Media helping to vilify Ishrat?

BY Laxmi Murthy| IN Media Practice | 06/07/2013
In the political blame game following the filing of the chargesheet in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case, the political class is bound to clutch at straws, but must the media follow suit,
A carefully crafted conspiracy of abduction, torture, pre-meditated murder and calumny is rapidly unravelling. At the centre of the maelstrom are the highest police officers of Gujarat, DIG Crime Branch, DG Vanzara and the Additional Director General of Police, PP Pandey. The dubious role of a senior official of the Intelligence Bureau, Rajinder Kumar, in the cold-blooded murders of four “suspected” terrorists, including 19-year-old Ishrat Jahan in 2004 is becoming increasing clear. No less implicated are Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his then Home Minister Amit Shah. These explosive revelations are not the products of an imaginative crime fiction writer, but of the Central Bureau of Investigation which on July 3 filed a primary chargesheet in what has come to be known as the “Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case”.
Back in 2009, the report of Judicial Enquiry by S.P. Tamang, Metropolitan Magistrate, Ahmedabad, notes that Ishrat, a college girl in Mumbra, was working hard in order to support her mother and younger siblings after her father died. The report refers to her as a “loving daughter and caring sister”. Tamang’s analysis of the autopsy report suggests that Ishrat had been shot at close range, several hours before the bodies were laid out in the now-famous file photo, giving lie to the claim of a gun battle with dreaded terrorists. Increasing evidence is establishing that Ishrat was abducted, detained, possibly tortured and then killed in cold blood in a different location, much earlier than the police claimed they tackled her in an “encounter”. Now, while even the CBI chargesheet clearly states that Ishrat did not have links with any militant group, some sections of the media continue to insist that she must be a terrorist because the CBI has not categorically stated that she is not one. The presumption of guilt when it comes to cases involving ‘terrorists’ is dangerous, and violates the Constitution of India which states that all accused are innocent until proven guilty. The law of the land does not condone extra-judicial killing, and also makes a fair trial and right to legal representation mandatory – regardless of the nature of the crime. It would seem, though that some senior media professionals would like to overturn the fundamental right to innocence unless proven otherwise.
Indeed, there has been a concerted campaign in some sections of the media to portray Ishrat Jahan as a deadly armed terrorist, leaving the cornered Gujarat police no choice but to kill her. The facts, as they emerge, expose this concocted story. Manufacturing consent to establish Ishrat as a dangerous terrorist, the July 3 Delhi edition of the Hindustan Times screamed “Ishrat Jahan had links with Kashmir Separatists”, attributing this information to the CBI. Yet, the body of the story only says that two of the persons killed along with Ishrat “were associated with secessionist groups in Kashmir.” This sensational and factually inaccurate headline only contributes to a malicious slander campaign.
This vilification campaign has been steadily building up, and sections of the media seem to be actively helping to mould public opinion that Ishrat was a dreaded armed terrorist. How else can the Gujarat police justify murdering an unarmed girl, subsequently found innocent by the CBI and the judicial enquiry mentioned earlier.  A June 13 story on Headlines Today claimed “it has emerged that Narendra Modi was on the Lashkar hit-list, and Ishrat Jahan was among the terrorists assigned to execute the plot.” Describing Ishrat as a “fidayeen” taking her orders from Pakistan, this wild story goes on to bolster this unsubstantiated claim by an endorsement by David Headley that Ishrat was a suicide bomber! The next day, another story on the same channel claimed “Narendra Modi and Advani were on Lashkar's hit list before Ishrat Jahan encounter”. The singular source of this story is none other than the discredited official, Rajinder Kumar of the Intelligence Bureau (IB), now in the dock, who claimed that two months before the encounter, he had alerted the Gujarat Police about the threats to senior BJP leaders, and that Ishrat Jahan was part of this plot. On that day, June 14, Desh Gujarath also carried a story with the headline, “Ishrat Jahan was fidayeen moving with a Pakistani to kill Modi”. Again, the IB is the source of this “fact”.
Zee News on July 3, just before the CBI chargesheet was filed, carried the headline, “Ishrat was a terrorist, BJP members tell panel”. The “evidence” this time is even more ludicrous – the website of the Lashkar-e-Toiba. And if there is such faith in the websites of militant groups, why does the BJP not believe the retraction on July 28, 2004, of Ishrat being their member? In the political blame game, the political class is bound to clutch at straws – but must the media follow suit? Attacks on citizenship are now par for the course Muslims in India, who are repeatedly forced to prove their patriotism. For women, demolishing their character and morality are designed to erode their credibility in the public eye. Recent televised debates have had senior BJP leaders – even women leaders– insinuate that Ishrat was of loose character because she was “in the company of four men”; she was with her “lover” Javed Sheikh etc. Never mind that the other two individuals were picked up at different times, detained separately, and possibly killed separately. And never mind that Javed Sheikh was her employer with whom she was travelling. Ishrat, being a Muslim woman, is a convenient target for all manner of slander to cover up a sordid tale of conspiracy and murder hatched in cahoots with the highest political leaders of the state.
DG Vanzara is already in jail due to charges in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in 2005, and ADG PP Pande is currently on the run. GL Singhal, one of the other accused police officers, is out on bail thanks to a technicality in CBI filing the chargesheet? Why has the Special Director, IB, Rajinder Kumar not been named by the CBI in its first chargesheet? DSP Crime Branch, D H Goswami has stated before a magistrate that he heard Vanzara say that the extra-judicial killing of Ishrat and the others had the approval of the political bosses Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Why is this not being investigated? Further, what is the responsibility of the Chief Minister and then Home Minister Shah when custodial executions can occur with impunity under their watch? These are the questions that the media must focus on, not diversionary inquiries that can destabilise a fair investigation into what is one of the biggest challenges to rule of law in the country.
Laxmi Murthy is a journalist based in Bangalore.
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