Ishrat Jahan was a nineteen year old college student from a poor family in Thane, Maharashtra. She was popular in her college and in her neighbourhood. She had neither a previous criminal record nor any known link with a terrorist outfit.
On 7 September, 2009, a metropolitan magistrate of Ahmedabad, Sri S P Tamang submitted an enquiry report on the incident. The Hindu wrote:
... Ahmedabad metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang, has ruled that the incident in which Ishrat Jahan and three others were killed in June, 2004, was yet another case of “fake encounter.”
In his 243-page hand written report on the encounter, Mr. Tamang has named the then “encounter specialist” of the Gujarat police, D.G. Vanzara, and others as accused in the “cold blooded murder” of the teenaged girl and three others.
Mr. Vanzara and several other policemen are already in jail in connection with the Sohrabuddin case which the State government confessed before the Supreme Court was a case of “fake encounter.”
Mr Tamang’s report said the Crime Branch police “kidnapped” Ishrat and three others from Mumbai on June 12 and brought them to Ahmedabad. The four were killed on the night of June 14 in police custody, but the police claimed that an “encounter” took place on the morning of June 15 near Kotarpur water works on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The rigor mortis that had set in clearly indicated that Ishrat died between 11 p.m. and 12 midnight the previous night and the police apparently pumped bullets into her body to substantiate the encounter theory.
It said the explosives, rifles, and other weapons allegedly found in their car were all “planted” by the police after the encounter.
As expected, all hell broke loose when newspapers published contents of the report. The state government condemned the report and it was promptly stayed by the High Court. The controversy also generated a war of words between the central government and the state government.
Now, who is this person, Magistrate Tamang? The newspaper DNA says Tamang, who hails from Darjeeling, has lived in Ahmedabad since his birth as his parents had settled in the city. He lives in Chandkheda with his wife and a nine-year-old son. Lawyers at the metropolitan court term Tamang as an honest and straightforward man.
A message posted by Smti. Vasudha Nagaraj on the Net gives more detailed and exceedingly relevant information about Magistrate Tamang and his enquiry. I am quoting from her message here:
… Soon after the encounter [in June, 2004] 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. …
… 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. ... 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.
… 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 generally have just one attendant and come on their own scooter or motorcycle to the court, or a group of Magistrates are brought in court vans. …
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 [to] 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 had 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.
I join the author of this message in saluting Magistrate Tamang for his courage and sense of duty. He should be considered a national hero.
All murders are despicable, but I am sure that even the English lexicon with its six hundred thousand words does not have a word strong enough to condemn when a government kills innocent citizens in cold blood instead of protecting them, which is its primary responsibility.
My feeble voice of protest will not go very far, but surely, the will of 100 crore people can stop the thugs of Ahmedabad and put them in jails, to where they belong.
[I thank Smti. Vasudha Nagaraj for the wonderful write-up and Sri Rajarshi Dasgupta for forwarding the message to me.]