Harsh Mander: The obsessive Ishrat apologist

Blessed are the secular “intellectuals”. Ask Harsh Mander, he will tell you the virtues of fact-free-life (phrase borrowed from Kartikeya Tanna’s tweet), which as a secular he has been blessed with. If you think I am being sarcastic, read his recent piece in The Wire.

What you and I consider as overwhelming evidence against Ishrat, for him, is just ‘their’ version. The near 3,000-word piece is very high on emotions, higher on omissions and low on facts. Dissect his piece to understand what I am saying.

High on emotions

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Mander explains in 1,524 words Ishrat’s history, how a handful of insensitive journalists broke the story of her death to her mother on the fateful Jun 15th evening, the harassment her mother suffered in the hands of police thereafter, that her relationship with Javed Sheik was just that of a subordinate with her boss and that those who doubted it were misogynists. A cohesive story which has the intended fictional impact. His editing skills are impressive as can be seen from the inconvenient facts that he has cut out from the narration to make it interesting. Says Mander:

In March 2004, some relatives introduced the family to a middle-aged man Javed, who was looking for help with marketing and accounts for his perfume business. He would pay 3,500 rupees a month. It would also involve some out-station visits, for which he would pay extra. With seven mouths to feed, her mother had little option but to allow Ishrat to accept the job, for the lean summer months. Ishrat made two short visits to Pune and Lucknow. On June 11, she left on her last out-station assignment. Her brother left her at the bus stand. Javed was to meet her at Nasik, from where they were to travel by car to other cities.

Let us ignore the ‘seven mouths to feed’ as it is intended at winning sympathy. Mander’s version is that Javed employed Ishrat for his perfume business, the employment involved travelling with him, Ishrat’s mother was aware of the whole thing, and that she assigned the job of leaving Ishrat at the bus stand to her son. Yet, she did not know about Ishrat’s whereabouts when media persons asked her initially. A couple of days later, she told them that Ishrat had left for Mumbai for an ‘interview’. If you wondered why an interview at Mumbai, which was just 50 kms away, should have kept Ishrat away for 4 days, you must be a bhakt. And if you felt that this was already a 2nd alibi and still different from the one Mander is proffering, don’t lose heart for she switched over to this version soon. But stop for a moment to appreciate Mander’s editing skills. If he had mentioned all these flip-flops, do you think the story would have had the emotional appeal that his clean version has?

After her brother left Ishrat at the bus stand, they—Ishrat and Javed—were to travel by car to other cities. On June 15, when the encounter took place, there were two others with the duo. Who were they? What did they have to do with the ‘perfume’ business of Javed? Ishrat’s diary showed that she had paid Rs 1.06 lacs to one of the two Pakistani nationals. What does Harsh Mander have to say about this? He must have ignored these facts, as it is ‘their’ version.

Let us move to the next emotional part in Mander’s piece:

They (Ishrat’s family) owned no television and were not allowed to watch films, even to visit friends. They were busy just in the business of everyday living: content in their routine of studying, working, dreaming; hardly aware of the world outside their home.

What do these two sentences convey? That they were poor, yet conservative? Being conservative is not a virtue in the lexicon of secular “intellectuals” , but if it helps to generate sympathy, why lose the opportunity? And that is what Harsh Mander also has done. But then if you ask, as Tavleen Singh does in this documentary, why did such a conservative mother not have any qualms allowing her daughter to travel with a stranger for days together, you risk being branded as a misogynist by Vrinda Grover, Ishrat’s mother’s lawyer.

Ishrat did not just travel with strangers. She pretended as Javed’s wife while staying in hotels under a false name. Records of a hotel in Lucknow and the evidence of its manger bear testimony to this. Harsh Mander’s defence? The hotel records ‘could have been manipulated by the investigators’. How convenient!

Higher on omissions

Harsh Mander’s secular clock stops at September 2009 when S P Tamang, a metropolitan magistrate submitted an inquiry report u/s 176 of CRPC. Not just Mander, almost all secular “intellectuals” consider this report as the high point in the judicial review of Ishrat case. Prior to that, all superior courts ‘prevaricated.’ Post this report, Mander is yet to make up his mind on the court’s conduct.

Mander describes Tamang’s report as a ‘lucid and tightly argued’ one, which was prepared after careful analysis of ‘post-mortem and forensic evidence.’ And what were Tamang’s findings? Ishrat and Javed were peace-loving citizens of the country and the encounter was a fake and was stage-managed by police officers to get ‘promotions’ in their jobs and to please the Chief Minister. That 21 police officers would collude to kill 4 innocent persons just to get promotions beats me, but then people like me must part of ‘they’ in Mander’s world-view whose apprehension deserves to be ignored. Fair enough. But what did the High Court say about this ‘lucid and tightly argued report’?

It is a fact that the initial order of the Gujarat High Court staying Tamang’s inquiry report was criticised by the Supreme Court and set aside. But then a year later, a division bench of the Gujarat High Court refused to accept the Tamang’s conclusion about the motive on the ground that the magistrate had no material evidence or information to reach to this conclusion. It also raised doubts on the magistrate’s conclusion about the time of death of four people on basis of post-mortem report, FSL reports and statements. So much for the lucid and tightly argued report.

The Gujarat High Court then formed an SIT to go into the case. Mander declares that the SIT found the ‘purported encounter’ to be ‘not genuine.’ He asks further: Even if Ishrat Jahan and her alleged fellow-travellers in the car were terrorists, it still does not justify their killing in cold blood.

Fair question, is it not? But what Mander does not tell you is the following: The SIT constituted a 16-member forensic team to reconstruct the encounter and give its findings on whether the encounter was genuine. The forensic team after multiple visits to the encounter spot concluded that the encounter could have been genuine. The SIT headed by Satish Verma inexplicably trashed the report. Does Mander consider the experts from AIIMS and CFSL to be part of ‘them’?

Low on Facts

Mander says that Javed was introduced to Ishrat’s family in March 2014. But Ishrat’s mother had told the police that Javed lived in Mumbra for 3 years in the late 1990s during which time they had family relations. How does Mander explain this apparent contradiction?

Mander finds merit in the following findings of SIT:

It is undisputed that she met Javed Sheikh for the first time on May 1, 2004. She was killed 45 days later. Of these days, college attendance registers prove that she was attending college in Mumbra for 35 days. She travelled with Javed for ten days. How could she in this time have become a terrorist, a suicide bomber?

Now the question is when Ishrat met Javed: In the 1990s as her mother told police or in March 2014 Mander says in the earlier part of his piece or on May 1, 2014 as SIT asserts? This is significant because SIT uses this short period of acquaintance for rejecting the accusation that Ishrat was an LeT terrorist.

The Facts

Am I being uncharitable to Harsh Mander? Does his piece not contain any facts? To be fair to Mander, the first 3 sentences of his piece are in fact statements of fact:

In the early hours of a midsummer morning, at the outskirts of Ahmedabad near the city’s waterworks, on June 15, 2004, the Gujarat police shot dead four occupants of a car. One of those killed was a young 19-year-old woman. Her name was Ishrat Jahan.

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