‘The last stop before death’: a house haunted by its history
On the way to Gandhinagar from Ahmedabad, a desolate lane leads to a weekend home. The gatepost says “Arham” but people here know call it “Rajubhai’s farmhouse”. Quiet, lonely and not visible from the highway, Arham Farms is known today as Arham Bungalow.
The name derives from a Jain spiritual term equivalent to “Om”, but the farmhouse’s recent history has been linked with bloodshed. Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi, killed in encounters that were later declared fake, are said to have been detained in this bungalow, which belongs to Raju Jirawala, brother of Surendra Jirawala who was a BJP corporator in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.
Last week, a Special Investigation Team appointed by the Gujarat High Court said Ishrat and three others had been killed in a fake encounter. And Arham is where they had been detained, according to its owner’s deposition to the CBI. The SIT report has taken cognisance of the owner’s deposition.
Seven years ago, when Mumbai’s Ishrat was allegedly brought here with Pranesh alias Javed, it was the only spacious farmhouse, yet isolated, in Ambapur village on the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar Highway.
CBI sources say that the owner, popularly known as Rajubhai, had told the agency team investigating the Sohrabuddin case that Ishrat, 19, had been held captive in 2004. The following year, the farmhouse was used to detain Sohrabuddin and wife Kausar Bi, Rajubhai has told the CBI. Kausar is said to have been killed in this very bungalow. A year later, Sohrabuddin’s accomplice Tulsiram Prajapati was allegedly held captive for a day here before being killed in an “encounter”.
Rajubhai Jirawala had landed in Sabarmati Central Jail for a few months in connection with the Sohrabuddin case before getting bail.
Behind the farmhouse is a dried lake and surrounding it are barren fields, leaving it quite inconspicuous. The manicured lawns, cream and peach walls with paint intact, and a few plastic chairs on the verandah are the only signs of life. Most of the rooms are locked. Jirawala’s farm behind the house has weeds breaking out through the compound walls.
The two caretakers, a father and his teenage son, seem not to care about the weeds that surround their workplace. Bhavesh, around 17, is a labourer from Mehsana who has been staying on the premises for the last few months. His father stays inside the bungalow. Bhavesh is in awe of his father, who he says dragged him from the village to supervise the construction of a plush bungalow coming up on the premises.
“An Army colonel is constructing a bungalow here,” says Bhavesh. “The construction started eight to nine months ago. It is supposed to be a two-storey bungalow sharing the backyard with Rajubhai’s farm. My father stays inside Rajubhai’s bungalow and looks after the maintenance.” Bhavesh’s father watersthe plants and supervises the housekeeping.
The colonel’s bungalow, which is nearing completion, is the only house neighbouring Raju Jirawala’s. It is right at the centre of his farm, cut off from the new ones that have mushroomed lately by the Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar highway.
The caretakers meet once in a while at a local paan shop, the only one along a stretch of 10 kilometres from one end of the highway to the other. The paanwallah says the caretakers recently had a “meeting” to discuss Ishrat.
A caretaker at a neighbouring farmhouse, Nirvana, says, “Rajubhai has banned entry for everyone. No politicians, no police and no family members either. The farm is changing, they are working hard to restore its reputation.”
Among the farmhouses in the neighbourhood, most of them hosting parties in the wedding season, Arham is the only one not decked up.