang.

I cannot resist but recount this account of exemplary courage and commitment of a Magistrate working in the Metropolitan Courts of Ahmedabad. He is none other than Magistrate Tamang who has been in the news for the past few days.

Brief facts: We all know about the encounter of Ishrat Jehan and three others in the outskirts of the city of Ahmedabad which took place in June, 2004. Soon after the encounter there were enquiries by human rights groups which declared that it was a cold blooded killing and not an encounter. To counter the demands the Crime Branch ordered a Magistrate to enquire into the matter. It has been reported that no Magistrate was willing to stick his neck into this issue. Finally on 12 August, 2009 the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) ordered Magistrate Tamang to conduct the inquiry. The latter was supposed to conduct this inquiry under S 176 CrPC. This is the section of law in which a Magistrate is empowered to hold an inquiry into the cause of death whenever a person dies while in police custody or when it is a death in doubtful circumstances. Generally, under this section of law,  Magistrates record dying declarations of women who are dying and lying in the hospitals.

Based upon this formal letter from the CMM’s office, Magistrate Tamang commenced his inquiry, and completed it within 25 days. As part of this inquiry, it is reported that he  read through forensic reports, postmortem reports, FIRs, and several other witness depositions. There were 1159 documents to be read. Soon after, Magistrate Tamang wrote up his report concluding his inquiry. In the report he stated that the encounter was a fake encounter and that Ishrat Jehan and three others were killed in cold blood.  He held responsible 21 police officers for the killing including the encounter specialist Vanzara. The report runs into 243 pages and it is completely handwritten. On 7 September, 2009 Magistrate Tamang submitted the report to the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate.

On the same day, Mukul Sinha, the veteran civil liberties lawyer who has defended hundreds of Muslims in the riot cases in Gujarat, came to know about the submission of this report. He applied for a certified copy, got a copy the same evening, and released it to the media. Perhaps, Mukul Sinha thought that if he let go of this opportunity, the report would never be made public.

We all know the chaos that has resulted once the report got into the hands of the media. The Gujarat government appealed to the High Court saying that the report was illegal and that Magistrate Tamang had gone beyond his jurisdiction to make such statements. The Gujarat High Court has stayed the report and passed severe strictures against the Magistrate and also ordered disciplinary action.

Very rarely one can speak in exulting tones about the actions of a Magistrate. Finally, here is a case in point.

For a Magistrate who is on the lowest rung of the judiciary to have taken such a step is so amazing. These are officers of the judiciary who preside in dark dingy court halls, often overburdened, understaffed, and write their judgments in equally dingy chambers. The accused who come to their courts are accused of petty offences, whose imprisonment cannot go beyond two years. These magistrates generall y have just one attender and come on their own scooter or motorcycle to the court, or a group of Magistrates are brought in court vans. Their orders and judgments are mostly overruled by the higher courts. The best lawyers never come to their courts. There is not much flourish or performance in these courts. Even if their judgments are upheld, we never get to know their contents. It is only the High Court and the Supreme Court judges whose judgments get published and widely reported too. It is also common knowledge that many of the Magistrates are reluctant to follow the rule of law and end up being complicit with the police in denying rights to the accused.

In such a context for Magistrate Tamang to write a 243 pages handwritten order and indicting 21 police officers becomes history. It is one thing for a High Court judge or a Supreme Court judge to produce such reports and make such observations. But the implications are very different when a Magistrate presiding and living in Ahmedabad decides protest by not just affirming the rule of law but also pushing the limits of the law. Magistrate Tamang would have known that his career in the judiciary was over and that he has invited the wrath of the state, the higher courts and the accused police. He surely would have made up his mind, exercised a conscious choice to interpret S 176 CrPC in a manner that would enable justice to be done for Ishrat Jehan and her three friends.

The internet has already put up his profile. He is from the Gorkha community from Darjeeling but settled in Ahmedabad since his birth. He has a wife and a nine year old child. It is reported that the Bar Association at Ahmedabad considers him as a honest and straightforward Judge.

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