Fake encounters: A blot on Indian democracy

Zee Research Group/Delhi

With India’s premier investigating agency calling the Ishrat Jahan killing a fake encounter and filing its first charge sheet in the case against seven police officers, our political class has found yet another opportunity to indulge in scoring brownie points over each other.

Jahan, a 19-year-old college student, was gunned down on June 15, 2004 along with three men by a police and intelligence squad near Ahmedabad city in Gujarat. In its chargesheet filed on June 3, the Central Bureau of Investigation refuted state government’s claim that Jahan and the three men were terrorists heading to assassinate chief minister Narendra Modi. The agency also claimed that the police officers abducted the four days earlier and shot them in cold blood on the early morning of June 15, 2004.

A deluge of opinions beamed live through national television channels and on social media platforms seem to be focused on ascertaining the involvement of Gujarat’s top political bosses in the killings overlapped into the communal versus secular debate when the issue at hand is: how to tackle fake encounters in the country? Encounter killings refer to cold blood staged killings by the police rather than self-defence during shootouts with suspected terrorists, insurgents or known criminals.

While our political class harangues over Ishrat Jahan case, they will do well to remember that neither it is the first time people have been shot dead in cold blood nor Bharatiya Janata Party-led Gujarat leads the Indian states in encounter killings. In fact, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the apex human rights watchdog in the country, Gujarat is not even among the top ten states. With eight cases of alleged fake encounters, the state is at 17th spot among Indian states. The NHRC has chronicled 555 cases of alleged fake encounters from 2009-10 to 2012-13 (till February 15, 2013) across the country.

The most trigger-happy state is Uttar Pradesh with 138 fake encounters, followed by Manipur and Assam with 62 and 52 cases respectively. In all three states, there is a non-BJP government while Manipur and Assam have Congress governments. West Bengal with 35 and Jharkhand with 30 follow the above states in the list. The only BJP-led state high in the rank is Chhattisgarh with 29 cases. According to Amnesty International, over a thousand people were killed in “faked encounters” in India between 1993 and 2008.

The data clearly suggests that fake encounter killings or extrajudicial executions have become an unstated state policy in India irrespective of regime changes. It was first used to suppress the Naxal movement in the 1970s and later against northeastern insurgencies. During the Sikh insurgency in the 1980s and early 1990s in Punjab, fake encounter killings were used to unleash worst kind of state repression. Then came, special police squads led encounter killings in Mumbai and Uttar Pradesh which eliminated organised crime syndicates and dreaded criminals.

The public sentiment is more often clouded with prejudice or lack of information and those voicing opposition are in minority. A part of the problem is tardy justice delivery system which needs to be refurbished for quick disposal of cases. Already the required structures to curb such unlawful transgression on human life are already in place. But, like most problems in India, they lack coherent and transparent implementation.

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