Sohrabuddin saga

Print edition : February 16, 2018

Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife, Kausar Bi, were abducted while on their way from Hyderabad to Sangli in Maharashtra in November 2005. Sohrabuddin, a small-time mafioso, was a few days later found dead in police custody. The Gujarat Anti-Terror Squad, which allegedly kidnapped them, claimed they were terrorists plotting to kill Narendra Modi, who was the Chief Minister of Gujarat at the time. Kausar Bi’s death remains a mystery as her body was never found. Tulsiram Prajapati, an acquaintance travelling with them, was a witness to the kidnapping and was also killed in a fake encounter a year later. The case of his death was clubbed with that of the couple’s.

Amit Shah, then the Gujarat Home Minister, was named an accused in the case. Several top Gujarat police officers were part of the list of the accused. Shah and many officers served time in jail in 2010 after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) found enough evidence linking them to the encounters.

The Supreme Court shifted the case to Maharashtra after the CBI said a fair trial would not be possible in Gujarat. Loya was the second judge hearing the case in Mumbai, after the first judge took a transfer a day before Shah was expected to appear in court on his instructions. After Loya’s death, a third judge, M.B. Gosavi, heard Shah’s discharge petition over three days and dropped charges against him on December 30, 2014. All the other 37 accused were also discharged. The CBI did not challenge the order. Two petitions in the Bombay High Court, one filed by a Rajesh Kamble and another by the social activist Harsh Mander, were dismissed on the grounds that they were third party interveners. Mander later challenged the dismissal of the case in the Supreme Court, which questioned his locus standi in the case and dismissed the plea.

Shah has risen to become the Prime Minister’s right-hand man. All the police officers named in the case were not just reinstated but also promoted. The Sohrabuddin fake encounter case trial finally began at the end of November 2017 at a special CBI Court in Mumbai. In a major development, a gag order placed on the media in reporting this case was lifted on January 24, 2018. Following stories in The Caravan and other media outlets, Sohrabuddin’s brother Rabuddin, several bureaucrats, lawyers and retired Admiral L. Ramdas have asked for a special judicial inquiry to investigate the death. “We have seen that in this political climate not many are willing to take on the establishment. But we need to bash on with exposes as this will taint their image and in the end they do have an impact. Look at what scams did to the UPA [United Progressive Alliance] government. They were affected,” said a lawyer and activist unwilling to be named.

Anupama Katakam

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