David Headley's statement naming Ishrat Jahan as Lashkar terrorist is nothing without context

India woke up on Thursday to possibly the most controversial revelation by David Headley, convicted in the US for his role in the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. Headley, during his deposition, told the Mumbai court that Ishrat Jahan was a LeT operative. However, the sequence of questioning which led to the statement naming Ishrat Jahan, puts much of the high-decibel outrage in perspective.

Even as political and social media reactions over the revelations were pouring out, NDTV's Sreenivasan Jain put out a series of tweets describing the exact sequence of questioning.

Prior to naming Ishrat, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam put two specific questions to Headley, asking if there were female suicide bombers in the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and if he could name a female suicide bomber. To both these queries, Headley replied in the negative.

Subsequently, Headley was asked if there was a 'botched up' operation in India. While Headley replied in the affirmative, he said that he heard about it when he was listening to a conversation between (LeT head) Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Muzzamil Bhat. Headley is reported to have said, "Later, I asked Muzzamil; he told that there was a female member of the LeT killed in a police shootout at a naka. Exact place I cannot recall."

According to CNN-IBN, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam asked him to mention the name of the female LeT member who was killed. To this question, Headley was unsure and did not immediately answer. Later, Nikam gave him three options —Noor Begum, Ishrat Jahan and Mumtaz — in response to which Headley named Ishrat.

Vrinda Grover, the lawyer for Ishrat Jahan's mother, criticized the line of questioning, and said that it is not admissible evidence. "Only that part of the statement is admissible which Headley himself has said or heard," she said.

The Evidence Act, 1872 lays down the law on how witnesses can be examined in court. It specifically defines a 'leading question', which cannot be asked as part of questioning. "Any question suggesting the answer which the person putting it wishes or expects to receive is a leading question."

Section 142 of the Evidence Act states that leading questions must not be asked during an examination-in-chief or a re-examination, if the adverse party objects to the question. The judge can only permit leading questions in matters 'which are introductory or undisputed, or which have, in its opinion, been sufficiently proved.

Since there has no judicial pronouncement affirming that Ishrat Jahan was a Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist, there is a question mark over whether the aspect can be said to be sufficiently proved.

However, since the judge allowed the question asked by Nikam, it remains to be seen whether it will be counted as evidence.

Updated Date: Feb 11, 2016 16:50:05 IST