"The allegations are baseless. It is to shield the accused. It was not an encounter. It was given the name of an encounter" - Shamima Kausar, Ishrat Jahan's mother
Shamima Kausar, in her fifties, stays confined to her two-room flat in an ill-maintained Najish apartment in Mumbra, a suburb of Thane, Maharashtra. Loss and pain have been her constant companions for more than a decade now. Her husband died of cancer in 2002, leaving behind a family of seven children. Two years later, her 19-year-old daughter—her second child—was gunned down along with three men on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The Gujarat crime branch said that Ishrat Jahan, Javed Sheikh aka Pranesh Pillai, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar were terrorists who were on a mission to kill Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat. Since then, the terrorist tag has not left Shamima's family. Their only solace has been that none of the charge sheets in the case mentions Ishrat as a terrorist, and a number of policemen, including IPS officers, have been arrested for the alleged fake encounter. Some of them, however, have got bail, like IPS officer D.G. Vanzara.
“Bahut taklifein jheli hain humne [We have gone through a lot of problems],” Shamima tells THE WEEK. “Uski bahut yaad aati hain. Har roz. Paanch beheno ki kadi tut gayi [I miss her, daily. It shattered the bond between the five sisters].” Though the 'encounter' turned their world upside down, Shamima managed to get two of her daughters married; the other two are in college. Her 29-year-old son, Anwar, works in a company, while her youngest son, Amanullah, is preparing for class 12 exams. The recent testimony by Lashkar-e-Taiba operative David Headley that Ishrat was an LeT member has come as a shocker. “The allegations are baseless,” says Shamima. “It is to shield the accused. It was not an encounter. It was given the name of an encounter. If you are in custody and killed, is that an encounter? It was planned beforehand.”
The days following the 'encounter' on June 15, 2004, were a harrowing period for the family—one that they would never forget. Their secondhand TV wasn't working, so they did not know about Ishrat's death for days. When a reporter, posing as a student from Ishrat's college, came asking for her whereabouts, the family thought it was for a college-related matter. It was only when a woman reporter showed them a newspaper clipping, that they came to know about the encounter.
Ishrat had told her family that she was going to Nashik with Javed for a job and would return in two or three days. Says Anwar: “A brother of Ishrat’s friend had put her through to Javed. We trusted him [friend’s brother]. Moreover, Javed had also worked as an electrician with our father. There was no reason not to trust him as well.”
According to the family, Ishrat had gone to Nashik to help Javed with the accounts of his soap business and to learn marketing for the same. “She called us on reaching Nashik,” says Shamima. “She sounded scared. She said she had a feeling that someone was following her. Soon after, she called up saying, 'Don’t worry, he [Javed] has come'.” That was the last conversation she had with her daughter. “What started that day—when the reporter came in the guise of a student—has not ended. That day, many reporters and policemen came to our residence. We saw the police for the first time in person then,” says Shamima. “Everything changed. I stopped visiting people as they would only discuss the encounter.” Initially, a lot of people came to support the family, but then the police threatened them and they kept away, says Anwar. “We are broken. Things are not the same anymore,” says Shamima, who still grieves for her daughter.
Ishrat was more than a daughter for Shamima; she was her support system after her husband's death. Ishrat, a second-year science student of Khalsa College in Mumbai, would give tuitions at home in her spare time. According to the family, she was good in mathematics and science. She had two dozen students, and earned around Rs 1,500 a month. She also taught at a coaching class, not far from her home for Rs 1,000 a month. Soon after the encounter, people stopped sending their children for tuitions given by her siblings.
ISHRAT DID NOT have many friends in college. “She did not make many friends and did not bring them home because we had nothing to offer them,” says Anwar. She would stitch her own clothes, sharing them with her sisters. Shamima describes Ishrat as a cheerful and kind person. Anwar remembers her as a loving yet strict sister, who would hit him if he didn't study well. “I was also beaten if I returned home late after playing cricket,” he says. Following the 'encounter', Anwar, who wanted to be an engineer, quit studies after class 12 and started working. But it wasn't easy to find and keep a job. Once, he had to quit because the person who helped him get the job politely asked him to leave, lest he should land in trouble because of Ishrat's case. “Even now, people in the company where I work do not know about me,” says Anwar, who earns Rs 15,000 a month. Post the 'encounter', the family stayed in a rented house, paying Rs 5,000 a month. A couple of years ago, they moved to the two-room flat, which Shamima says belongs to a relative,.
Despite the endless trials, in court and elsewhere, the family says they will continue to fight for justice. “My husband taught us not to give up,” says Shamima. “The terrorist tag will go.” People allege that we have been given money to remain silent, says Amanullah, her youngest son. He then looks around the room, which has an aluminium partition to make a bedroom, and asks, “Do you see any money?”