Friday, August 12, 2011

Encounters and Firing at Mobs: Can we take the Police versions at face value?

Fake encounters and custody killings were acceptable to us, so long as they targeted our stereotype ‘enemies’ in the distant anti-terror or anti-Maoist operations.  But it shocks us when the perpetuators of these heinous crimes, the Police Officers, brought it right into our cosy mega cities.   One such shocking incident occurred in the heart of New Delhi, on 31st March 1997, when some overzealous policemen did not think twice before shooting to death two unarmed businessmen on mere suspicion that one of them might be a dreaded criminal on the run.  Police did not even consider it necessary to verify the identities of the suspects, in spite of following them for almost whole day!

Police did not stop there; when they realised their mistake they went ahead and created false evidences to prove that these victims were indeed armed and dangerous and the police shot them only in self defence.  However, the public outrage made sure that the investigation was transferred to CBI and the guilty police officers, including ACP Satyaveer Singh Rathi, were convicted for murder.  Supreme Court finally upheld their sentence in Satyavir Singh Rathi Vs State through CBI, on 02 May, 2011.  

The infamous fake encounters of Gujarat, allegedly carried out to please the Chief Minister’s ego (stating that the terrorists were targeting the CM but police managed to kill them in the encounter) and thereby curry some favours, have shocked all citizens, except those who are blinded by the glory of Narendra Modi, and are currently under investigation.  The Minister of State for Home and a host of senior police officers are in jail or on bail in these cases and that speak a lot on the killings.

The killing of a Naxalite leader along with a journalist, in the jungles of Andhra Pradesh, again under an alleged fake encounter, is also under investigation.   

The latest in the row is the TV footage on police firing wherein some policemen are clearly shown aiming and shooting at the retreating farmers, who were agitating on the Mumbai-Pune Express Highway, against a proposed acquisition of land (yet again on acquisition of land!), on 09th August 2011.  These footages leave no doubt whatsoever that the Police behaved in utmost criminal manner while aiming at head levels and shooting to kill.  But for these lucky footages, we were sure to have told how Police resorted to firing in self-defence etc.

Ironically, these cold-blooded shooting and deaths occurred on a day, when the Supreme Court Bench, hearing a case of fake encounter, had opined, “Fake encounter killings by cops are nothing but cold-blooded brutal murder which should be treated as the rarest of rare offence and police personnel responsible for it should be awarded death sentence. They should be hanged “. 

Fake encounters or shooting at unarmed mobs- it is often seen that our Police Officers are not sensitive enough in handling our own citizens.  There are many reasons being cited, by mostly the retired officers, as excuses for such behaviour by serving police personnel.  Whatever may be the excuse, the law enforcers cannot be allowed to break law; more so where it involves life of people. 

In all cases where deaths occurred through actions of police or other armed personnel, it must automatically be submitted to inquiry by CBI or some other independent body.   State must not only be fair in its actions but it must also take adequate steps to ensure that its own people perceive it as fair.

Kasargod Firing

While I know most readers will agree with what I stated above (except for the Gujarat encounters, for some?), I am not so sure about what I am going to say further.  While you may disagree with me, for political reasons, I will still request you to continue with an open mind as far as the basic issues are concerned. 

On 15 November 2009, a police firing took place in the northern district of Kerala, Kasargod, in which one person was killed.  As per the police version, the firing was carried out to control the rampaging mobs of Muslim League (IUML) workers.  I am not going to speculate on reasons or what happened there on that fateful day, as these are still under investigation by CBI.   However, I just want to caution against certain allegations and political games being played out on the basis of this unfortunate incident.

The then LDF Government of Kerala ordered a judicial inquiry into the police firing.  They appointed a single judge, Justice MA Nisar as the Commission of Enquiry.  IUML objected to his appointment from the beginning as they feared that justice will not be granted by a Judge who was their active political opponent, having contested an election and lost it against IUML candidate.  It was, in my opinion, a bad step on the part of Government to have appointed someone who was considered active political opponent of the victims!  The sittings of the Commission were boycotted by IUML and the public at large. 

The State Crime Branch also conducted its inquiry into the firing.  The main accused was SP Mr. Ramdas Pothan.  Allegedly, the death was caused by a bullet fired from his service revolver. On September 24, 2010, the High Court of Kerala held that the inquiry by Crime Branch was not satisfactory and therefore the investigation be handed over to CBI.

Meanwhile, the elections to State assembly got over and a UDF Government came to power.  IUML being a major partner in that Government used their clout and got the Nisar Commission dissolved, on the ground that as per the High Court order the case will now be investigated by the CBI.

Surprisingly, after the Commission was dissolved reports appeared in the Media that the Police Officers had given statements to the Commission to the effect that the Kasargod incident was part of a conspiracy of IUML to cause communal violence all across Malabar region of Kerala.  LDF jumped at this opportunity and blamed IUML of blackmailing UDF, to protect their Ministers.  They accused IUML leaders with charges of conspiracy to create communal violence. 

As I already stated, I do not wish go into details of what happened there. I would rather wait for the investigation by CBI to be completed to know the truth.  However, I belong to the same Malabar area and I know for sure, there was no such plan as to cause any wide spread communal disturbances there.  IUML workers, like BJP and CPM workers in those parts are known to indulge in political violence and some of the IUML workers also lead a double life as agents of some extremist groups.  But to say that IUML, as a party, conspired to create communal disturbances in Malabar will be stretching it beyond reality.

The League workers had converged at Kasargod to welcome their new State President.  The President was accompanied by two of the most important state leaders, on the stage, apart from host of local leaders.  Can we believe that when a party is conspiring to carry out communal violence in a part of the State, they will invite their top leaders to be present at that same place? 

What really caused the IUML workers to indulge in violence; was that violence serious enough to have invited firing (political hooliganism being nothing new in those parts of Kerala); and was the Police acting with/without any malice etc will only come out in the inquiry.

However, let us introspect.  Shall we take the statements of accused Policemen that seriously?  As we discussed in the earlier part of this write-up, we know how capable and willing our police are to make up stories to cover up their highhandedness. Kasargod police cannot deny that they shot to death the young Muhammad Shafeeq; they can only say that they were justified in their action.  So, is it surprising that the accused Police Officer gave a statement on the alleged conspiracy of inciting communal violence? 

However, in my opinion, it was irresponsible for the Media to leak such unverified statements and for the responsible political leaders to have taken it up as an issue.  The fragile communal harmony of the State can only be dented by such wild allegations.  What is even more surprising is that the Media which leaked the statements did not find any evidences in those statements or otherwise, to substantiate the allegation of conspiracy. 

Finally, let me clarify that I am not supporting IUML or stating that their hands were clear in Kasargod incident.  I am only emphasising the need for independent inquiry into all such incidences so that the real culprits can be brought to book and justice ensured. Short-term political brownie points should not be allowed to block our vision and make us complacent towards the criminal tendencies amongst our law enforcers.

Whether Kasargod, Pune or Gujarat, when we convert these incidences into political weapons, it will only lead to escape of those criminals among police personnel. It is of paramount importance that we sustain the trust of general public in our law enforcement agencies, by weeding out black sheeps.


  1. I guess the problem lies in the way these guys are sure once the training-related deficiencies (esp on sensitization) are addressed, you will see a big change in the way cops deal with citizens...

  2. Gujarat witnessed plenty of riots before the well known Godhra incident.But after Godhra and subsequent riot,there was no single riot reported so far in Gujarat.It is an amazing truth indeed.