In September 2014, the then Home Minister Ragnath Singh told in his speech addressed to police officials that when he was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, he encouraged the state police to carry out the encounter killing fearlessly as he would protect them from Human Rights Commissions. According to government data, there have been 824 police encounter deaths between January 2014 and January 2019, out of which 250 died in alleged fake encounters. These numbers are shocking as it intimates the manoeuvres with which law enforcement are taking matters into their own hands tarnishing the legitimacy of the Indian Judicial System.
On 10 July 2020, the Uttar Pradesh Police killed a notorious gangster Vikas Dubey in one of such ‘encounters’. According to the Indian Express, “Dubey is the 119th accused to have been killed in what police called cross-firing since the Yogi Adityanath government took charge in March 2017”. Dubey was arrested in Ujjain and was being taken to Kanpur by the special task force. According to the police, the vehicle carrying him toppled in an accident and he tried to escape by stealing the gun of one of the police officials. He shot fire while doing so but the police retaliated and shot him dead. The story iterated by the Uttar Pradesh police has a lot of loopholes and is being seen with scepticism. People raised eyebrows on the police vehicle toppling on a smooth road and whether Dubey was handcuffed. Also, there was a video posted hours after the encounter when police were seen carrying the accused in a Tata Safari vehicle but the toppled vehicle was a Mahindra model. Even the local residents claimed that they only heard a gunshot and no accident. Even, the media vans chasing the following police bandwagon were stopped which substantiates the suspicion among the masses.
The Gangster turned politician’s 5 allies were also killed in similar police cross-firings. Those include Prabhat Mishra, Praveen Dubey, Amar Dubey, Prem Kumar Pandey and Atul Dubey who were killed on 9th, 9th, 8th, 3rd and 3rd July respectively. Critics say that the Gangster had various political affiliations and his conviction could have unearthed various influential names bringing them under legal jurisdiction. Dubey was charged for murder in 1990. He was also a close associate of then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician Harikishan Srivastava. He joined the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1995 and won a District level election. Since then, his power in the region always remained unquestioned.
Dubey was the primary accused in the 2001 killing of BJP leader Santosh Shukla, who was then a minister of state. But Dubey was acquitted later due to his political influence. On 3 July 2020 during an attempt to arrest Dubey and his men, the Uttar Pradesh police lost eight of its men including a Deputy Superintendent Of Police (DSP). Slowly, Dubey’s men were killed in the name of encounter and when he finally got arrested, many journalists including Rajeev Sardesai predicted his murder as well which hours later turned out to be true.
Many on social media started celebrating his death but the act of the police is rather frightening. Not only did they save many of the associates that were backing him but they also brushed aside the existence of the law to abide by. States of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, etc. have been infamous for rogue and anarchist functioning of the system. The law enforcement faces a plethora of pressure from the politicians to obey as they demand. Very recently in Gujarat, a female constable Sunita Yadav was transferred for doing her job when she stopped a boy who happened to be the son of a Minister for violating the lockdown guidelines. The cop had an altercation with the boy who in the viral video threatened her. In 2018, India Today carried a sting operation in which it was found out that the Uttar Pradesh police agreed to carry a fake encounter to kill an innocent for money. In many such fake encounters, there is no accountability established at the police end. Most of them get a clean chit from the courts and the guidelines from the human right commissions are often ignored. Sohrabuddin, Ishrat Jahan or the Batla house encounters alleged as fake didn’t culminate into any legal action against those accountable despite any petitions in the court. Even if we don’t consider them as fake, still the question arises whether the accused should be given the right to go through the judicial procedure or not. Also, in December 2019, we saw the accused of Hyderabad Rape Case shot dead by the police and sadly, the entire nation rejoiced the incident. It clearly tells us about the diminishing faith of people over the constitution and how they idealise vigilante justice. This also gives rise to police brutality as they feel entitled to commit atrocities against those deemed suspicious, often leading to custodial deaths. These encounters also fall under custodial deaths and the human rights commissions have been fighting to stop this rise of such incidents.
In 1993, the National Human Rights Commission (NRHC) had issued various guidelines that included informing the commission about any custodial death within 24 hours. Also, the autopsy reports and other necessary documents are also required to be submitted within two months of the death. In the case of People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Anr vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors heard by the Supreme Court, it was mandated that every custodial death shall be probed by a magistrate according to the Section 170 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Whereas, the Apex court also issued various guidelines to establish an independent investigation committee by Criminal Investigation Department (CID) or the police department itself against the people involved in the fake encounter. But, that independent committee hardly works against the people in power and they very often get away with justice. In Vikas Dubey’s case, the Special Investigation Team formed by Yogi Adityanath to probe the nature of the encounter already had a member who was previously charge-sheeted by CBI for a fake encounter.
In January 2019, the United Nations expressed deep concerns over extrajudicial killings. They said, “We are extremely concerned about the pattern of events: individuals allegedly being abducted or arrested before their killing, and their bodies bearing injuries indicative of torture”. They even alleged the mental torture and harassment of family members of the victims, also including death threats to the human rights activists. Their demand for the urgent review of police killings came after consistent attempts made by the government to subterfuge the probe against Manipur fake encounters. In July 2017, 1528 cases of fake encounters were brought to the Supreme Court and the court directed to file a charge sheet for 95 of those cases. People involved in these extra-judicial executions were from the Indian Army. About 700 army officers filed petitions to stop the probe as it would “demoralise” the troops in general.
These killings are a sharp blow on Articles 21 and 22 of the Indian Constitution and to prevent further damage, big police reforms are required. There needs to be more accountability at the police’s end for their reckless actions including physically torturing people in the name of investigation which has been normalised in the Indian Democratic system. The junior rank officers are not properly trained to critically and intellectually handle a situation. According to a 2016 Computer and Audit General Report (CAG) report, the number of police constables trained was 67,669 out of 71,711. Also, they never get the required funds allotted to them by the central government which makes their job more stressful and incompetent. Also, most of them do not have proper accommodation for their families. According to the ORF, “the total budget allocated to police in all over India in the year of 2016-17 was Rs. 113,379.42 crore but the total police expenditure was Rs. 90,662.94 crore”. Even the funds allocated under the Modernisation of Police Forces Scheme remains underutilised. There are too many vacancies in the department and results in overburdening of work on the existing officers. Considering the giant population of India there should be at least 222 (recommended by UN) policemen per 1 lakh population, but in India, the number is only 192. Hence, most of the police officers are looking to solve as many cases as possible so that they can grab promotions in this unorganised system and for that, they resort to physical violence as they aren’t trained to be technologically sound. Officers at sub-inspector level aren’t trained in forensics, cyber-crimes or law. Politicians command the actions of this force and use them to suit their interests. One of its biggest examples is the Gujarat Riots of 2002 when the ministers obstructed the police to continue the state-sponsored ethnic killings. Police continue to remain the puppet of the executive.
India needs to first work on the police structure giving it independence as well as accountability. The country is marred by police brutality but the police have also been oppressed by the people in power and reforms as well judicial intervention in the cases of fake encounters can bring a better structure to the system. It is high time to bid goodbye to a policing system of the Victorian-era and bring modernity to it. We know that justice delayed is justice denied but it is also extremely essential not to glorify state killings, as it is no justice either. Instead, these are cold-blooded murders masquerading as Police Encounters.
Justice A.N. Mulla of the Allahabad High Court once said in his judgement, “There is not a single lawless group in the country whose record of crime comes anywhere near that of a single organised unit called the Indian Police Force. Policemen in general, barring a few, seem to have come to the conclusion that crime cannot be investigated and security cannot be preserved by following the law, and it can only be achieved by breaking or circumventing the law”.