If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Ordinary man, extraordinary courage

On 15 June 2004, some policemen shot to death Ishrat Jahan, Javed Ghulam Sheikh, Amjad Ali, and Jisan Johar Abdul Gani on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in an “encounter” in the small hours, when there were no witnesses around. According to the Gujarat Police (who happened to be their killers), they were on their way to assassinate the chief minister of the state.

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.]


  1. 'My feeble voice of protest will not go very far'
    What if the blogsphere resounds with the sound of protest and of applause for the Magistrate Tamang?

  2. I salute S.P.Tamang for his bold investigation and report.

    A silent internal Emergency has been in practice in India both BJP ruled as well as Congress ruled states. Even to speak the truth one needs extrodinary courage and judicial protection.

    I wish this blogger could boldly publish the names of persons done to death in fake encounters of 7,500 young girls and boys in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The SHRC or PUCL will be able to provide the names, circumstances and cops involved.

    It is time Indian press and bloggers break their cowardly silence and stop fake encounter killings once and for all. Hope they also bring the cops to justice for murder of Indian citizens.

  3. Kochuthresiamma, Thanks for your response. Yes, indeed, the civil society can stop some misdeeds of the government, as we have seen in West Bengal in recent years. And blogs the Net are useful tools in the hands of ordinary citizens.

  4. My dear Anonymous,

    Thanks for reading my blog and for saluting Magistrate Tamang. But it is ironical that you advise others not to be cowardly while posting an anonymous comment.

    Also, thanks for your suggestion to publish the names of the people killed in fake encounters in Andhra Pradesh. While I do condemn state terrorism in AP, Chhattisgarh, J & K, Gujarat, West Bengal, and everywhere else, I am not convinced my publishing the names would serve any purpose. I will continue to register protest in the ways I can.

    While we must condemn state sponsored violence as strongly as we can, we should also condemn the terrorists and the Maoists, who not only kill their perceived enemies without giving them a chance to defend their position, in the ultimate analysis, they have scant regard for the people for whom they supposedly fight their gory battles.

  5. Absolutely! Santanu da, I too join you and your readers in registering my protest, a feeble though, and saluting the spirit of this gutsy Magistrate! The Gujarat Government, it seems, has already rejected the Metropolitan Magistrate’s report, raising specious technical and procedural issues like the verdict being deliberated too fast, etc!!

    The issue of non-judicial execution of the undertrials, including state-sponsored custodial deaths, by a deliberate subversion of the due process of law was almost always there, be it the Naxalites and the Ultra left radicals under the Left/Congress Governments, or the Muslim insurgents being tried under the auspices of the BJP leadership.

    Interestingly, the apparent ‘non-partisan’ endorsement of the Central Government, certifying that Ishrat and the others were terrorists seeking to assassinate Gujarati politicians, has seemingly provided further ammunition to the Gujarat administration’s chicanery to absolve itself of this case of open official murder with such defiance. Please, if you haven’t already, read the scathing article (http://www.telegraphindia.com/archives/archive.html) written by Mukul Kesavan published in ‘The Telegraph’ on 10th September, 2009.

    Love and Regards.

  6. Hi:-)

    First time on your blog. I had read several posts on the same issue but all of them were condemning the police, how corrupted they have become etc etc.

    This is the first time i am reading post with so much in depth information. I also had curiosity who this Mr. Tamang was but was lazy like any other ordinary Indian to find it out, thanks for that information, too.

    After reading this post, I would not think a second to salute this gentleman if i ever come across to him. We need people like these and unfortunately we have very few like him, that's the tragedy!!

  7. Very well expressed. Informative. And insightful too.

    Enjoyed visiting your blog.


  8. Kaushik, Thanks for your views and the link to MK's article, which I had not read earlier. It indeed goes to the crux of the issue.

    One can only supplement what Mr. Kesavan has written by saying that the media should portray Magistrate Tamang as a national hero, or at least, a people's hero. If that happens, more honest officials might break free from the shackles imposed by the political class, and it will be a small step in the long march to civilized polity.

    Thank you, Mustaf and Vivek, for sparing your time to visit my blog, and for your opinions. Please do come back.

  9. When an under-teen wipes my table in the cheap eatery round the corner, I pretend not to see. When my boss victimises my colleague who refuses to comply with an unreasonable demand, I do not raise a little finger. When the urchin on the street is bashed up, I find it convenient to presume that he is being punished for having stolen something. When a lecherous old man gropes a young school girl in a bus, I do not have the guts to object. When the police claims having killed someone in an encounter, I swallow that statement without bothering to look beyond.

    The society we live in is one where we are encouraged by our parents and teachers to look the other way when we see someone curbing another's liberty.

    It is surprising that Tamangs are born in this society. Tamang is indeed a hero.

  10. I agree completely to the view expressed, I hope for more leaders like magistrate Tamang, and for us to be a little more vocal of issues that concern our lives and that of the lives of our own people.

  11. Dear Mr.S.S.Chaudhuri, Do you know the weblink, where I can read the complete scanned/typed report of Magistrate Mr.Tamang?

  12. Mukul Kesavan article URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1090910/jsp/opinion/story_11471260.jsp

  13. Thank you, Mr. Abdulla. I regret that I do not know of any weblink that will take you to Magistrate Tamang's judgment. Best wishes.

  14. Santanu da,

    Hope the yesterday's development (http://www.thehindu.com/news/states/other-states/article2647961.ece) is but just a small step in the long arduous chain of events leading to the vindication of Magistrate Tamang's findings and eventual nailing of the culprits.

  15. Thanks, Kaushik. Yes, indeed. These are developments that help us to keep faith in the democracy that is India. Let's salute the SIT officers who nailed the grotesque lies of their bosses and political masters. They must be tremendously courageous, like Magistrate S.P.Tamang.

    We get an idea about the odds they have faced from the fact that they do not wish to continue with the prosecution. Perhaps it is a wise decision!


I will be happy to read your views, approving or otherwise. Please feel free to speak your mind. Let me add that it might take a day or two for your comments to get published.