There has never been as trigger-happy a chief minister as Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh is these days: his 10-month government is touting killings of 34 persons – mostly petty criminals and under trials – by police in 1,142 ‘encounters’ as its major achievement. In the ascetic-turned-CM Yogi’s regime, the police have carried out on average four ‘encounters’ each day.
With a smile on his face, Yogi defends the bullet for bullet policy on the national television. “They should either surrender or be ready to die in an encounter,” is Yogi’s favourite one-liner these days.
Those killed are mostly Muslims and some from lower caste Hindus from Meerut, Agra, Bareilly and Kanpur – that constitute the notorious badland of India. Interestingly, Gorakhpur, Yogi’s political fiefdom that enjoys an ever worst reputation for being home to organized criminals and gangs has been kept out of “swacch badmash abhiyaan,” as the Yogi calls his government’s ‘encounter’ campaign.
At a time, when the genuineness of the encounters is being questioned as some of them have proved to fake and staged and evidence about these is surfacing, another BJP leader and state’s deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has said; ‘encounters are a must for bringing in the Ram Rajya, the Hindu utopia, in Uttar Pradesh.’
Maurya was invoking the name of Lord Rama, en epitome of righteousness, over the bodies of petty criminals while the hardcore ones remain untouched.
Yogi and Maurya remain unfazed by the adverse media coverage of ‘encounters’ and also criticism of the ‘encounter therapy’ for curbing crimes by the human right activists. First of all, one wonders how an elected head of the government can order his police to ‘go for encounters.’ Does an encounter happen at the wish and command of a chief minister or the state’s police?
Yogi and his police are making encounters look like staged dramas that the police were, probably, not interested in, so far. Now, after Yogi’s nod, suddenly the police find the criminals walking up to them and seeking encounters!
“The job of the police is to arrest the criminal and the judiciary alone can decide his culpability and punishment,” says Ravi Nair, head of the Delhi-based South Asia Human Rights Documentation center. He is aghast at Yogi’s open directions to the police to eliminate criminals in encounters. “He has no powers to order police to go for encounters; this is violation of the Article 21 of the Constitution and ideally Chief minister should be booked for violation of fundamental rights of alleged criminals,” Nair, a well-known human rights lawyer of international repute, said.
On a closer study of 1,142 encounters, one can see a pattern emerging. In most of the cases studied by media persons, it comes out that the encounters have no eyewitnesses. All of them occur in open grounds between 8 pm-midnight and 2 am to 4 am.
Some of the encounters have even been recorded on camera. How come the police knew that an encounter is going to happen and they should be camera-ready for the occasion?
It appears that each encounter is staged on a common script: the police only have to change the name of the killed persons and place of the ‘encounter’ in all the 1,142 cases. Each killed person is shown to be carrying more than one and almost same type of guns - a .32 bore pistol, a 9 mm pistol, or a country-made pistol.
In each case, police receive information about the proposed criminal act of specific gangs who move on mobiles or on foot. The police go to track them down and are fired upon. One person dies while his accomplices fled.
According to Rajeev Yadav of the Rihai Manch, a human rights NGO, those killed in encounters are Muslims or lower caste Hindus. He feels the encounter strategy is politically motivated since those eliminated in these come from communities that have never voted for BJP in elections.
Are encounters aimed at creating a scare in the minds of those who come in the way of BJP’s rise?
Take the case of a known gangster Muqeem Kala, whose brother Wasim was killed in an encounter. Wasim’s post-mortem report says he was shot in his head from close range – not something that happens in an encounter. Now Kala, who is at large, is believed to have been involved in a number of the criminal acts and terrorizing everyone including Hindus out of a western UP town of Kirana in 2016. This was one of the key issues for BJP in the 2017 election in India’s largest state.
The first expose on fake encounters came when last year police shot dead a namesake of a criminal Sumit Gurjar in Noida. The police had killed a gym-owner presuming him to be a notorious gangster and claimed he was killed in an encounter. The policemen involved in the cold-blooded murder were hoping to be rewarded and given out of turn promotions. Most of the killed persons were carrying small rewards on their heads. In most of the cases, the rewards have been announced recently and obviously meant to incentivize the killing spree.
As the innocent Gurjar’s family was shocked to be told that their son was a gangster and staged protests, the police had to lodge an FIR and suspend the cops involved in it. However, the encounter campaign continued.
Apart from this, the police have imposed National Security Act (NSA) against 167 criminals and seized assets worth nearly 150 crores. Now the fear is so intense that those accused of crimes are getting their bails cancelled for they fear once out they would be done to death in encounters. According to a top police officer, some 5,000 persons have withdrawn their bail applications.
Two noted criminals, it seemed, staged a walk
in a Western UP village seeking pardon of everyone and handing themselves over
to the police.
Experts are warning that if the trend of encounters is not monitored strictly, it could lead to a repeat of the 1991 Pilibhit fake encounter case. A special CBI court had held 47 police officers guilty of killing 12 pilgrims, who were on their way to their homes. The police had believed they were militants, stopped their bus and taken each of them to different places and killing them.
Award-winning journalist Neha Dixit visited the families of those killed in encounters in the four districts of western UP – Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Baghpat. She writes in The Wire that after speaking with the families of 14 dead persons and police officer, the darkest fears of everyone that these were cases of extrajudicial custodial killings have come true.
It seems in September, five undertrials from poor families who had spent a significant time in jail were killed in police encounters. They were Nadeem, 30 and Jaan Mohammed, 24 from Muzaffarnagar, Shamshad and Mansoor, both 35 from Saharanpur and Vasim, 17 from Shamli. Many of those killed in the encounters had been released recently only to be bumped off later.
In many cases, the bodies of the slain persons were found to have torture marks and even broken bones – very unlikely to happen in encounters. Most of the post-mortem reports show that the police had killed them from close range.
The case of Mansoor, who had become mentally unstable after spending a one-and-a-half year in jail for a attempted murder, and had come out on bail is heart-rending. Ever since the release he had been living in the open public space in his village Pathanpura, Saharanpur. Villagers would offer him food and he never washed himself up. He would have to be forced inside his home in the night.
Villagers told Dixit that on September 28, three people in plain clothes came to the village and took away Mansoor in a car. The same evening, the Meerut police announced that he was involved in 25 criminal cases and had been killed in an encounter in Pallavpuram area. The police also claimed to have found a ‘German brand revolver’ from him.
Nobody believed this story in his village.
Jaan Mohammad was another petty criminal killed in ‘encounter.’ The police said he was killed while he was on the way to commit a crime. His bullet-ridden body was found in a car. Now interestingly, Jaan couldn’t drive and there was no way he would be moving in one to commit a crime.
The National Human rights Commission has already taken cognizance of the media reports about fake encounters and sought government’s response. UP has traditionally had a poor record of human rights. Of the 1,782 case of fake encounters registered in India in 2000-07, the state accounted for 44.5 percent cases.
Ram Rajya can never come with a bloodthirsty police and a revengeful political dispensation in the saddle.(Published on 12th March 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 11)