With a hue and cry having been created over the number of extra-judicial killings that have been taking place in Uttar Pradesh under the Yogi Adityanath government, the chief minister and the state police force have now adopted a new policy of going in for "half-encounters."
Ever since Adityanath came to power in 2017, there have been over 1,100 encounters in the state that have left 49 killed and 370 injured. Most of these encounters took place in cities such as Meerut, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Saharanpur, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad and Noida.
In a bid to quell the uproar around these encounters, the police have now switched over to a policy of half-encounters, in which alleged criminals are being shot below their abdomens, preferably in the legs. Such measures have been adopted by the police to quell criticism over a spate of alleged extra-judicial killings of alleged criminals since 2017.
Shooting below the abdomen is part of the standard operating procedure adopted in situations wherein people may be shooting at the police. Activists say it is difficult to determine whether the half-encounters have been carried out in non-threatening situations, since most of these incidents have taken place between midnight and 4 am.
Meerut heads the list of half-encounters with 255 followed by Gautam Budh Nagar, which has had 120 such cases. Further, there have been more than 65 such cases in Ghaziabad, Prayagraj, Lucknow, Varanasi, Agra and Gorakhpur.
Retired DIG Police Vikram Singh is aghast at the terminology being employed by the Uttar Pradesh police personnel. Singh said, "Let us not fool ourselves. An encounter is an encounter. This kind of artificial classification is not going to work. While a policeman has a right to personal defence, he must only use force that is in proportion to the threat. What kind of impact is such killing going to have on the crime rate in the state? Very little, because experience has shown us in both Punjab and Manipur that a target-oriented policy has never delivered results," said Singh.
Lucknow-based Ram Kumar, general secretary of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), says that the only reason why the state has switched over to half-encounters is because if the police kill a person, they have to report his death to the State Human Rights Commission. "With these boys being shot below their abdomens, their families also do not take up their cases, and so the police officials feel that this way, they would not end up facing any legal hassles," said Ram Kumar.
Kanpur-based activist Vijay Chawla claims that 29 half-encounters have taken place in and around the city. "The alleged criminal is taken to a pre-decided spot, where warning tapes stating that the local public should not come close to the crime scene are played repeatedly. He is then shot at in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning, from where he is then taken to a hospital," said Chawla.
Chawla also said that this "crackdown" has raised several eyebrows, as most of those killed or wounded have been shot in an identical fashion across the state. The FIRs in such cases are identical with respect to the timing and sequence of events that led to the shootout.
Retired IG Police SR Darapuri of the Uttar Pradesh cadre, who is now national spokesperson for the All India People’s Front (Radical), strongly criticised such encounters. He said, "In my 32 years of service, I have never known so many encounters to have taken place in this state within such a short span of time. Yogi Adityanath is the first Uttar Pradesh chief minister who has stated publicly that police encounters are part of his state policy. The words he used were 'thok do'. What is even more shocking is that if we look at the backgrounds of those who have been killed, we find that the majority are from the minorities, Dalits or backward classes. There have been no killings of people from the upper castes."
Darapuri has filed an RTI to find out the names and family details of all those who have been killed or disabled. "In my application, I have also asked to be provided a list of policemen who have been injured, how much time they have spent in the hospital, their names and ranks. It is possible that many of them get admitted to hospital in the morning and are discharged by the afternoon. The hospital admission is done only to add gravity to the encounter," said Darapuri.
He further pointed out that the condition of some of the injured boys who have been admitted to state hospitals is pathetic. "I have learnt that some have developed gangrene and their legs have had to be amputated," he claimed. He went to add that these intimidation tactics are being employed because following Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh is the next state to serve as a laboratory for Hindutva. Only here, he believes, it is being done more vigorously.
Uttar Pradesh Police personnel are known to be a trigger-happy lot. Last October, a constable shot Apple executive Vivek Tiwari dead in Lucknow. A month before Tiwari’s killing, the police had invited journalists to film a “shootout” with two armed men, who were later shot dead in Aligarh.
Scores of alleged criminals have been killed since Adityanath launched his “zero-tolerance” fight against criminals after taking office in March 2017. Alok Agnihotri, a member of PUCL from Unnao who has been involved in documenting these cases said, "There are about three encounters taking place every day."
A section of Uttar Pradesh police officials do not approve of this policy, and believe that resorting to such measures will only serve to rob the crime-fighting capabilities of the police. "The way we are going, we will end up being the laughing stock of the nation," said a senior police official in Lucknow.
Rihai Manch, an NGO based in Uttar Pradesh, examined 17 FIRs in detail and concluded that these were all cases of extra-judicial killings. The Rihai Manch took up the matter before the NHRC and asked it to investigate the cases.
It was only when the NHRC began to investigate the 17 killings that the Uttar Pradesh Police went on the defensive.
The PUCL also filed a PIL in this regard on 14 January, 2019 before the Supreme Court. A bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Ashok Bhushan and SK Kaul have also perused the material on record in detail and stated that the issues raised in the PUCL petition require serious consideration.
The next date of hearing has been fixed for 12 February.
The question remains as to why the political establishment in Uttar Pradesh has not come out vociferously against these encounters. The problem is that in the past, both the SP and BSP have also resorted to encounter killings. However, no party had earlier made them an integral part of state policy.
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Updated Date: Feb 11, 2019 19:39:34 IST