‘I am living to see justice delivered for my daughter”
Shamima Kauser, 51, is helpless and in pain. For the last nine years, she has been haunted by the memories of her slain daughter, Ishrat Jahan.
The encounter that killed the young girl took place on June 15, 2004, and involved annihilation of four people with alleged links to terrorists on an empty stretch of road between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar in Gujarat, by the officers of the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch. She was 19 then.
Shamima Kauser's family (in pic above) doesn't remember being happy after they lost Ishrat in a fake encounter (Photos Courtesy: Mussarat Jahan)
The encounter was carried out allegedly by a team led by Deputy Inspector General D.G. Vanzara, who was later jailed for his alleged involvement in the Sohrabuddin Sheikh fake encounter.
The police alleged that Ishrat and her associates were Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) operatives involved in a plot to assassinate the state chief minister, Narendra Modi.
Her family members have always maintained that she was innocent and they have been fighting to clear her name despite the social ostracism and ugly political backlash that came their way. In fact, their life in Mumbra, a small township on the outskirts of Mumbai, has been marred by acts of intimidation from various quarters.
A letter dated July 11, 2013, sent by Shamima’s lawyer, Vrinda Grover, to the Home Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, gives a detailed account of the “grave threat to life, liberty and security of Shamima and her children as well as Rauf Lala and Mohinuddin Ismail Sayed, who have supported Shamima in her struggle for justice”.
It describes the dangers they face: “On July 10, 2013, the local Mumbra Police was informed about the threat to Shamima Kauser and her children. Accordingly, policemen were posted at the gate of the building in which Shamima resides.
“My client Shamima Kauser informed that in the middle of the night, at around 2.30am on July 11, 2013, 4-5 men came and started banging on the door of their flat, aggressively demanding that the door of the house be opened.
“Upon being asked by Shamima to identify themselves and their purpose, they kept banging the door. After some time these men announced that they were from the police. Shamima refused to open the door as it was clear that these men had come to bring harm to her and her young children.
“The 4-5 men kept standing outside Shamima’s door for some time, talking in whispers to each other and then left. Clearly, their purpose to terrorize Shamima and her children had been accomplished…”
Of course, incidents like these have not been uncommon. Even in the past attempts have been made on the life of Shamima, Rauf Lala and Mohinuddin Ismail Sayed. But despite written and verbal complaints to the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) no serious action or inquiry had been initiated.
States Shamima quietly, “Hum log bilkul toot gaye hain (our spirit has been broken)… but I know I have to remove this terrorist tag given to my innocent daughter and to my family. We are simple, honest people. In fact, we are so caught up in the daily grind that we don’t even know what’s happening in the neighbourhood.
“Till date no one in the family has ever even argued with anyone, so how can one of us set out to kill? I do not want to get into the politics of it; all that I am saying is that I want justice for my daughter. I want her killers to be booked and punished.”
However, in such a scenario following a ‘normal’ routine has become tough for this middle class family of seven – Shamima and her six children. One of her daughters is married and lives elsewhere with her husband and his family.
“We have gone through so much that it’s even difficult to describe our lives. Ab kuch nahin raha (we have nothing left). Why has this happened to us? What’s our fault?” questions a dejected Musarrat Jahan, 25, Ishrat’s younger sister.
Ever since Ishrat was killed and then labelled a terrorist, her siblings have isolated themselves from the community. Musarrat and her two younger sisters are pursuing their college degrees through correspondence. They are wary of stepping out.
“We have been in a state of severe shock after my sister was killed so brutally and all those charges were slapped on us. It was difficult to even survive, forget about books and studies.
“For five years I was in a trance-like state. I gave up studies, stopped going out, and didn’t meet any relatives. All those years of our life are simply wasted. It’s now that I have started doing a course, but only through correspondence,” elaborates Musarrat.
Making ends meet has been their other constant worry. Earlier, the family had been through a rough patch financially when Shamima’s husband, a small-time builder, had lost all his savings in a bad deal. He couldn’t take the strain and misfortune and died of a brain tumor in 2002.
He was 50 then. The family has been barely managing to keep afloat when Ishrat’s death occurred. She had been doing her best to support the family, even as she pursued her education. With her killing, that assistance too came to an end and fresh tensions raised their heads.
Today, there is no one really left to support the family emotionally or financially.
Ishrat Jahan's mother Shamima Kauser and sister, Mussarat Jahan, are fighting to clear her name
Musarrat says matter-of-fact, “Most of my father’s relatives are no more. My maternal grandmother lives on her pension in her native place in Bihar and my mother’s brother also lives there.
“He is a salaried employee so he just about manages to support his own family. But they help out. Yes, a few people who live in our neighbourhood, like Raul Lala and Mohinuddin Ismail sahib, have stood by us in our fight for justice.”
The family has another staunch supporter in human rights lawyer-cum-activist Vrinda Grover, who is fighting their case, "It was soon after the Sohrabuddin case was taken up by the Supreme Court and the nexus between the cops and politicians was exposed that I was contacted by Ishrat’s family to take this case.
“It was the conviction of the mother and family in Ishrat’s innocence and their determination to have her name cleared that persuaded me. They want their respect and dignity restored.”
Grover has often represented victims of police atrocities and violence but, after meeting Shamima Kauser, seeing the case file and the reading the truth about Sohrabuddin’s murder, it was clear to her that this ‘encounter’ was “not just a crime committed by some trigger happy cops, but rather part of the State sanctioned and planned violence against Muslims, which was unleashed in the genocidal pogrom of 2002”.
Argues Grover, “These encounters, about 22 of them in Gujarat, are part of the politics of hate to polarise and build mistrust and fear between the communities. It is very important to recognise a clear pattern of targeting Muslims and demonising them as the enemy that must be eliminated. To fight for Ishrat’s truth is part of the battle,” she adds.
So why have people been so reluctant to support Shamima? Why, for instance, have groups like the National Commission for Women, the Minorities Commission and child rights groups been so indifferent to these very obvious violations – whether it concerns a young woman’s dignity, the survival of a family or the education of its daughters?
Despite such collective apathy, Shamima Kauser is hopeful, "Very often I ask Allah 'why is this happening to us?' Why have we been chosen to go through all this torture on a daily basis?
“But I also know from experience that if you are honest and truthful then Allah gives you the strength to cope with the troubles. I am living to see justice delivered for my daughter.” - Women's Feature Service