Disha Case: Why Two Teachers Stood by Their 'Encountered' Students for Two Years
V Narasimhulu and J Jagadeesh Kumar are facing the heat for maintaining that the Disha case accused were minors.
V Narasimhulu, a 43-year-old school teacher from Narayanpet district, Telangana has been guarding a government ledger for two years now. The ledger is everything, he thought, on 6 December 2019, when he heard of the encounter killing of the four accused persons– C Chennakesavulu, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Mohammad Arif – in the Disha rape and murder case.
Chennakesavulu and Shiva were students of MPP School Gudigandla where Narasimhulu still teaches. Their dates of birth, which indicate that they were minors at the time of their death, were recorded in the school ledger at the time of admission.
Not far from Gudigandla, J Jagadeesh Kumar, aged 57, and a teacher at MP Primary School, Chinnaporla, too has been keeping his school ledger safe. The third accused, Jollu Naveen, was a student at his school and as per the records, his date of birth too indicates that he was a minor when killed.
The fourth accused, Mohammed Arif, was a major as per all accounts.
The dates are up for scrutiny before the Supreme Court appointed VS Sirpurkar Commission, which is holding hearings in the Telangana High Court to probe the encounter case. The commission was set up on 12 December, 2019, six days after the deaths.
Narasimhulu and Jagadeesh Kumar are also facing heat from the lawyers who are defending the police officers who were present at the encounter and the state government. When The Quint examined the transcripts of the cross-examination at the SC appointed commission, a picture of the tough circumstances the two teachers have been facing, emerged.
Gritty Even When Grilled in Court
Before the Sirpurkar commission, police and state advocates have questioned the two teachers for days in their attempt to show that the crucial school records have inconsistencies.
Here are excerpts of the sort of questions they have faced at the hearing.
"There is no pagination (pages not numbered) in the register produced by you for the years 2005-2015."V Surender Rao, Telangana State Counsel
"Yes, there is no pagination."V Narasimhulu, Teacher
"Pages containing entries from 1405 to 1444 are loosened. What do you say?"V Surender Rao, Telangana State Counsel
"Yes, due to daily use of the records the pages came loose from the binding but they are attached at the top."V Narasimhulu, Teacher
Narasimhulu told The Quint that there are minor inconsistencies in the school registers, but those should not discredit the age records. "In some cases parents do not provide details like date of birth. The register gets updated often," he said. For instance, the state counsel, raised the issue of why one of the accused, Jollu Shiva, was mentioned as Shivaiah in one of the entries.
In the case of one of the 'encountered' accused, C Chennakesavulu, the state counsel had asked Narasimhulu why in one entry Chennakesavulu's year of birth was given as 2004, while in another it was 2002.
Narasimhulu had clarified that Chennakesavulu's date of birth was corrected when he took re-admission at the school after dropping out once. "The corrected date of birth was counter-signed by school officials. But what is important is that when you calculate Chennakesavulu's age by either of the two dates of birth, he remains a minor at the time of death," Narasimhulu told The Quint.
One of the 'encountered' accused, Naveen's teacher Jagadeesh Kumar, was also asked similar questions.
"In the absence of surname, you can't say whether the deceased Jollu Naveen Kumar is the same person whose particulars are mentioned against entry 1908."V Surender Rao, Telangana State Counsel
"Yes, I can say. In the admission form the surname of the father is mentioned."J Jagadeedh Kumar, Teacher
Jagadeesh Kumar told The Quint, "I knew Naveen's family as we all live in a small village. Naveen's maternal aunt used to live just behind the school. I know that the entries in the register are correct and they pertain to Jollu Naveen." Kumar who will retire from government service within a year, may have to keep appearing for Naveen in court. "I am ready to do that as long as I am called to court," he promised.
Jagadeesh Kumar added, "The police never approached me to ask about Naveen's date of birth. Only Naveen's maternal aunt's son came to me asking for a bonafide certificate."
Why have the government school teachers not buckled under pressure?
Speaking Truth to Power
Narasimhulu's stern response was, “Why should I fear anyone? I know the truth and the truth is by my side. It is recorded in the school ledger.”
The police approached Narasimhulu – to get clarity on the dates of birth – only a few days after the encounter, he said. Meaning, before the accused were remanded to judicial custody and later released to police custody, their minor status was not taken into account.
It is worth noting that the youth where arrested on 28 November 2019 and were in custody for eight days before their 'encounter' deaths took place. During those eight days the police had time to check the true ages of the accused. But clearly, in a serious act of omission, that was not done. An act of omission that cost the accused their lives.
According to the school ledger, Chennakesavulu was just 16 when he was killed. Shiva’s admission records which date back to 26 August 2008, reveal that he was 15 when he killed by the Telangana police.
Jagadeesh Kumar has stated that Jollu Naveen's date of birth is 4 April 2004. Meaning, he too was 15-years-old when he died.
Kumar told The Quint, "I am ready to say this before any commission because I have the records."
The teachers’ unwavering statements, about the age of the slain accused, have raised the big question – why were the three accused not brought before the juvenile justice system after their arrest?
All the four accused were killed when, according to Telangana police, they were ‘trying to escape police custody’. However, if Chennakesavulu, Shiva and Naveen were indeed minors, the police would not have got their custody.
The Telangana police have been maintaining, based on Aadhar card records, that the accused were majors at the time of death. The Aadhar cards were obtained from the accused persons' homes after the encounter. According to the teachers, bonafide certificates issued by schools are considered a valid statement of age because they, in most cases, are the first certificates of age proof. This, in the absence of birth certificate.
It remains to be seen if the Sirpurkar commission will give primacy to the school records or the Aadhar cards.
Disha (name changed) was a 26-year-old veterinarian who was raped and murdered on 28 November 2019.
Even while maintaining that they were saddened by Disha's rape and murder, the two teachers have been asserting that the police should have followed the rule of law. As government servants, were they worried that their strong statements before the Sirpurkar commission, could come to haunt their lives, especially since the state police is under fire in the case?
Standing by Unpopular Opinion to Uphold the Law
Narasimhulu told The Quint that if the accused were indeed guilty they should have faced legal trial. He does not condone sexual assault, he clarified, worried that his stand on the encounter could be misconstrued as support for the alleged perpetrators.
Narasimhulu has been facing tough questions from people who think that the state police served justice by killing the accused in an encounter. "They ask how I can stand for the perpetrators even as I have two daughters." The teacher was asked what will happen if Disha's fate repeats in the case of one of his daughters. "I would still turn only to the legal system for justice," Narasimhulu said.
The 43-year-old said he knows that he has an unpopular point of view. But, expressing trust in the legal process he asked, "Where is the proof that these four committed the crime? Such proof would have come out if there was a legal trial. The law should have taken its course and the perpetrators should have been punished."
Jagadeesh Kumar too, backs the legal process. "I was affected by the killing as they were also my students. I would have wanted them to be tried for their alleged crime in a court of law," Kumar said, adding that he was troubled by the encounter killing as he too has young children who are in their 20s. "I have been telling my wife that what happened was not justice."
Narasimhulu said that most students, like the accused, who take admission in government schools in Telangana, come from backward socio-economic backgrounds. "Such people have no one to demand justice for them. So, even in the case of the accused in this case, I am standing by my statement about their age and minority status," Narasimhulu said.
Were the two ever coerced by the police? Telangana police never approached them, except to verify the official records, the teachers said.
Even as the Telangana police tries building a strong case for their personnel, will the two school teachers manage to convince the Sirpurkar commission that three of the accused persons were minors when killed? The commission is expected to submit their report before the SC in February 2022.
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