Death of Soharbuddin Sheikh
The Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case is an ongoing criminal case in the Gujarat state of India, after the state police killed underworld criminal Sohrabuddin Anwarhussain Sheikh on November 26, 2005, while he was in police custody.
According to the police, apart from being involved in the criminal extortion racket in Gujarat, Sheikh was also involved in arms smuggling in Madhya Pradesh, and also had murder cases registered against him in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Sheikh was also said to be associated with the banned global terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Pakistani intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence, and planned to create communal chaos in the state by assassinating "an important political leader". Although the target of Sheikh's plans has never been officially revealed, it is widely believed to have been Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi himself, who is deeply unpopular among the Pakistani establishment and various Islamic terrorist organizations in South Asia after the 2002 Gujarat violence. Sheikh's wife Kauser Bi also disappeared on the same day as his killing. A year later, on December 26, 2006, Sheikh's underworld associate Tulsiram Prajapati, a witness to Sheikh's killing, was also killed in another police encounter shooting.
Sheikh was known for extorting protection money from local marble factories in Gujarat and Rajasthan. He also had links to fellow underworld criminals Sharifkhan Pathan, Abdul Latif, Rasool Parti and Brajesh Singh, who were all members and associates of India's largest organized crime network and underworld mafia operated by Dawood Ibrahim. During investigations before he was arrested, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) of the Gujarat police had found 40 AK-47 assault rifles from his village residence in Madhya Pradesh.
The state government's lawyer, KTS Tulsi, later admitted before the Supreme Court that the "gun battle" in which Sheikh had died had been staged by the Gujarat police. Such encounters are known in India as encounter killings, and in this case, as "fake encounters". It is alleged that the killing was orchestrated by senior police officers and at the behest of Gujarat's Home minister Amit Shah. Shah is a senior politician in the Bharatiya Janata Party government and a close confidant of chief minister Narendra Modi. Modi, as well as Gulab Chand Kataria, a senior BJP leader and ex-minister from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan, have also been investigated in the matter. More than 10 police officers were subsequently arrested for the killings of Sheikh and Prajapati.
All defendants of the case deny all charges against them, and attribute these politically motivated cases to political vendetta from the Indian National Congress party, that is in opposition in Gujarat but the ruling party in the centre govt, and therefore controls the central investigation agency Central Bureau of Investigation that is in charge of the investigations.
Cases against Sohrabuddin Sheikh
Sohrabuddin Sheikh was accused of possessing 40 AK-47 assault rifles that were recovered from his house in Jharania village of Ujjain district in 1995. At the time of his killing, he also had more than 60 pending cases against him, ranging from extorting protection money from marble factories in Gujarat and Rajasthan, to arms smuggling in Madhya Pradesh, to murder cases both in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Sheikh was a notorious underworld criminal with links to the Sharifkhan Pathan alias Chhota Dawood and Abdul Latif gangs, and with Rasool Parti and Brajesh Singh, both known to be close to India's underworld kingpin Dawood Ibrahim. To escape the police, Sheikh fled with his family from Gujarat to the city of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
Abduction and murder
On November 23, 2005, Sohrabuddin Sheikh was traveling on a public bus with his wife, Kauser Bi, from Hyderabad to Sangli, Maharashtra. At 01:30 am, the Gujarat police ATS stopped the bus and took them away. Kauser wanted to stay with her husband, but was taken to a Disha farmhouse outside Ahmedabad instead.
Three days later, Sheikh was killed in a staged encounter on a highway at Vishala Circle near Ahmedabad. The report filed in the Supreme Court by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) quotes a number of witnesses and builds up a narrative of the killing.
Two days after Sheikh was killed, Kauser Bi was allegedly strangulated and cremated in Illol, the native village of deputy commissioner of police D G Vanzara. The killing of Kauser Bi was subsequently admitted by the Gujarat state attorney in front of the Supreme Court.
Exposure and state investigations
The encounter killing was not exposed until a media report made a year later. This report, together with a petition filed in the Supreme Court by Sheikh's brother, led to investigations into the incident. In April 2007, senior state police officers were arrested for their connection to the case. In July 2010, Amit Shah was arrested, and it was reported that the CBI was interested in investigating Chief Minister Narendra Modi as well, and because of this, the case should be placed under the jurisdiction of a court not in Gujarat.
Media report and Supreme Court petition
The encounter killing was exposed after a few police inspectors boasted about it over drinks with journalist Prashant Dayal. Dayal conducted his own investigations at the farmhouse, and then at Illol, and ascertained that a burqa-clad woman had been cremated there. He then broke the story in November 2006, in the leading Gujarati newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar, and gave details of the encounter.
Meanwhile, Sheikh's brother Rubabuddin petitioned the Supreme Court claiming that the Gujarat police had orchestrated the encounter and demanded to be given information on the location of his sister-in-law Kauser. In March 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the state Criminal Investigation Department to conduct a time-bound investigation. Inspector-General Geeta Johri was given the task of conducting the investigation, and was to report directly to the court. She gathered evidence that implicated the role of several police officers in the fake encounter. However, it has been claimed that she may have "steered clear of linking them to a political conspiracy". Based on the evidence collected by Johri, DIG Police Rajnish Rai on April 24, 2007, arrested DIG (Border Range) D G Vanzara and Rajkumar Pandian, Superintendent of Police with the Intelligence Bureau, , and M.N. Dinesh of Rajasthan police, who is alleged to have been working at the behest of the marble lobby.
The Supreme Court asked the Gujarat government to place before it the inquiry reports prepared by Johri, which had allegedly said that Sheikh was killed in an encounter killing. Johri was removed from the investigation after this report was published. On May 3, 2007, the court asked the government whether Johri had been dismissed from the investigation so that a further probe would not be carried out, and directed it to submit a final report on May 15, the day it will give the final order.
Inspector General's report
In Part B of the report, Johri recorded facts relating to repeated attempts by the accused police officers and Shah to sabotage the Supreme Court mandated enquiry. The report states that Shah "brought to bear pressure" on the enquiry process, with the result that Ms. Johri was directed to suspend the enquiry and the enquiry papers were taken away from her "under the guise of scrutiny." Johri also records that Shah even "directed Shri G.C. Raigar, Additional Director General of Police, CID (Crime & Railways) to provide him with the list of witnesses, both police and private, who are yet to be contacted by CID (Crime) for recording their statement in the said enquiry."
The government was asked by the court to give the reason for Johri's removal from the case on May 15. Not finding the Gujarat government's explanations satisfactory, the bench of Justices Tarun Chatterjee and P.K. Balasubramanyam ruled that Johri would report directly to the Supreme Court. She was reinstated in the same position and also asked to head the case.
Allegations of involvement in Haren Pandya murder
The newspaper DNA, citing sources in the Gujarat State Police, reported in August 2011 that Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram may have been "used to kill Haren Pandya", the erstwhile BJP leader who was once close to Narendra Modi. The murder remains unsolved after 12 people arrested for it were released in what the high court called a "botched up and blinkered" investigation. According to the DNA report, Sohrabuddin was initially given the task but he back-pedalled and the murder was eventually executed by Tulsiram. The encounter killings of Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram were a result of unease among the conspirators:
- However, the alleged conspirators at whose behest Pandya was killed began to lose confidence in Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram and, eventually, their equations began to worsen, the source said. The change of power at the Centre after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections gave the alleged conspirators another reason to eliminate Sohrabuddin and Tulsi in fake encounters.
A similar charge has been made by ex-IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt, who discovered evidence for Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram's involvement and forwarded it to Amit Shah, who sounded "very disturbed over the telephone" and asked him "not to speak about it to anyone". Bhatt followed this up with a letter to Shah detailing the "involvement of Sohrabuddin and some policemen in the murder".
Bhatt was subsequently suspended from the Gujarat police.
D.G. Vanzara, ex-IPS who had originally investigated the Pandya murder, and is currently in jail on charges of coordinating the Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram encounters, told the CBI in Sept 2013 that about the role of Sohrabuddin in Pandya's murder. Vanzara has also blamed Modi's Home minister Amit Shah for ordering the series of encounter killings.
Despite the detailed nature of the Johri report, the Supreme Court felt impelled, given the allegations of involvement by senior politicians, that the case should be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation for investigation. Since 2007, the Gujarat government had strongly resisted these attempts.
Media pressure began building up, with calls from organizations such as Amnesty International. Eventually, on 12 January, 2010, the Supreme Court observed that "the facts surrounding Prajapati's death evokes strong suspicion that a deliberate attempt was made to destroy a human witness". The court then directed the CBI to take over the probe.
Subsequently, the CBI arrested senior Gujarat police officer Abhay Chudasama, who was charged with extortion in partnership with Sheikh. After Chudasama's arrest, the CBI also charged the now ex-home minister Shah with collusion.
Suspicion of political interference intensified after the evidence handed over to the CBI from the state investigations showed that 331 phone calls by Shah to the concerned police officers had been deleted from the records. After media reports revealed the original records of calls from Shah to Vanzara and other police officers executing the killings, the CBI acquired the original records, and ex-police chief O.P. Mathur, who was then Director of Raksha Shakti University, was indicted for deleting evidence. Shah was subsequently named as the "prime accused" in the case.
A CBI witness also claimed that they were paid Rs. 10 crores by R.K. Patni, the owner of RK marbles who was acquainted with Indian National Congress leaders, to eliminate Sheikh. But BJP MLAs Gulab Chand Kataria and Om Prakash Mathur from the neighbouring state of Rajasthan also got named in the case. Kataria, who visited Gujarat to lobby for the release of Rajasthan police officer Dinesh M.N. in 2007, denied all charges. On September 1, IPS Officer D G Vanzara resigned, blaming lack of interest shown by State Government in rescuing him and other Police officers jailed in Fake encounter cases.
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