Murder or encounter? Chennai's activists, citizens' groups are polarised
Human rights activists have sought a CBI probe into the incident while citizens groups say the police shouldn't be demoralised.
Chennai: The controversial police “encounter” in Chennai on 23 February in which five alleged bank robbers were killed has led to an interesting polarisation of public opinion in the state.
While the human rights activists have slammed the police and demanded action against them, local residents have hailed the action saying such tough measures are necessary to deter crime and to maintain law and order.
All major human rights activists in the state have asked for an investigation and have raised questions on the veracity of the police story.
A city-based lawyer P Pugalenthi, who earlier represented Rajiv Gandhi's assassins in court, has filed a PIL seeking a CBI probe into the encounter. He also has asked for the registration of a case of murder under IPC 302 against the police personnel involved in the encounter. The high court has since issued notice to the state government.
In his petition, Pugalenthi said that once a citizen is killed in an encounter the state should register a case of murder against the police personnel involved. He said the police should have investigated the case instead of entering a thickly populated area and resorting to firing.
Rights activists raised several issues including the motives behind police action and unconvincing evidence from site of the encounter. They said the scene of the encounter raised several questions and the evidence was not sufficient to support the police story.
They cited issues such as non-splattering of blood on the walls, no damage of properties, the nature of wounds on the bodies of the suspects and also the authenticity of the firearms recovered from the site to support their argument.They also questioned how the police could have fired at five persons when the identity of only one suspect was known.
The overall story is still unresolved with the identities of all the killed suspects not established.
Opposing the human rights angle are the local residents. As soon as Pugalenthi filed the PIL, six lawyers and 24 residents from Velacherry, where the encounter took place, filed petitions in the high court seeking to implead themselves in the PIL.
The supporters have bought the police version of the incident and said that the law enforcers had no option but to fire when they came under attack from criminals.
Those killed were criminals who robbed banks at gunpoint. If action was taken against police who fight criminals, it would demoralise them and lead to loss of peace of the public, they said.
Support for police among the city residents was also evident when local residents prevented the entry of human rights activists, who tried to visit the site of the encounter on a fact finding mission. To add more to the police’s PR armoury, a group of traders from Velacherry visited the Police Commissioner’s office on Tuesday to thank them for their action.
Interestingly, whether motivated by the state government or the police; the public display of support by local residents, when the human rights activists have locked horns with the former, is a new development in the state. Smacking of an increasing hardline stand of the public, this trend is a perhaps a strong warning to criminals at the cost of human rights.
It definitely doesn’t augur well for protection of human rights, but the increasing intolerance of the middle class to disorder and disruption of public life calls for serious attention.
The Chief Minister had earlier made clear her government’s tough stand on crime. Speaking at the passing out parade of the Tamil Nadu Police Academy on Feb 15, she had said,"You (police) should serve with responsibility and dedication. You should be a friend to those who respect law. At the same time, you should crush rioters, murderers and dacoits with an iron fist".
At the same function, she added,"You should take the hardline when your soft approach is not working. But, your being hard should remain within the limits of necessity."
Perhaps these words summarise the story.
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