Prashant Dayal, Ahmedabad: December 21 was an important day for Gujarat. The state’s infamous Sohrabuddin Shaikh and Tulsiram Prajapati’s alleged fake encounter case was up for verdict in a special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court in Mumbai. Judge SJ Sharma, while declaring the verdict, said that he felt sorry for the loss of lives of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser and Tulsiram. The truth that three people lost their lives cannot be denied, and that he is sorry for the families of the deceased, but he is helpless as he doesn’t have enough proofs to convict the accused persons and thus he has to set free the 22 accused as innocent. It was obvious for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments in Gujarat and at the centre to feel happy about the verdict. The policemen who were acquitted were extremely happy too. But lakhs of countrymen, who had no connection whatsoever with this case, were stunned. Everyone’s mind had one question, “How could this happen?” Though, this might get forgotten with the passage of time.

In 2005, a Gujarat Police team travels to Sangli from Hyderabad. The flag a bus down and pick up Rajasthan-based gangster Sohrabuddin Shaikh, his wife Kauser Bi and Shaikh’s accomplice Tulsiram Prajapati from the bus. Kauser asks the cops where they were taking her husband to. She cries and insists that she come along with Sohrabuddin. The cops take the trio along with them and at Valsad, hand over Tulsiram to Rajasthan Police officials. They continue with Sohrabuddin and his wife towards Ahmedabad, and near Narol highway, he is shot dead. The Gujarat Police claim that Shaikh was a terrorist who wanted to assassinate the then CM Narendra Modi and was killed in an encounter.

Meanwhile, Kauser Bi, who was put up at a farmhouse at Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar highway, was completely unaware of her husband’s murder. She keeps inquiring about him. The cops feel that Kauser could be trouble for them, and thus kill her too. Her body is then taken to DG Vanzara’s village and burnt. Exactly a year later, when the CID’s crime branch reaches Rajasthan to interrogate Prajapati, the Rajasthan Police declare that he escaped police custody and was shot dead in an encounter that followed near Ambaji. In 2010, the CBI reaches Gandhinagar, and for the first time in the country, a sitting home minister of a state, Amit Shah of Gujarat and Gulabchand Kataria of Rajasthan, were accused in a fake police encounter case. Total 38 people were made accused in the case.

Gujarat and Rajasthan policemen were kept in prisons for 9 years. They applied for bail in multiple courts, but all of them rejected their pleas stating that there’s evidence against them and thus cannot be granted bail. The investigations and court proceedings dragged for 13 long years. The Supreme Court observed that the case might get influenced as witnesses could be threatened and bribed. The apex court instructed that the case is moved to Mumbai from Gujarat. But after 13 years, the Mumbai court says that it is helpless as 95 out of the 210 witnesses turned hostile in the court. Judge Sharma stressed the fact that the witnesses turned hostile, there no evidence and hence he is helpless. His usage of the term helpless revealed a lot more than what was said. The judge didn’t have to turn helpless when the witnesses were changing their stance.

Instead, the trial should have been stopped there itself and an investigation is ordered into why the witnesses were turning hostile, and thus strengthening the trust of the witnesses in the judiciary and law. But Judge Sharma didn’t do so, instead, he waited till the whole trial to get over for someone to raise this issue. The court says that Shorabuddin was killed by gunshot, but doesn’t know who fired at him. There was no one else around when Sohrabuddin was killed, and according to the FIR, only cops from the Rajasthan and Gujarat Police were present. Judge Sharma acted in a manner as the Lady Justice was actually blindfolded. This is not limited to just one case. Whenever any miscreant breaks the law, then there is the police to bring him to justice. But what about those instances when the police and our leaders take the law into their hands? If the judge says he/she is helpless in these situations, then who will the people turn to for justice? The helplessness of the judge shows that either he knows that those standing in the accused box during the trial are indeed at fault but he cannot punish them, or that he doesn’t really wish to punish them for their crime, which is his helplessness.

Sohrabuddin and Tulsiram were criminals, who got killed by the police. But Kauser Bi’s only fault was that she was the wife of the slain gangster and thus got killed. A major section of people did raise the question that those who got killed were criminals, why such a hue and cry over their deaths. But the issue is not that the persons were criminals or not, but if those who are supposed to protect us, the police and the leaders get into the habit of getting away with such crimes, then they could pull anyone out of their houses and kill them, claiming the person was a terrorist.