September 18, 2009
FEAR AND HOPE STILL LIVE- IN AT BATLAHOUSE
By Karanjeet Kaur in New Delhi
Saturday is the
anniversary of the ‘encounter’. MAIL TODAY revisits Ground Zero
A YEAR after the alleged fake encounter at L- 18, Batla House, doors
are still slammed on the faces of people who come inquiring.
But the simmering anger of the initial few days has given way to
cynicism and a sense of resignation.
Residents of the building are still wary of anyone who knocks on
their doors. Ask them about the killings and they’ll tell you with
practised ease they were not at home on the fateful day. “ We were
away. It was the month of Ramzan, after all,” says one, from behind
a closed door, not wishing to be identified.
Another resident says she was inside her house with her daughter
when the announcements to keep indoors were made by Special Cell
officers, who had carried out the operation. “ I was scared after
hearing the firing and the announcements, so I did not venture out.
I did not see anything,” she says, even before being asked.
The flat where the alleged terrorists were staying is on the fourth
floor of L- 18. There are no seals or policemen hanging around
today. Nothing about the unassuming, nondescript flat suggests it
was the scene of brutal police action last year.
Instead, it only bears the marks of neglect, as if the owners have
been temporarily away.
The family that lives immediately opposite the house refuses to even
acknowledge our presence. The lady of the house, who is outside in
the landing when we attempt to talk to her, simply walks back and
bolts the door. She returns two minutes later, but only to padlock
her gates from inside.
Arham Ahmad is a young resident of the building. He studies at the
social science department of Jamia Millia Islamia. “ I didn’t know
the residents personally.
I had never seen them till they started flashing their pictures
after the encounter,” he says. Ahmad remembers he was away at
college when the encounter took place. He and his family had been
forced to stay away from their house for two days.
Ask him whether human rights activists had made inquiries in the
area — the National Human Rights Commission ( NHRC) has given a
clean chit to the Delhi Police which have been accused of staging
the encounter — and he says no one came knocking on their doors. “ I
don’t think they made any inquiries with people around this area,”
That is something the residents hold against the NHRC. A bench
headed by Chief Justice A. P. Shah of the Delhi High Court had
rejected the plea of an NGO — Act Now For Harmony and Democracy —
seeking a judicial inquiry into the case on the grounds that the
NHRC had failed to conduct a proper probe.
Just across the lane from L- 18 lives Qudsiya Ahmad, a former
journalist. Mirroring the sentiments of most other residents of the
area, Ahmad is reluctant to talk about the incident. “ There’s
nothing left to talk about,” she says. She lets on, though, that she
almost had a premonition of the encounter.
E VERY year during Ramzan, something or the other happens,” she says
cynically. In fact, a bachelor friend she knows made it a point to
move out of the area just before Ramzan. “ He was afraid he might be
easy game in case the authorities wanted to pick on someone this
year,” she says.
That may appear unlikely, considering the cacophony that surrounded
the run- up to the Okhla assembly by- election a few days ago.
Asif Muhammad Khan, who contested and won the by- election on an RJD
ticket, reiterates his demand for a judicial inquiry and says he has
formed a committee to help the families of the victims. Khan had
earlier announced he would hold a month- long agitation at the Batla
House chowk, but nothing came of it.
Adding their two bits to the noise is the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity
Association ( JTSA), which promises to hold a torchlight procession
on the eve of the first anniversary of the encounter. The JTSA is
also demanding a judicial probe. The protest march will start from
Khalilullah Masjid on September 18 at 6.45 p. m. The association has
also appealed to everyone to wear black bands in protest.
This comes after Jamia Millia Islamia’s new vice- chancellor, Najeeb
Jung, said his focus, in his new role, is better infrastructure for
the university, and not the Batla House encounter.
An online petition, meanwhile, has made its way into people’s
inboxes, demanding a judicial probe into the ‘ encounter’, in the
light of the Ishrat Jehan fake killing case in Gujarat. By the looks
of it, at least for now, the Batla House police action is doomed for