What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness


Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

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In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

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Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

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The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-pakistan-war-tv-media-kashmir-burhan-wani-chhattisgarh-bastar-naxals-fake-encounters-surgical-strikes/story/1/13452.html

How Telangana has crushed the dreams of its youth with terror


With continuing false encounters and repressive measures, the rulers of the new state have gone back on their promises.

The Telangana bandh called on October 10, 2015 demanding implementation of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi’s (TRS) promise of farm loan waiver is only the latest in a fresh round of protest and turmoil mounting in India’s newest state. The “Chalo Assembly” rally scheduled before that, for September 30, 2015, was called by around 370 Left and Muslim organisations against the impunity with which the police have been continuing their policy of extra-judicial killings in the name of encounters, even in the new state of Telangana.

Five Muslim prisoners had been brazenly killed on April 7, 2015, while they were being taken to court. On September 16, 2015, two Maoist activists, Shruthi and Vidyasagar, were shown to be killed in an encounter. What aroused public anger was the vivid signs of torture on the bodies of the victims indicating again that the encounter story was fake and that the two had actually been picked up and then killed in cold blood after being submitted to brutal torture. There were even allegations of rape owing to obvious marks on Shruthi’s body showing that acid had been poured on her private parts to demolish evidence of sexual assault.

With an expectation of large participation, the government used all means at its disposal to suppress the rally, arresting hundreds on the previous night itself. Several thousands attempting to reach the Assembly were detained by the police, who not only threw a security cordon around the Assembly in Hyderabad, but also deployed forces in the neighbouring districts to stop those on the way to join the protest. There was even an attempt at self-immolation near the main gate of the Assembly.

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The movement for a separate Telangana state was one of the most vigourously fought out ones in recent times, capturing the imagination of the students and generally the youth of the neglected region in a big way. It resulted in the death of over a thousand people, who are recognised by the new state as martyrs to the cause of statehood. All through the movement, a central rallying point for the youth, in particular, was the promise of a progressive social agenda for the new state to pull it out of backwardness. The leader of the movement and present chief minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) had even gone so far as to declare that he would follow a policy in line with the socio-economic programme of the Maoists.

There were thus great expectations from the new dispensation. However, in the 16 months since the formation of the state, the direction taken by the new government does not seem to have offered much hope. Discontent, particularly among the youth is rising, giving impetus to a number of agitations. The police in the meantime has continued to operate with a heavy hand as before. The chief minister had given assurances that there would be no “encounters” in the new state, but there obviously does not seem to be any intention of putting it to practice. The way in which the police force was unleashed on the “Chalo Assembly” rally on September 30 was also no different from the way KCR’s own “Chalo Assembly” call in May 2013 had been suppressed. Even the parents of the encounter victims were not spared the police lathi.

Use of the police to suppress the resentment can however be, at best, of short-term utility. Movements in Telangana have a way of rising up again and again. This was the case with the movement for statehood, which went through various violent phases before achieving its end. Unless there is actual and visible progress on the ground by the government moving to fulfil people’s aspirations, new rounds of protest and agitation are only to be expected.

Soon after the September 30 police action, the government was trying to do damage control by reiterating the same old promises. KT Rama Rao, a cabinet minister and son of the chief minister, told that “the Naxalite agenda is our agenda“. There are few takers this time, however, for such rhetoric. Several youth who were on the forefront of the separate statehood movement have already been disillusioned enough to take the step of joining the Maoists.

Revolutionary writer, Varavara Rao has claimed that nearly 36 educated youth, including the recently-killed Vivek and Sruthi had joined Maoist group from Telangana. Since there does not seem to be any indication that the government will change its ways, this flow can only grow.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

 

How Salwa Judum is making a comeback in Chhattisgarh


ColoursOfTheCage tries to visualise how a conversation between Chhavendra Karma and an agent representing the corporations must have arrived at this plan of action.

The Salwa Judum launched in 2005 in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh has gone down as one of the most notorious counter-insurgency campaigns of post-1947 India. The governments of state and Centre joined together to arm an unlawful mercenary force of landlords and their henchmen that terrorised the local tribal population who supported the Maoist movement. Villages were burnt down, hundreds were murdered and raped, and 3,50,000 were forced out of their homes, and it was only in 2011 that the Supreme Court declared that the Salwa Judum was unlawful and that the state support for it was unconstitutional. Its main leader, the landlord politician, Mahendra Karma, was himself killed by the Maoists in 2013.

Now two years later, his son, Chhavendra, has created a furore and a new wave of fear in the area by announcing that he intends to launch part two of the Salwa Judum. Many are asking the question: why does Chhavendra Karma want to now relaunch something which has not only failed miserably but has also been prohibited. StoriesUnscene decided to go behind the rhetoric of Salwa Judum 2.0 to find out the motivation and support behind it and the corporate forces that mainly stand to gain from a new reign of terror. We try to visualise how a conversation between Karma and an agent representing the corporations must have arrived at this plan of action.

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Corporate agent: Namaste Shri Karma! How do you keep busy these days?

Chhavendra Karma: What to tell you Shethji. Forget about me, I’m worried about my boys. After the collapse of Salwa Judum, nobody is giving any funds and all my boys are deserting me. If this goes on for long I won’t have any body left.

Agent: That’s not good. There’s lots of work to be done. And lots of money to be earned. So many big companies are ready to spend thousands of crores – just two projects are worth 24,000 crores. They know they can make hundred times more in profit.

Karma: But we don’t see any of it. Nothing reaches us. Don’t you want the locals to develop.

Agent: Of course, of course! You local landlord guys should do well. You are our main support and we will definitely give you something. But the big bosses want results. The land has got to be cleared no. if your villagers are allowed to stand in the way how can we get profits?

Karma: They think their whole livelihood will be destroyed.

Agent: See Karmaji, both you and I know that there cannot be development without pain. Someone has to suffer. No construction without destruction. Vikas requires Vinash. Destruction of hundreds of villages and lives of lakhs of villagers may take place, but think of how many billion dollars of construction will take place. Tata, Essar, Jindal, Mittal, all ready to put money – even big American capitalists like Texas Pacific Group. If people like you handle things properly, your earnings will be in hundreds of crores. But the villagers shouldn’t be selfish and stop development. They should quietly leave.

Karma: You know they won’t leave quietly.

Agent: That we know. They are even forming their own government. But our government is making arrangements. Number of para military is being increased. Big part of Abhujmaad is being handed over to the military. If people start opposing the military, then the air force will have to help them. Drones are anyway there. All means will be used. No one should be allowed to stand in the way of development after all. Do you know how the USA became the most developed country? They did not allow some few lakh tribals to stop them.

Karma: My father was all for development. I am all for development. I know our adivasis – they won’t cooperate and sacrifice quietly for development – we will have to force them out like my father did in the Salwa Judum. My father worked at a different level and achieved much more than the para-militaries.

Agent: Why do you think I came to you? Your father’s work must go ahead.

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Karma: Aah, but that Supreme Court will also create trouble.

Agent: That too can be seen too. Last time we made a mistake and didn’t give that enough importance. This time we’ll see that all that is arranged. Companies will even be ready to put some crores to buy the cleverest lawyers.

Karma: But do you think these parties have guts to fight in the open. Even Congress, my own party may not support me. And who can trust the BJP!

Agent: Parties no need to worry. My bosses will see to that.

Karma: This will all cost money. My boys like to enjoy …and they need modern arms and equipment.

Agent: That is our responsibility. It is called CSR – corporate social responsibility. We are all for the development of you and your boys. In fact you should give up the old ‘Salwa Judum’ name. I think it has got something to do with hunting, which is quite primitive. Let us be modern and give a name with ‘Development’ in it. Then our companies can even directly give you hundreds of crores from our CSR funds. Your ‘Development’ is the social responsibility of our big corporations.

Karma: (eyes lighting up) I will be responsible for proper usage of the funds. We will see that all the iron ore hills from Raoghat onwards are cleared of all villages. Along with the Bastar region we will also develop Rajnandgaon and Gadchiroli. And this time we will see that everyone sacrifices for the sake of development. We will call ourselves Vikas Sangharsh Samithi. We will do the Vinash necessary to attain Vikas.

(And this is how the idea of Salwa Judum 2.0 was conceived.)

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/salwa-judum-bastar-chhattisgarh-mahendra-karma-chhavendra-maoist-supreme-court/story/1/4233.html

Andhra and Telangana encounters: How police gets away with murder


What links the two killings is the supreme impunity with immunity which classically defines the police encounter.

The killings on April 7th, 2015 by the Telengana and Andhra Pradesh police seems a sort of gruesome competition between the two states’ forces to lay claim to a gory heritage. It was after all the police of the erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh who first gave new sinister meaning to the word “encounter”. The first report regarding such encounter killings, brought out in May 1977 by a committee headed by retired Bombay High Court Justice VM Tarkunde, was regarding the killings of Naxalites by the AP police. It was simply and self-explanatorily titled “Encounters are Murders”. “Encounter” then went on to become part of the everyday police lexicon of a number of Indian states and languages.

The April 7 killings took place around 500 km apart, the first on a secluded part of the highway on the border of the Warangal and Nalgonda districts of Telangana, the second in the Seshachalam forests of Chitoor distict of AP. The victims had little similarity – the first were five Muslim undertrials on the verge of completing their case where they expected acquittal, the second were tribal labourers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu who had crossed into AP in search of work.

What links the two killings is the supreme impunity with immunity which classically defines the police encounter. In the Chitoor case the police story farcically claims that the tribals “armed” with stones attacked a posse of police armed with automatic weapons, whose random fire in “self-defence” killed 20 persons. Witnesses have already testified before the National Human Rights Commission how these “attackers” had been apprehended by the police some hours before the killings, while human rights organisation reports tell that there were no stones at the encounter site. The Warangal story was that five prisoners being taken to court in handcuffs attacked the escort party of 17 policemen armed with modern weapons. They said the handcuffs had been removed when one of them wanted to urinate on the highway. But the photos show handcuffed prisoners chained to seats with guns obviously placed in hands of dead bodies.

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The deliberate cold-blooded nature of the police killings and their encounter stories seem to have grown more brazen and barefaced over the years. Certain common ingredients however remain.

Ministerial and official support for encounter killings

The most important factor perhaps for the existence and rise of encounter killings is the go-ahead and green signal from the political establishment. All encounter killings – whether in Naxalite-affected areas, or in militancy-affected areas of Northeast and Kashmir or earlier Punjab, or of so-called criminals – have ministerial patronage. In some cases – think Amit Shah, when home minister of Gujarat – ministers have been accused of being directly involved in particular police killings. But more important is their blanket backing for human rights violations. Rajnath Singh, soon after coming in as Union Home Minister, promised a symposium of DGPs and heads of police training institutions that they would have full freedom from hassles of human rights commissions while dealing with maoists. A functionary oathed into office to protect the Constitution had no compunctions in publicly proclaiming contempt for it.

The other important driving force behind encounter killings is the top police establishment, with its easy contempt for rule of law. Being fully aware of the illegal and extra-constitutional nature of encounter killings, they are the ones who, on the one hand give the order for such killings, while at the same time feeding to the media the false and fabricated tales of valour of the killer cops. When a five judge full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court gave a judgement in February 2009 directing filing of FIRs wherever a police officer causes death of a person, it was the AP Police Officers’ Association who appealed against it in the Supreme Court and obtained a stay on it within a month. They obviously want no judicial interference hindering their unwritten licence to kill.

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Encounter specialists and executioner teams

The next rung in the encounter machinery are the commanders of the encounter teams. Over the years there have been police officers who have specialised in these killings giving rise to the ominous term of “encounter specialists”. They have achieved fame with awards and even many films being made on them. Many, particularly the “specialists” of Mumbai, are into the business of extortion and collecting payouts from rival gangs for the killings, ending up with wealth reportedly running into several hundred crores.

At the lowest level are the team members, whose names appear in the fabricated stories of encounters as participants. Their USP is their mindless obedience of orders – whether legal or not – and their willingness to keep silent about it. If the crimes get exposed, it is this lot and not the bosses who take the blame. When we (the authors of this piece) met a few such cops in jail, who had been charged with murder along with their encounter specialist boss, Pradeep Sharma, they were lamenting how they had “only done their duty” and now did not even have the wherewithal for proper legal aid. Their trial ended in a life sentence for them, while Sharma was acquitted.

Manufacturing consent by demonising victims and glorifying killers

The encounter murder is one type of heinous crime that has considerable legitimacy in many sections of Indian society. The media and film industry in particular have played no small role in manufacturing consent for this crime. This is done through a combination of demonization of the victims and glorification of the killers.

Thus, in most newspaper headlines, the poverty stricken tribal labourers killed in Chitoor became “smugglers”, a word that could easily create images of filthy rich criminal dons. Similarly, all newspapers unquestioning adopted the police story branding the undertrials of Warangal as “terrorists” and listed “their” terror acts. Not one mentioned that they had not been convicted even once and were likely to be acquitted and set free.

Meanwhile, the encounter specialists who gun down arrested persons at point blank range are portrayed as sharpshooters and daredevils. Films on particular cops even show them as protectors of the people. Many newspaper editorials even laud them for their efforts in delivering “justice” in the face of the delays and deficiencies of the judicial process.

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All these celebratory noises thus consciously counter rule of law, which is the basis of any civilised society.  The lonely dissenters are the few democratic rights and civil liberties organisations that try to bring out the truth and expose these encounters for the murders that they are. The odds against them are however getting heavier. A fact-finding team of Coordination of Democratic Rights Organisations (CDRO) which went to investigate the Chitoor killings even had an FIR registered against them for trespassing into the forests – even before any FIR was registered against the killer cops. The road to the establishment of democratic norms in our country is uphill all the way.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

Allahabad lawyer killing shows how khaki is above the law


All-India advocates’ strike fails to have any impact on rising police impunity.

 

The story of the near-total strike on March 16, 2015 by 1.3 million advocates throughout the country began on March 11 on the steps of the entrance to the Allahabad District Court building. The shaky mobile-shot video available on YouTube shows a sequence of events which started with an argument between a uniformed sub-inspector, Shailendra Singh, and an advocate, Nabi Ahmed. The cop decides to settle the argument by other means and reaches for the gun in his holster. There is a scramble as other lawyers try to intervene. The police officer however fires from his weapon, felling the advocate. As shocked lawyers and standers-on run helter-skelter, the cop brandishes his gun, pointing it all around. As howls of protest rise he runs for the gate.

The advocate died even before reaching the hospital. Lawyers immediately started protests both at the District Court and at the Allahabad High Court, the largest high court in India, but had to bear the brunt of police lathi charges even within the court premises. They also marched to the office of the SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police), where the killer cop had reportedly taken shelter. As the protests there turned violent there was police firing. The lawyers struck work and boycotted the courts, first in Allahabad and Lucknow and from the next day, throughout Uttar Pradesh. A one-day All-India lawyers strike was called on Monday by the Bar Council of India. The lawyers of UP continued their strike, demanding action on the SSP, among other things. On the seventh day however, the Allahabad High Court Bar Association withdrew the strike without this demand being met. A mahapanchayat of all the District Bar representatives of the state has also decided to bring the boycott to a close on March 23rd.

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The incident and its aftermath raises questions germane to the function of the system of justice in our country.

First, is the extent to which the police have become a law unto themselves. The sub-inspector not only used his service revolver to settle his dispute, but, after the incident, even visited his own police station and another police station, without any attempt being made to arrest him. The dispute itself arose from a criminal complaint filed by Nabi Ahmed, which was to have been investigated by Singh. The advocate’s grouse was that Singh has taken a bribe from the accused and had filed a closure report in the matter, without doing any investigation. That he dared to accost and question the officer about it cost him his life. A press report, which gives some indication of the police mindset, quotes the officer after the incident as saying there was nothing greater than sanmaan – thus implying that it was his “respect” that was at stake and hence the firing.

But it was not only the sub-inspector’s mindset. During the lawyers’ agitation the higher level officers too went out of their way to present a story indicating that the firing could be an act of self-defence. In a way they were merely mirroring the numerous fake stories of “encounters” in “self-defence”, used by police all over the country. To a society which has grown to accept hundreds of such stories without question, the story of an unarmed lawyer in a court building being a threat to the life of an armed sub-inspector does not seem too absurd.

The killer cop was no criminal in the eyes of the police. Though he continued to remain with the city limits he was not arrested until the rising tide of lawyers’ anger forced the authorities to show his arrest after 48 hours. Some police officers even started sending out messages on WhatsApp calling for contributions in Shailendra Singh’s support from all officers-in-charge of police stations in UP. The collection was reported to have touched twenty lakhs on the second day itself. Such measures quite possibly had the support of police higher-ups.

It is such brazen operations of a police force that call to question any claim that rule of law has sanctity in most parts of the country. Both of us (Arun and Vernon) have spent time in police custody and, having experienced torture and threats of being finished off in an ‘encounter’, are quite aware of the extent of the lawlessness of those assigned to uphold the law. We have seen officers react angrily when questioned in court on such illegal acts, implying that it was a question of their “honour”. But in advocate Nabi Ahmed’s case, the contradictions are all the more stark. Here is a case concerning the courts and the bar, which could at least have been expected to be immune to the acts of a lawless force. It is a case where the local lawyers fought resolutely to protect themselves and their rights. They were joined by all the lawyers of India’s largest state and then by all the lawyers of the country. However, even such a large and organized body could not achieve their demand of action on the district police chief, who sheltered the killer officer. It is perhaps indicative of the degree to which the police have been given a free hand that the government is unwilling to act on members of a coercive arm of the state.

Another less important, but nevertheless worrying aspect of this whole episode is the way such a massive All-India strike action by lakhs of lawyers has simply gone by without much of a ripple in society. Outside Allahabad, reports and commentary in the mainstream media have been minimal. Parliament too, despite being in session, and despite having many legal leading lights among its members, did not notice the strike. An event having a direct impact on crores of litigants has passed off relatively unnoticed. Another telling comment on our level of acceptance of the “tareek pe tareek” court-delay syndrome that ails the whole justice system.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/allahabad-lawyer-killing-nabi-ahmed-shailendra-singh-lathi-charge-high-court/story/1/2710.html