‘Encounter’ attacks that are being unleashed on people in the name of fighting crimes have emerged as one of the most chilling aspects of the Yogi Raj (Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath rule) in Uttar Pradesh. The police have conducted – according to the state government’s figures till January this year – 1,038 ‘encounters’, killing a total of 44 people and leaving 238 injured. Four policemen also died in the ongoing killing spree in the state.
However, the unofficial figures are much higher, where the total number of shootouts are estimated to be over 1,400 so far. These ‘encounters entail shooting at people, who may or may not be criminals or gangsters, without “following due process of law”.
From the National Police Commission (1979) to the National Human Rights Commission – NHRC (2003) and the Supreme Court judgment in the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL – a human and civil rights defender) case in 2014 have clearly mandated against such killing of people.
The testimonies of eyewitnesses and family members of those who were killed in the ‘encounters’ and a close examination of the FIRs and postmortem reports clearly show that most of these killings are cold blooded murders – where no gun battle apparently took place.
For many of those killed or injured, it appears that the police posthumously inserted clauses of criminality in their record to justify the killings or injuries. The fact remains that even someone with criminal records cannot – under any circumstances – be gunned down in this way if one were to adhere to the rule of law.
The police only can open fire at criminals in self-defense, when all other means to overpower them are exhausted. The Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in Om Prakash and others Vs State of Jharkhand through the secretary, Department of home, Ranchi, clearly stated in 2012, “It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. This court has repeatedly admonished trigger happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State sponsored terrorism.”
The police, on the contrary, are getting encouragements and impunity from the highest echelons of power, in this case none other than the chief minister himself. Yogi – in several press conferences – has categorically justified the killings and stated that these will continue till the crime is eliminated from the state. He flaunts the ‘encounters’ as his “zero-tolerance towards crime”.
The social profiles of those who were killed in the ‘encounters’ reveal majority of them come from the marginalised sections of the society such as Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Muslims.
A grim pattern
According to police figures, 1,142 ‘encounters’ have taken place between March 20, 2017 and January 31, 2018. The highest number of encounters were reported from Meerut zone where 449 people were gunned down. It was followed by Agra zone, which witnessed 210 ‘encounters’. Third on the list is Bareilly zone with 196 ‘encounters’ and then comes Kanpur zone with 91 shootouts.
Interestingly, the least number of ‘encounters’ were carried out in Yogi Adityanath’s own constituency – Gorakhpur.
Clearly, western Uttar Pradesh has been affected more than eastern zone in the number of cases of shootouts. A significant proportion of those killed in these encounters are from four districts of western Uttar Pradesh districts of Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Bagpat.
Along with the ‘encounters’, the police have slapped 167 of the victims with National Security Act (NSA). Bhim Army founder and Dalit activist Chandrashekhar Azad is also part of the list. Cops have also seized assets worth Rs 150 crore so far.
So even if people were killed in the encounters were to be criminals, should they not be taken into custody and booked under due process of law, instead of being shot at, killed or injured.
Copy pasted FIRs
In all the first information reports (FIRs), the stories follow more-or-less the same pattern that the police were tipped off regarding the presence or location of one or more dreaded criminal, who were chased as they tried to escape in a car or a bike. The criminals allegedly then fired at the police who were forced to fire back – as retaliation in self-defense – and kill them.
However, some FIRs describe the gallantry of the policemen on duty and laud the bravado of killing. In most of the cases, as if copy pasted from the previous incident, it mentions how some people “managed to escape”, while some were shot.
The family members of the deceased, in majority of the cases, got the news of the death of their kins from WhatsApp or from third source, and not from the cops. They then had to hunt down the specific police station and collect the bodies of their kith and kins. This is in complete contravention of the Supreme Court guidelines in the PUCL Vs State of Maharashtra case on police encounters that says, “In the event of death, the next of the kin of the alleged criminal/victim must be informed at the earliest.”
In most of the cases, the families were not even given the post mortem report of the deceased.
The glaring cases
Furqan – a resident of Shamli – was imprisoned for seven years as an under trial for his alleged involvement in a village brawl. His family did not have the resources to secure his release. However, in October 2017, the police unexpectedly settled the case to get him out of the jail.
After two weeks, when Furqan went to Baghpat to visit one of his relatives, he stepped out of his house to go to a shop and never returned. His family later got the news that he has been killed in an ‘encounter’. It was said that he was a dreaded criminal with 36 cases of dacoity and a reward of Rs 50,000 on him.
The police claimed that they were conducting a routine check, when they chanced upon him. He and his associates – said the cops – were riding a bike and they refused to stop and rather fired on the police. In retaliatory gun fire, Furqan died, while others escaped.
His body – according to the post mortem report – showed injury marks, testifying torture, in addition to bullet wounds.
The question – his family raises – is how is it possible for someone to be involved in 36 cases of robbery when he was in jail for the past seven years?
Following his killing, all his five brothers have been arrested in different cases of robbery and theft. This has become a hindrance for the family to pursue justice for Furqan as they are drained of resources because earning members are lodged in prison.
The case of Sumit Gurjar created the maximum uproar and even forced the NHRC to send notices to the UP police. Gurjar was picked up on September 30, last year by plain-clothed policemen from a bus stop at Badhaut in Baghpat. After his family came to know of the incident, they begun a frantic search.
The Noida police allegedly offered to free Sumit in lieu of Rs 3.5 lakh. His family heard the rumour that he might be killed in an encounter and therefore, they reached out to top police officials of the state, the CM’s office and the NHRC but got no response.
In the meantime, Noida police declared a head money of Rs 25,000 on him which was soon doubled. The next day, it was declared that Sumit had died in an encounter while trying to escape in a car after robbing a cash van of a bank. Three other “unidentified assailants” – as usual – “escaped”, as per the police version.
The police claimed Sumit had several cases of robbery and extortion filed against him. The bizarre truth, however, surfaced that Sumit had no police case against him ever. There was another man Sumit Gurjar, who stayed in the same Chichretta village and had the exact same cases against him back in 2011. The NHRC visited his family and issued notice to the UP police. However, even after six months, nothing has been pursued further.
Much like the case of Furqan, the UP police slapped a rape case on Sumit’s two brothers – Raj Singh and Kamal Singh – and have allegedly been pressurising his family to withdraw the Sumit case in lieu of withdrawing the rape cases slapped against the two.
The spate of encounters that has become so routine in western Uttar Pradesh has also reached eastern region of the state.
The cases of Chhannu Sonkar and Ramji Pasi – according to the testimonies of their family members – hint at staged encounter and targeted killings. Sonkar was picked up from a fruit orchard near his house by the police. When he did not return till late night – said the family – the anxious family members called him on his cell phone. He reportedly informed that he was in Jahanaganj police station.
The next day, two policemen allegedly reached his house and informed his father Jhabbu Sonkar that Chaanu was being treated in the district hospital. Later, they got the news that him being killed in an ‘encounter’.
Ramji Pasi had won the Panchayat election in Jiapur, Azamgarh, and for that he came in contradiction with the dominant castes in his village. They first tried – alleged his family – to implicate him in false cases, failing which he was picked up from his house by the police and killed in an ‘encounter’.
The UP Human Rights Commission has set up an inquiry looking into the ‘encounter’ killings of Pasi, Mukesh Rajbhar, Jaihind Yadav from Azamgarh and Aman Yadav from Itarsi. The body of Jaihind Yadav had 21 bullet injuries on his body, which he apparently sustained while he was riding a bike being chased by the police. All these point at a certain aggression by the police and belie the theory of “firing in self-defense”.
On February 3, this year, cops opened fire on a vehicle in Noida that was returning from a marriage festival. The police jeep chased and fired at those on the vehicle. A gym trainer – Jitendra Yadav – suffered a critical bullet injury on his neck, while his brother Sunil Yadav was hit in the leg.
The police tried to pass off this as an ‘encounter’, floating the same story of “dreaded criminal trying to escape”. However, they had to retreat later as the victims had no crime record and the sub-inspector who shot at them was suspended and taken into custody. The constables, who accompanied him are however absconding and the details of the cases of why the shootout took place has visibly been whitewashed.
Speculations ran from altercation to caste conflict that led to the shootout. It unmistakably points out the uncontrolled trigger happy nature of the UP police and the way they have been going about shooting people.
The cases of Jitendra could catch media attention and could force the police backtrack was apparently also because of his economic position. At least five cases of poor Muslims from Shamli and Muzaffarnagar were reported in the media. They were Nadeem (30) and Jan Mohammad (24) from Muzaffarnagar, Shamshad and Mansoor, both 35 and from Saharanpur, and Wasim (17) from Shamli. They were under trails, who had already spent significant amount of time in jail for petty crimes. They were all registered in the police record because of their criminal past and their whereabouts known to the police. Hence, it became easy for the cops to hunt them down and kill them in alleged staged encounters.