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. “ThereÂ’s nothing left to talk about,” she says. She lets on, though, that she almost had a premonition of the encounter.
EVERY 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 Â‘ 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 online anonymity.