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Sunday Sentiments


    Posted On April 23, 2023

    By Karan Thapar

    Perhaps it’s an apocryphal story but the philosopher Gertrude Stein was reportedly asked at her death bed ‘What are the answers?’  With herculean effort she replied, ‘First what are the questions?’ Her point was clear and simple. If you ask the wrong ones you might never get to the truth. This thought should be at the core of any inquiry into the horrific and shaming cold-blooded murder of Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf whilst in police custody.

    In a conversation I had with one of our most illustrious former Supreme Court judges, Justice Madan Lokur identified several critical questions which I want to share with you. They identify the many things that went wrong. They are, therefore, a guide track towards the truth. Bear them in mind when you read about the investigation and its findings over the next few weeks. They will tell you if we’re getting closer to finding out what happened or being led astray.

    First, what was the need to take the brothers Atiq and Ashraf for a medical examination at 10.30 PM at night? Presumably the gates of Naini jail, where the Indian Express says they were kept, must have shut by 6.00 PM. If there was no medical emergency why were they taken from the jail in violation of jail hours?  Surely, it would have been better to take them in the morning, particularly as their police custody only ended at 5.00 PM on Sunday?

    Second, why did the police jeep carrying the two men stop outside the hospital grounds and not enter its premises? Since parking space was available inside the hospital there was no need to make them walk. In fact, it was needlessly risky to do so.

    Third, why was the media allowed to surround the two men and question them? Indeed, how did the media even know they were being taken for a medical examination at 10.30 PM?  And to which hospital? Were they tipped off? If so,  by whom?

    Fourth, how did the killers know Atiq and Ashraf would be taken for a medical examination at night? How did they know to which hospital? And how did they know the media would be there so they could masquerade as camera men? Again, were they tipped-off? And by whom?

    Fifth, The Times of India says the shooting lasted for 22 seconds during which time 14 rounds were fired. The paper says the three killers behaved like expert shots.  So were these men trained in firing guns? How did they come into possession of a Turkish pistol that reportedly costs 7 lakhs? This is particularly important if it is true the weapon is banned in India.

    Sixth, were the escorting policemen armed? If they were, why didn’t they shoot back? If they weren’t, why weren’t they? Surely they knew Atiq faced death threats and required armed security? Not to provide it is tantamount to criminal irresponsibility.

    Seventh, why did the police not ask for police remand of the killers and, instead, agree to them being sent to judicial custody? Don’t they need to question them and investigate further? If they don’t, doesn’t that suggest they already know everything  and don’t need custody to find out? And if that is the case one must ask how-- even why—do they know everything.

    These questions are not just important to get to the truth of what happened-- in addition to why and how-- but for a second significant reason as well. As Justice Lokur put it, “whilst there have been encounter deaths before”, last Saturday night’s killings are “probably the first time people have been killed by a third person whilst in police custody.” This is what makes it so dreadful and disturbing. And so shaming.

    We have to ensure this never happens again  or our boast of being the world’s largest democracy –leave aside the less justified brag of being the mother of democracy—will sound fake and hollow. This is why Justice Lokur’s questions matter.

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