Extra-judicial killings/ ‘Encounters’
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
2004-14: 1,654 shot dead
Works Out To 1 Death Every Second Day
While the police killing of eight undertrials who had escaped from Bhopal Central Jail on Tuesday has been surrounded by a fog of claims, counterclaims and feints, the incident continues a long established trend of encounter killings in India.
According to figures made available in Parliament and collected by the National Human Rights Commission, in the decade between 2004-05 and 2013-14, a staggering 1,654 people were gunned down in such encounters. That is, approximately , one death in an encounter every second day .Such data for 2014-15 and 201516 is not yet available, although one Lok Sabha question says that 8 people were killed in alleged fake encounters between April and June 2014.
A parallel trend of custodial deaths -when a prisoner dies in police custody -shows a similar continuity . Data from 2013-14 till June 2016 shows that while 470 people died in police custody , another 1,358 filed complaints of torture by police personnel. This, of course, is a very conservative estimate as many people may not have complained.
Figures for deaths in encounters (given above) do not include those happening under the Army or paramilitary forces. Cases of extra-judicial killings in J&K and the northeast have repeatedly come to light but there is no regular accounting.
While hearing a petition that sought judicial interven tion in such cases, the Supreme Court in July this year had directed a review of 1,562 cases of deaths in alleged encounters with security forces in Manipur over a period of two decades.
What these continued killings in fake encounters -and its glorification in films and popular imagination -show is the shallow roots of democratic and legal rights, even though they are protected by the Constitution and the judiciary. Many feel that this arises because of the heavy influence of politics on police forces, creating an impunity that leads to justification of encounters, extra-judicial killings and general criminalisation of the security apparatus.
An indication of this is given by the fact that nearly 55,000 cases of complaints were registered in 2015 against police personnel all over the country , according to the National Crime Records Bureau.
Conditions in India's overpopulated prisons too are conducive to extra-legal actions.
According to the NCRB's Prison Statistics for 2015, nearly 800 complaints were received by the NHRC and various state human rights commissions from prison inmates regarding violation of human rights.
2016-18/ no. of declared cases of police encounter deaths, state-wise
Number of declared cases of police encounter deaths, 2016-18, state-wise
2017 – 2022 Jan
New Delhi: As many as 655 cases relating to deaths in police encounter were registered across the country between January 1, 2017 and January 31, 2022, of which Chhattisgarh accounted for the highest 191 cases followed by UP with 117 cases.
Sharing this information, sourced from the National Human Rights Commission, in reply to a question in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, the home ministry said after Chhattisgarh and UP, most cases were registered in Assam (50), Jharkhand (49), Odisha (36), J&K (35), Maharashtra (26) and Bihar (22).
The states/UTs where zero cases of death in police encounter were recorded were Goa, Mizoram, Sikkim, Tripura, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Ladakh, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. Delhi recorded eight cases of death in police encounter, as per NHRC data. MHA also said no record was maintained centrally regarding the number of FIRs registered for encounter killings, number of ongoing probes against police officers on charges of encounter killings and the number of police officers convicted on these charges. TNN
In the days following Vikas Dubey’s death in an encounter, there has been a spate of gun battles between criminals and UP policemen that have seen one dead and several injured. According to data accessed from the UP police department, the state has been witnessing an average five encounters every day for the last about three years.
Between March 2017 and mid-July 2020, policemen of the state were involved in 6,326 encounters, the data reveals. In these exchanges of bullets, at least 123 accused were shot dead and another 2,337 sustained bullet injuries. Most of those among the dead were undertrial against whom cases were still pending and they were out on bail. While 13 policemen, including eight in Kanpur, were killed in these encounters, 957 sustained injuries to varying degrees.
When contacted, UP’s additional director general (law and order) Prashant Kumar said, “Encounter is not a state policy and is always an exception. We are not trigger happy. But we have to retaliate when criminals open fire on us.” Before assuming the charge of UP’s ADG (law and order), Prashant Kumar was at the helm of affairs of Meerut zone. During his tenure, the region saw one third of the total encounters in UP, and nearly half of the encounter killings. “We have been acting according to the Supreme Court guidelines. All magisterial probes in encounter deaths have cleared us,” the ADG said.
THE STATE-WISE POSITION
Andhra Pradesh, Telangana
Major ‘encounters’, 2006-16
Major ‘encounters’ in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, 2006-16
V C Sajjanar, 2008 and 2019
Hyderabad: In 2008, three men threw acid on 20-year-old Pranitha and her friend, Swapnika, in Warangal. S Srinivas (25), D Sanjay (22) and P Harikrishna (24) allegedly attacked the women as Swapnika had spurned Srinivas. Protests demanding justice for the two gripped then undivided Andhra. Three days after the attack, the accused were killed in an “encounter”.
V C Sajjanar was Warangal SP then. Eleven years later, four men accused of raping and murdering a veterinarian in Cyberabad, which Sajjanar heads now, met the same fate. A 1996 batch IPS officer, the mild-mannered Sajjanar was a low-profile policeman till this episode, after which he earned the sobriquet “encounter cop”. He became a hero for acting swiftly in effecting the arrests within 48 hours of the attack on the women and the encounter within three days. Pranitha and Swapnika, their families, and people across the state welcomed the ‘encounter’.
While police faced flak for mishandling the veterinarian rape-murder case, Sajjanar was silently strategising. The killing of four accused in the early hours of Friday near Shamshabad was reminiscent of the Warangal ‘encounter’ 11 years ago.
Senior cops recall that Sajjanar was up and running when the two students of Kakatiya College of Technology, Warangal, were attacked by the trio. Sajjanar claimed the trio was shot dead in self-defence when they attacked the cops after they were taken to Mamnoor on the outskirts of Warangal to retrieve the acid bottle and the stolen motorbike. Police said the trio tried to attack them with country weapons and acid bottles which they had allegedly hidden. Police retaliated and the trio was killed in the ‘encounter’.
In an eerie similarity, Sajjanar claimed Friday’s encounter occurred when two of the accused attacked the cops and the other two snatched their weapons and tried to fire. “They were killed in the crossfire,” he said.
Sajjanar, a native of Hubballi in Karnataka, began his career as an assault commandant in Greyhounds, the elite anti-Naxal force, and was additional SP in Jangaon in 1997. He went on to head the police in five Naxal-prone districts — Nalgonda, Warangal, Kadapa, Guntur and Medak. “An IPS officer getting control of five districts as SP is also a rare instance,” an ex-IPS officer said.
When Sajjanar was in charge of anti-Naxal operations in the erstwhile Khammam in 2000, he was sent to Odisha to train police after a series of attacks on police stations by Maoists. “He led the special intelligence branch for almost three years and it was under him that gangster Nayeemuddin was killed in an encounter two years ago,” an officer said.
Sajjanar had also done a stint with Counter Intelligence Wing, which deals with terror-related activities. As head of EOW in the CID, he went after multi-level marketing firms for duping people. Under him, cases were booked against Amway and Japan Life. “Some organisations shut their businesses in undivided AP when he was SP of EOW,” an inspector recalled.
Sajjanar became a hero in 2008 for arresting three acid attack accused within 48 hours of the crime and heading an encounter team that led to their death three days later. He then came to be known as ‘encounter cop’
3 case studies, Ronica Vungmuankim‘s analysis
Victim: Haulun11 (47, M)
Perpetrator:(Com-CCP Pol and IRB)12
Informant: Niangnou (wife of victim)
Charges: 149/447/436/307/326 120-B IPC &3 of PPD Act13
Details: Mr Haulun lived with wife and children in their ancestral home at Mualtam Village in Churachandpur District of Manipur. Due to the government plan of constructing a multi- purpose development project ‘Khuga Dam’, numerous villages in the neighbouring area of Mata will be submerged in water resulting in loss of property, livelihood and displacement. The residents of the villages came together collectively protesting against the construction of the dam. On the evening of 15th December 2005, Mr Haulun along with others were part of the protest at the dam site. The mob turned violent where they burnt Police Vehicle . To dispel, the security personnel started shooting at the mob of protestors. Mr Halun along with two others succumbed to bullet injuries while 28 persons were injured in firing. Ex-gratia of Rs 1 lakh was given to the families by the local MLA14 of the village.
Victim: Mr Vincent Singson (18) Perpetrators: Assam Rifles Informant: Mawi (Mother)
Details of the incident: Mr Vincent was 18 when he joined the military faction KNF-MC15. In the year 1997 there was an ethnic conflict between the Kukis and the Paites because of which there was a lot of pressure on young boys to join the military groups in their fight against the enemies and protect their identity and community. Vincent joined the KNF-MC16 with the intention of contributing and protecting the community he belongs to. On the day of 19th March 1998, while taking their lunch in the open of the forest, Vincent was attacked from behind and shot in his head by a personnel of the Assam Rifles.
Victim: Mr Holkhomang (37) Informant: Niengnu (Wife)
Perpetrators: 44 AR and 10 (PARA) SF
Charges: 121/121-A/307/34 IPC/ 25 (I-B ) Arms Act & 20 UA(P)A Act
Details: Mr Holkhomang lived with wife and 5 children in Salbung Village in Churachandpur District. His native village was at Ukhrul District of Manipur. His family had shifted to Churachandpur after the Naga-Kuki Conflict threatening their safety as Kuki’s living in a place dominated by Nagas. On the 30th June 2012, he was forcefully pulled out from his house and forced to accompany the armed militant groups in their venture into the jungles of Ukhrul, as Mr Holkhomang wass well acquainted with the terrain. They were ambushed by the Assam Rifles where everyone including Holkhomang was shot dead. The post mortem report shows bruises and cuts indicating torture before death.
The above cases are those that have not had any form of investigation done under any circumstance. In all three cases, there were counter FIR filled by the Police spelling out versions contradicting the informant’s version of the incident. It can be clearly seen that in the case 1 where the victim was killed during a protest against a development project, the FIR shows that the charges against the victim was that of an unlawful assembly, criminal trespass, attempt to murder, public property damage, etc. IPC defines that unlawful assembly and other offences like destruction of public property are punishable. However, a group of people coming together to fight for their rights and protection of land is not an unlawful activity. It is very much within the realm of the constitution to demand justice Even if it is true that the protest had turned violent and caused damage to public property, it is not in the right of the security personnel to open fire and shoot at the protestors. If it is to be true from the details given by the informant, eye witness and media reports, the mob were only staging protest unarmed and in no way attacking the security personnel. Hence the argument of self defence cannot be applied in this case. Use of excessive force is a power granted to the armed forces under AFSPA considering Manipur is a disturbed area. However, the case of people staging a protest against construction of dam is a phenomena that is common irrespective of the area declared disturbed or not. In this situation, for the security personnel to execute powers derived from laws that are applicable in situation where there is an element of unlawful activity or internal disturbance is irrelevant and unconstitutional.
In the case of Vincent Singson, he was a member of the KNF-MC who joined the outfit during the Ethnic Conflict between the Kukis and the Paites18. The KNF-MC is a banned militant outfit by the government of India. A part from striving to carve a separate state for the Kuki’s, another objective of the said military group is to protect and safeguard the identity and culture of the Kuki community. Vincent joined the group during the Ethnic Conflict to protect and safeguard his identity and not with the purpose of waging war against the state. The conflict was political in nature and an internal issue. The communities were in conflict with one another and not against the state. In this process, even acts of disrupting public order and peace irrespective of their magnitude and repercussions cannot be termed as acts of waging war against the Government. Even in case of an attack, it might be true that the victim was an enemy and an unprovoked aggressor and was killed in exchange of fire. But the bigger question remains whether excessive or retaliatory force was used to kill the enemy. A reference can be drawn from the order held by the Court in Darshan Singh v. State of Punjab19 which states that
“A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self defence into operation, but it is also a settled position of law that a right of self defence is only a right to defend oneself and not to retaliate. It is not a right to take revenge” (Darshan Singh vs State of Punjab , 2010)
In the case of Mr Holkhomang who was caught in an ambush and killed by the Assam Rifles ,causing killing cannot be a justificatilon. As claimed by the Informant, the victim worked as a carpenter and was abducted from his house by the militants to aid them in their work. He was not a member however but obliged to the demands for fear of losing his life. However, the armed security personnel made no distinction of a civilian from a militant and was killed indiscriminately. It is the task of the judiciary and not the security persons to determine his innocence or guilt. Even if the FIR reports were held to be true mere membership of a banned organization does not incriminate a person. He might be a passive member and not an active one and so it is necessary to prove he has indulged in some act of violence or imminent violence. (Arup Bhuyan vs State Of Assam, 2011)