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Shadow of friend on slain girl

Mumbai, June 18: Ishrat Raza, the 19-year-old student who was gunned down with three others in an “encounter” on Tuesday, might have paid with her life for her connection with a man whose dealings she possibly had no knowledge of.

Mohammad Naseem Siddiqui, the chairman of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, who has been making enquiries of his own, today alleged that Ishrat was in a relationship with Javed Sheikh, one of the three men gunned down by police in Ahmedabad.

Asked if they were in love, he replied: “Every relationship begins as friendship. Javed knew her six years ago, (the relationship) could have developed.’’

“But whatever it was, she was not a terrorist and should not have been labelled one. I do not know about Javed and the two others, who are said to be Pakistani nationals, but I have spoken to Ishrat’s neighbours, her friends and teachers at Khalsa College where she used to study. I even cross-checked with the local police. None of them has anything against her,’’ he said.

Gujarat police claim that the four were Lashkar-e-Toiba militants on a mission to kill Narendra Modi.

Javed, who was known as Pranesh Kumar Pillai before he converted to Islam to marry a Muslim woman, used to live in Mumbra — Ishrat’s hometown. It was there that Javed, a “good friend of the family’’, got to know Ishrat. She was 13 then.

Originally from Alappuzha in Kerala but living in Pune with his wife and three children, Javed was in the driver’s seat at the time of the “encounter” and Ishrat was sitting next to him.

The interrogation of Javed’s wife Sajida in Pune continued today and she said she knew nothing about her husband’s alleged relationship with Ishrat.

Pune police commissioner D.. Jadhav said Javed had taken the family to Ahmednagar on June 9 and told them he had to go to Mumbai for some work. He came to meet Ishrat instead.

The police will have to verify Sajida’s statements because “he (Javed) doesn’t seem like a straight person”. Sleuths have found two passports belonging to him, one in the name of Pranesh Kumar Pillai and another in the name of Javed. He is also believed to have been using a third name — Sayyed Abdul Wahid.

During searches, the police also found 13 compact discs, one concerning the Gujarat riots.

Pune police, however, said the material was not enough to establish any link with the Lashkar-e-Toiba. They claimed Ishrat was under IB surveillance for a year but did not explain why no action was taken.

Ishrat, a BSc student studying maths and statistics, has become a rallying point in a bitter battle between the Congress-led government in Maharashtra and its BJP counterpart in Gujarat.

State home minister R.R. Patil has ordered a probe into the circumstances of her death, an unprecedented step which will have little legal validity but, in case the report says she is innocent, can embarrass Gujarat. The minorities panel has pitched in, too, calling the encounter a “propaganda against Maharashtra and minorities of the country”.

The two governments are already at loggerheads over the Best Bakery trial.

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