THE cold-blooded shooting of a 38-year old Apple executive, Vivek Tiwari, by a policeman in Lucknow has caused widespread outrage. However, this killing which has received wide media attention, is symptomatic of the impunity with which the Uttar Pradesh police resorts to “encounter killings”.
Since Adityanath took over as the chief minister in March 2017, he has given the police free rein to tackle criminals. The police launched “Operation Clean” and resorted to the favoured method of staging encounters. There have been more than 1,500 encounters since March 2017 in which 66 “criminals” were killed and 700 more injured.
There are sufficient grounds to believe that the bulk of these were staged encounters. In many cases, under-trials, or, persons facing criminal cases were picked up from their homes and shot dead in staged encounters. Families of some victims have given evidence of how their sons or husbands were taken away by the police from their houses.
According to an analysis made by The Indian Express, of the 20 FIRs lodged in cases of encounters which led to 21 deaths, there is similarity in the sequence of events mentioned leading to the encounter and similar phrases and terminology is used to describe the police action.
The UP police has been emboldened to conduct these extra judicial killings because of the support extended by the chief minister who has defended the encounters in the legislative assembly and accused the opposition of supporting the criminals. The stock argument of the BJP state government is that goonda raj prevailed under the previous governments and the police action is aimed at eliminating crime.
In the process, the UP police has become a by-word for lawlessness and criminality. In certain parts of the state, police officers are willing to undertake a “contract killing” in the name of encounters in exchange for money. An India Today expose, in August this year, had three police officers at the station house level in the Agra zone confirming that they can get rid of any innocent civilian on payment of Rs 6 to 8 lakhs per contract. The three sub-inspectors were suspended after the media expose.
It is known that such encounters also provide avenues for promotion for the police officers concerned. In a number of cases, after an encounter, the concerned police official has been rewarded with a promotion.
Neither the queries of the National Human Rights Commission, nor, of the Supreme Court have had any effect on UP police. Recently, on September 20, the police invited the media to witness an “encounter” near Aligarh where two persons with a criminal record – Mustaqeem and Naushad – were shot dead.
In the case of Vivek Tiwari, the UP government was quick to condemn the killing and Adityanath himself met the family and promised them compensation, housing and employment. The fact that the victim of the police atrocity was an upper caste, executive of a multinational company determined the government’s response. But for the bulk of the victims of police encounters in UP are Muslims, dalits and poor. A substantial number of those killed are Muslims. According to one estimate 24 of those killed are Muslims. This exposes the communal bias which has got institutionalised in the police.
It is imperative that the “licence to kill” given to the UP police is immediately rescinded. Already some of the cases of encounter killings are being investigated, they should be pursued and those found guilty severely punished. The Supreme Court, which has a petition before it regarding the encounter killings, should intervene to stop this State-sponsored mayhem.
(October 3, 2018)