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Police Encounters & the “Other” Indian.

Dr Nitin Pandey

Carrying a country made pistol and thirty rupees in his pocket a 23yr old X Ray technician from Bihar sets out to kill a high profile political leader in Mumbai. His weapon of choice is a country made pistol, which after firing each shot has to be reloaded manually, a procedure which takes 75 seconds at least. Not knowing how to find Raj Thackeray he tries to take over a Double Decker BEST bus single-handedly, fires three shots randomly when the police surround the bus and asks for a mobile phone to talk to the Police Commissioner of Mumbai. The police instead of giving him a phone or negotiating with him to calm him down or using tear gas to disable him, storm the bus, fire 13 rounds at him killing him on the spot. 2 bullets pierce his skull, 2 his chest and one his abdomen. Whoever said that police should first fire below the waist?

Is this the way any country deals with hostage crises involving an agitated 23yr old? Storming should have been the last resort when all efforts to peacefully resolve the situation fail and the lives of the hostages are in imminent danger. In any other country the police men would have been booked for murder and the Police Commissioner sacked for acting so recklessly. Yet here we have the State Home Minister proudly proclaiming that anyone disturbing law and order will get the bullet. What he meant probably was anyone without Thackeray as his surname and disturbing law and order would get a bullet.

Predictably political parties from Bihar raised a hue and cry, while other political parties only paid lip service to the issue or ignored it all together. Also predictably the National Human Rights Commission which is so active when Naxilites are killed looked the other way. Also looking the other way were the various Muslim organizations which vigorously protested the Batala House encounter and the various Christian Organizations who vigorously protested the police actions in Orissa. The CM of UP was quite when Rahul Raj was killed, but agitated when a labourer from her state was killed the next day.

Why is it that in India people protest when injustice is meted out to them or their clan yet choose to look the other side when “others” are at the receiving end? It would have done India proud if the Shahi Imam had led a protest against the brutal encounter in Mumbai or the Archbishop of Hyderabad gave a tongue lashing to the Chief Minister of Maharashtra. When will we all start worrying about “The Indian” rather than worrying about the North or South Indian, Hindu or Christian Indian, OBC or Non OBC Indian? If we keep quite when “Others” are being meted injustice, we will be its next victim.

It was a great sight to see Lalu Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Paswan joining hands and going to the PM to protest the killing of the Bihari Student in Mumbai. If only they joined hands to prevent the killings of Biharis in Bihar! Dozens of people are killed in elections every year in Bihar, who worries about them? Remember Satyendra Dubey? Where were the three of them when he was murdered? Probably killing Biharis in Bihar is different from killing Biharis in Maharashtra?

The brutality with which the Maharashtrian police murdered Rahul Raj is unfortunately not unique to the state. Police all over India, including Uttarakhand, acts with impunity and believes it can kill people at will and get away with it.

In Nov 2005 Sohorabuddin and his wife, Kausarbi, were picked up by Gujarat Police from a bus in Sangli Maharashtra, taken to a farmhouse near Ahmedabad, the husband was later killed in “an encounter” and passed off as an ISI agent out to kill Modi and his wife killed and burnt to hide evidence. Kashmir has had thousands of such “encounters” which all of us conveniently ignore. Questions about the Batala House encounter in Delhi have been ignored by the government.

After each such high profile encounter demands are raised for a judicial or CBI enquiry. No one, not even policemen themselves, believe that State IG or a State Secretary can ever conduct a fair enquiry involving his own men. And what about the hundreds of faceless people who are killed in such fake encounters all over the country? Do they really deserve to be “executed” just because they have no high profile connection, are away from media focus and there is no one to agitate for them? Remember how a surrendering criminal was gunned down in full media glare by the UP Police in Kanpur last year.

As a rule storming of any place where alleged terrorists or gangsters are holed up or in hostage situations should be the last resort after adequate time has been given to every other effort to catch them alive. Cut off electricity and water, negotiate with them for surrender, isolate them, gas them, stun them but do not kill them until everything else has “demonstrably failed”.

Finally, every police encounter which unfortunately ends fatally must be investigated by a Coroner appointed automatically by the State’s High Court. The Coroner should submit his or her report to the Court itself in a specified time period, which then would decide if the encounter was genuine and unavoidable or if the policemen should be prosecuted for murder. Only then will the saga of “encounter and encounter specialists” end in India.

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