State of lawlessness
UP police conducts extra-judicial encounter killings based on self-defence but turns Nelson’s eye when it comes to nabbing cow-vigilantes
Surprised by the vengeful brutal attack in Bihar by boys and their parents on school-girls for protesting against sexual harassment? No. For ages, this state is known for lawlessness. But what is happening in the neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh under the religious leader Yogi Adityanath? It is a police raj with a whopping 1900 encounter-deaths in one year, including the recent killing of an innocent Apple executive; and unchecked mob-lynching by cow-vigilantes. A chill down the spine of every law-abiding citizen of the country.
At this moment conviction in Hashimpur encounter is singularly apt. Thirty years down the line; justice has at last caught up with all the 16 accused policemen who had massacred 42 innocent Muslims in Hashimpur in the name of encounter. Delhi High Court has clinching evidence to convict them for life for murder, kidnapping, criminal conspiracy, and destruction of evidence under the Indian Penal Code. Insiders of UP police knew the truth of the story all these years, but there is no compunction and there is no change in attitude. They continue acting as killer-squads for the Yogi government, mostly against lower castes and people of different religion. UP Police does not have any faith in Constitution and legal process.
In criminal justice, the Rights of life and liberty of citizens are the pivots, and no police action, either discriminative or by abuse of authority, should impinge on them. Therefore, the Indian Constitution, substantive and procedural laws, and police regulations provide for several safeguards, including protection from arbitrary non-deprivation of life and liberty. Police has to bear fruitful allegiance to the Constitution of India and respect and uphold the rights of the citizens as guaranteed by it. They must recognise and respect the limitations of their powers and functions, and cannot usurp, or even seem to usurp the functions of the judiciary and sit in judgement over cases to avenge individuals and punish the guilty. UP police is doing all this and more.
A religious leader heading the state is expected to convey the required sense of restraint and tolerance among law enforces, and the bigots. But unfortunately, the unending list of encounter-deaths and mob-lynching by cow-vigilantes in UP prove it otherwise. All the safeguards provided to protect the life and liberty of an individual in our democracy are jettisoned. In how many of these encounters, such restraint is exercised? In how many cases have they incapacitated and arrested the criminals? In how many cases stern and determined action is taken against the lawless cow-vigilantes?
There are several laws available in every state to contain 'goondas' and bad elements such as binding them down, barring them from entering their area of influence, detaining them under internal security laws, etc. Most state police are not using encounters to control them. Then what is wrong with the UP government and UP police? Are the police killer-squads or law enforcers? It's the culture of impunity built up in scores of deaths brought about in encounters that prompts the lower rank policemen to command and kill if their orders are disobeyed. It seems, for these policemen, the gunning down of the techie may seem like collateral damage in the task assigned by the government. A weird angle is that the victims are from lower castes or members of a certain religion. What we are seeing goes against the grain of an orderly society that should know better how to deal with criminal elements.
As such, police have been sullying their image in incidents of illegal confessions, arbitrary arrests, denials of legal rights and legal advice to arrested persons. Instances of inhuman treatment are countless. Ryan School Murder case, Nambinayaran's ISRO spying matter, etc., are only recent examples of false implication of innocents. Unfortunately, it is the tacit approval of the society, government, and the department for their use of violence, making false cases, arresting innocent persons, allowing mob-lynching, etc., that turns out to be the primary reason for the policeman, in the words of the Supreme Court, to audaciously gore Human Rights to death.
Now, with the unimaginable number of encounter deaths, UP police are also sullying their hands with blood. They are acting as contract killers of the government (since they would be rewarded). Is it believable that all 1900 encounter cases are of killing in self-defence by the police? Police insiders certainly know the truth. A licence to kill, not following the due course of law, is converting police into murderers. Why in UP alone? There is "goondaism" in other states too. But, we hardly hear of encounters. And, the same UP police who conduct encounters, turn Nelson's eye when it comes to lynching by cow-vigilantes. Why?
Perhaps it is only a judicial enquiry that would expose the falsities, if not of all, but at least of some of the encounters. In how many cases did the police use the traditional methods available and failed? Even if they had failed, why did the state government not evolve proper and expeditious legal processes to contain incorrigible criminal gangs, like what is being done in other states, before signing the tacit death-warrants? It would be better if this warrant is signed by the Governor of the state by following a due procedure if the law does not militate against the Constitutional guarantees, but it does. There should be proper accountability. Reformation of criminals should be the target. Any sane police leader and the government would work in this direction.
It is for this very reason that years ago the Supreme Court had mandated the creation of Police Complaints Authorities (PCA) in the states. However, the governments have only made a mockery of this order by putting in place some symbolic lame-duck institutions. An empowered PCA would do well in curbing the abuse of authority by the police and also of the government through its police.
But what anguishes all the right-thinking people and activists in the country is that governments care a hoot for the pronouncements of the judiciary about their findings of what ails the police systems, and the much-needed reforms. And surprisingly the judiciary in the past has not taken the governments head on to get their orders implemented. Otherwise, by now, there could have been much progress made. It is because judiciary depends on the governments and bureaucracy for implementing plans for its own betterment. They themselves are concerned with the delays in trials, but are unable to come out with viable solutions.
It is redeeming that in Hashimpura encounter case, policemen got the conviction they deserved, at last. But it took full thirty years for the victims' families to get justice. One can only imagine their suffering all this time, while the rogue policemen were at large and were enjoying the perks of their service. The lower court acquitted them, in spite of having clinching evidence which the Delhi High Court relied on now. The judge of the trial court should face severe strictures. At the same time, what about the senior police officers and their political bosses? How can they get away? It is not a vicarious liability; it is a direct responsibility, for which they too need to be punished.
If Pandora's Box of encounters in UP is opened, many officers and their political bosses would surely get entangled in these crimes. In the interest of the country and society, activists, as well as NHRC, should take the lead to move to the Supreme Court, to get at the bottom of this heinous activity, and also request the Court to come down heavily on the administration to fully implement their recommendations for police reforms.
To sum up, the UP government has only promoted extra-judicial killings – by the police and by the cow-vigilantes. Precious lives are nipped. Now, the conviction of policemen in Hashimpur encounter case is a slap on the face of UP police and the government for the methods being adopted by them. But, there are doubts whether they would learn a lesson. Therefore, it is time that activists and NHRC move the Supreme Court to denounce UP police encounters and mob-lynching incidents.
(Dr. N. Dilip Kumar is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)