Sitting ducks Atiq and Ashraf meet gory end
Subhashis Mittra-WIDE ANGLE
The end came with a bang on April 15. As gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf were escorted for a routine medical check-up to the Colvin Hospital in Prayagraj (Allahabad), they were shot dead by three young men. Whether their murder, unlike in the case of Atiq’s son Asad and his accomplice only two days earlier, can be termed an extrajudicial killing or not is debatable.
The NHRC has taken cognisance of the shooting and issued notice to the UP Police to explain the circumstances.
But, none can deny that the cold-blooded killings, from a point-blank range and in the presence of armed policemen, leave many questions unanswered.
The odd timing of the hospital visit is the first surprise. On April 13, the chief judicial magistrate of Prayagraj sent both Atiq and Ashraf to police custody until April 17 in the Umesh Pal murder case. As per the procedure laid down in Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as soon as a person is apprehended, his medical examination is compulsory. The police, here, have no discretion.
The police, as a common practice, take the arrested person in their custody for a medical check only before every court production and not in between their custody period. Many senior police officers admitted on conditions of anonymity that while these medical check-ups are a must, taking the accused persons at night for a routine check-up is unusual.
“It is rather odd to see policemen take the accused person for a routine check-up so late at night,” said a senior IPS officer.
A few questions that the UP police must answer crop up. Why did the police decide to take Atiq and Ashraf to the hospital at an unusual time? If Atiq and Ashraf had requested a hospital visit, something that an accused person can lawfully demand in the case of any discomfort, how did the assailants know of their sudden movement to the hospital? Also, did Atiq and Ashraf both complain of discomfort at the same time? If they had complained of any medical discomfort, why were they paraded to the hospital on foot instead of being taken in an ambulance?
Their lawyer claimed that the duo was taken to the hospital for a “routine check-up” and that they had not complained of any discomfort. He further added that the timing of their movement to the hospital was “highly questionable”.
Another question that baffles the mind is why were the men handcuffed?
Their execution, captured live on the cameras of video journalists who were present at the time, shows the duo huddled with their hands tied together in one handcuff.
As long ago as 1978, the Supreme Court in Sunil Batra Etc vs Delhi Administration and Ors had observed that the state should stop the indiscriminate resort to handcuffs. “Reckless handcuffing and chaining in public degrades, puts to shame finer sensibilities and is a slur on our culture,” the court had observed.
In another case, Prem Shankar Shukla versus Delhi Administration, the apex court said: “Binding together either the hands or the feet or both has not merely a preventive impact, but also a punitive hurtfulness.”
And in this case, the two accused persons were tied together in the same handcuff, completely curtailing their movement. When Atiq was shot dead, Ashraf, who was tied to him, had absolutely no chance of dodging the bullet. He too was killed on the spot.
Was the security not inadequate despite the threat to life? Atiq and Ashraf were accused in a high-profile murder case. Atiq’s son was killed only two days earlier. Both Atiq and Ashraf have, on multiple occasions, claimed that their life is in danger. In fact, on April 11, when Atiq was moved from Sabarmati jail in Gujarat to Prayagraj, he expressed his fear of getting killed on the way.
“It is not right. They want to kill me,” Atiq could be heard saying to the journalists gathered outside the jail.
Atiq had earlier approached the Supreme Court, saying that he feared he would be killed in a fake encounter, like Vikas Dubey was. The court had turned down his plea. He had then moved a separate application before the chief judicial magistrate in Prayagraj for a hearing via videoconferencing. This application too was rejected by the court.
Why was the man who was facing a clear threat to his life and had voiced his fear multiple times taken on foot to the hospital? And during this hospital visit, a melee of journalists was allowed very close to the duo. The assailants, because of the police’s lapse, were able to disguise themselves as journalists and could shoot at the duo from a close range.