Encounter killings: Our approach to ex-cop Vanzara is steeped in hypocrisy
Who decides who is a terrorist.Is it the policemen, the intelligence agency sleuths or the political dispensation?
The unabashed appreciation of extrajudicial killings on display in the media is shocking indeed. It smacks of medievalism when intellectuals openly justify and applaud the police acting as the judge, the jury and the executioner, while bumping off people inconveniencing their political masters or them. It also means the thought leaders at large are coming around to accepting that the justice system is irrelevant when more gratifying options are available.
The whole defence of the fake encounter cases in Gujarat between 2004 and 2007 is built around the clever ‘terror’ spin and is designed for mass appeal. The argument is uncomplicated: premeditated murder is instant justice and is entirely acceptable if the person involved is a terrorist. It's macho and it goes well with the idea of a muscular India. At a broader level, it is in sync with the lynch mob mindset that reflexively demands castration or beheading of rapists. What it lacks in moral-ethical content, it tries to makes up by pandering to the emotion of the mobs.
What it does not explain, however, is who decides who a terrorist is. Is it the policemen, the intelligence agency sleuths or the political dispensation? We still don’t know whether Ishrat Jahan, Shorabuddin Sheikh, Parsuram Prajapati and several others killed in encounters were terrorists; the debate is still inconclusive. But one must remember these are cases that are in the public domain. We don’t know how many more have been killed, after being branded terrorists in the state. What if, for argument’s sake, the number is in thousands? DG Vanzara’s letter says the killings were part of the policy of the Gujarat government. There’s certainly something revolting about a policy - made by a closed group and in a secretive manner - which sanctifies the murder of people on the basis of presumption.
The support of the intellectuals provides a veneer of respectability and cloak of legitimacy to something that is a crude assault on civil liberties, and by extension, on the idea of democracy. It also militates against the concepts of justice and fairness. The spirited defence of the killings by intellectuals reveal an emerging conflict between the formal justice system created by the Indian Constitution and the justice system favoured by the crowd. The first one is a civilised, commonly agreed upon approach to crime while the other is a barbaric, retribution-hungry response — more like the Khap panchayats in northern India.
Not long ago, a Mumbai court convicted 13 police officers for the murder of a gangster in a fake encounter. Several other police officials are facing trial in similar cases across the country. The Supreme Court has asked a probe into all encounter cases between 2002 and 2006 in Gujarat - there are at least 22 such cases.
Obviously, what the intellectuals celebrate as an efficient solution to a problem, the courts in the country consider as murder. There’s no meeting ground. Why don’t we have people fighting for these police officials on television channels? They were, like Vanzara claims, only pawns in the policy game. If the masterminds are being stoutly defended, the instrument is accepted, then why leave the people who executed the policy in the lurch?
There’s something that does not add up in the argument.
It is clever - take the ‘terror’ out of it and it falls flat - but it is dangerous. Because it represents the wider acceptance of an ideology that believes that institutionalised law is expendable, if it could be justified by the noise on the street, media and elsewhere. The basic test of character of any civilised population is its ability to check emotions and let institutions take over. Tribal justice cannot be the way to go in a healthy democracy.
Our intellectuals should make up their mind. If they really believe extrajudicial killings is the right way to deal with crime, then they should be honest to themselves and not just defend the people who frame the policy but also the cops who execute it. Otherwise, they should keep shut and trust the justice system to deliver.
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