Interview with Mukul Sinha, lawyer.
EVER since the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat, physicist-turned-lawyer Mukul Sinha and his physicist wife, Nirjhari Sinha, have been spearheading a movement against the injustices meted out to victims of the communal riots. As founders of the civil rights organisation Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM), they have been documenting crucial and explosive evidence on the riots and on several encounter killings that have taken place in the State in recent years.
Mukul Sinha is representing petitioner Rubabuddin Sheikh, brother of Sohrabuddin Sheikh who was killed, along with his wife Kauser Bi, in a police encounter in November 2005 in Gujarat. Gujarat Police officials had claimed that Sohrabuddin was a terrorist on a mission to kill Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The JSM has documents proving otherwise.
Among the most damning information are thousands of phone conversations that Bharatiya Janata Party and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders had with State police officials. It was largely on account of the JSM's ground-breaking investigations that Minister of State for Home Amit Shah was arrested in connection with the Sohrabuddin encounter. Sinha spoke to Frontline about what really happened and who was behind the killings. Excerpts:
Why has it taken so long to find out who Sohrabuddin was and why he was killed?
Sohrabuddin was no saint. In fact, he had quite a chequered past. Basically, he was a tapori [petty criminal] operating in Rajasthan, particularly among the marble traders. Wherever there is illegal activity, there will be extortion gangs and rival gangs that offer protection. In this case, Sohrabuddin was the extortionist and a certain Hamid Lala the protector.
Sohrabuddin is said to have killed Lala and begun to establish a powerful gang. The marble lobby, finding him to be dangerous, had probably decided to get rid of him. Apparently, Rajasthan wanted to have nothing to do with it, so the marble traders approached Gujarat, a State well known for encounter killings.
Sohrabuddin must have been a criminal, but now the accused are painting him in a bad light so that their crime does not look so heinous. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has said that Sohrabuddin's antecedents and character are immaterial to the case. The case has taken so long because Amit Shah was the Home Minister of Gujarat and controlled the Criminal Investigation Department [CID] of the police. So we never got to hear the full truth behind the killings until recently.Was he sabotaging the investigation?
Of course. He had the power to, as he was the Home Minister. It was only after the Supreme Court instructed the Central Bureau of Investigation to take over the case that the investigation was back on track. In all likelihood CID officer Geeta Johri had unearthed the nexus and was therefore pressured to change tack. After submitting a perfectly well-done investigative report, she did a complete about-turn to derail the investigation.
Amit Shah's arrest is a huge development and has in effect unravelled the Rajasthan link. It is becoming increasingly clear that the killing had very little do with terrorism.
Amit Shah's arrest has Modi scared. That is why he is making such a big noise about this case. He's been talking about the CBI shifting the case out of Gujarat and how he will take the fight to the streets. He knows Amit Shah can take him down.
There is no doubt that it was a fake encounter.Can they really take Modi down?
Well, this time they have caught a big fish. It is impossible that Modi was clueless about what went on behind the Sohrabuddin killing. He has been Home Minister for the past eight years. He will have to answer at some point.What finally nailed Amit Shah?Three things nailed him.
1. Phone call records. Tracking Amit Shah's phone calls in the days after Sohrabuddin's death gave investigators some vital information on his involvement.
2. The Patel brothers Dashrath and Raman let out information on the Minister. These men are successful builders and Amit Shah allegedly extorted vast sums of money from them.
3. The Popular House [a builder's office] firing in December 2004, which is linked to Shah. Apparently, Sohrabuddin and Tulsi Prajapati handled the operation under the instructions of Abhay Chudasama, a senior police official who is linked to Shah. Sohrabuddin fell out with Shah and Chudasama after that incident and so they were out to get him.
N.K. Amin, Deputy Superintendent of Police at the time of the encounter, has offered to turn approver, and his testimony can put Shah in the dock.
Could you give us some information on the data you have, which have helped nail the accused?
Our biggest piece of evidence is the over 10 million records of phone calls made by the key accused in several cases.
For instance, Maya Kodnani's and Jaydeep Patel's phone calls were analysed in the days following the Naroda Patiya massacre . Those calls are an investigative tool and give clues about the locations from where the calls were made and to whom they were made. There was enough material in the calls to prove they knew about the massacre. The calls, along with a host of other evidence, were enough to get them arrested.
In this case, we have analysed phone calls from November 23 to 29 made by the MoS [Minister of State Amit Shah] and several policemen. We charted the locations and duration of the calls. The maximum number of phone calls between Amin and Shah were made on the days before and after Sohrabuddin's killing. Amin's location corroborated where the couple was hidden and where the killing took place.
However, Amin's phone was switched off when Kauser Bi was killed, but we were able to trace phone calls made by a policeman travelling with the body. That phone call tracks locations such as the place Kauser Bi's body may have been burnt. The policeman's statement says he was asked to collect wood to burn the body on the banks of a river; he followed those instructions. His phone call records show that he was by a river bed on November 29, 2005, the day Kauser Bi was killed.
Through call data you can trace locations, durations, frequency, who called whom, and naturally when these calls were made. Experts on this technology can analyse the data and chart these calls, which finally give investigators crucial information.
How did encounters become such a common occurrence in Ahmedabad?
They were all planned by the state. The authorities, right from the top to the bottom, were supporting it. So these men knew they could get away with it.Why do they go to such lengths to do it?
Money is a big factor here. Several crores are paid to these men to carry out these encounters. The pretext given is that the man is an enemy but in reality it will be some problem with a business deal. It's just a supari [underworld slang for mercenary killing] job.
Why did both of you and your wife join the fight? Do you see justice coming soon?
We believe in a secular democracy. Everyone has the right to live fairly. This is not a communal thing we are fighting. It is for justice. These encounter cases were becoming more and more common, so it became necessary for us to take on the fight. When Rubabuddin came to us, we just had to help him.
This is the first time a big-time politician has been arrested in Gujarat. He is Modi's right-hand man. A big extortion racket has been exposed. The nexus between criminals, police and politicians has also been exposed. We are confident that justice will be served eventually.