‘Encounter’ Killings

In almost every police action there is an element of Human Rights involved. Thus observed Justice K G Balakrishnan, Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), at a workshop on ‘‘Human Rights Training in Police and Para-Military Organization’’ in New Delhi in March 2013. But the security establishment in the country does hardly bother about what NHRC is saying—or not saying—about Human Rights, rather systematic violation of Human Rights by the men in uniform. NHRC has no option but to admit the ground reality that ‘police personnel do not follow what they are taught and that is why there are Human Rights Violations’. In truth high-ranking security officers think ‘Human Rights are hindrance to their work’. They feel disempowered by the emerging concept of Human Rights, both here and abroad. For one thing they would like to see encouragement of ‘terrorism’ in Human Rights activism. In plain language the persons in power who run the administration, are unlikely to pay heed to dozens of NHRC recommendations aimed at improving conceptual clarity about ‘rights and wrongs’ among police personnel.

Despite periodic discussions on human rights violations by police and para-military forces at different levels, by rights bodies across the country, fake encounter is on the rise. While the Ishrat Jahan case gets wide currency because of internal conflicts in the ruling circles, there is no sustained campaign against the growing menace of ‘encounter killings’ or extra-judicial killings. Of late the Jammal case too is hitting the headliners for the same reason. The Congress party with the stick of CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) wants to beat the IB of Gujarat’s BJP government.

Ishrat Jahan, the 19-year-old woman of Gujarat was not a terrorist and yet she was silenced for ever. The revelation by CBI came as a rude shock to peace-loving people. The Sadiq Jammal encounter case took place in 2003, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, he was killed by a team of Gujarat Crime Branch. In both cases those involved in gruesome murder were not merely low-ranking officials.

Not that ‘encounter killings’ are taking place in the so-called disturbed areas under the sway of the Maoists or naxalites. Around 555 face encounter killings have been reported by NHRC during the past four years. Maybe, it is a record in itself!

Surprisingly, Uttar Pradesh (UP) tops the list of ‘encounter killings’, followed by Manipur, Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh during the last four years as per NHRC report. While Chattisgarh is a known hot spot for Maoist insurgency, Uttar Pradesh is not. Yet policemen in UP seem more trigger-happy than their counterparts in other states. No doubt some false encounter killings get focused at local and national levels these days, thanks to Human Rights movement, but how they have ruined hundreds of families in ‘conflict zones’ as also in non-conflict zones, does hardly get highlighted.

True, NHRC took up suo motu cognisance of some cases and recommended monetary relief for the victims or their next of kin where it found that public servants had either deliberately violated human rights or been negligent in protecting them in recent months. But there is no proper mechanism to oversee the extent of compliance with NHRC recommendations.

Encounter killings apart, mal-treatment meted out to large number of undertrial prisoners in different jails which are now called ‘correctional centres’, beggars description. Because of some whistle-blowers people around the world now know what ‘Abu Gharib’ means. People arrested for political reasons are not treated as political prisoners in this biggest show-case of democracy, they are clubbed together alongwith hardened criminals. Undertrial prisoners crowd most prison cells throughout the country because police personnel have developed a tendency to arrest people even in small offences. NHRC’s recommendation that they need to stop suspecting everyone and also need to understand that terrorism and activism have roots in violation of civil rights, falls on deaf ears.

The issue of political prisoners has added a new dimension to the Human Rights question in a broader sense though NHRC is yet to address the problem in its entirety. Political dissenters are denied political status and condemned to living hells for years.

The erstwhile Left Front Government of West Bengal amended the age-old Jail Act in 1992 to grant political status to prisoners arrested in connection with political activities. It came into force in 1997. But for all practical purposes it was a kind of ornamental exercise as prisoners never really enjoyed any special rights guaranteed under the provisions of the amended act. It was on paper to sell progressive image of the left. When the Calcutta High Court in 2012 ordered the state government to grant political status to seven activists of ‘People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities’ of Jangalmahal, the Centre began to launch subtle campaign against it and allegedly pressurised the state government to do away with it. So political activists are still considered as criminals to be tried under Criminal Proceedings and the issue of political prisoners in Bengal remains as elusive as it was before the amendment of the Jail Act. The way the present government imposes blanket ban on democratic movement and peaceful assembly has no parallel in history. They are hell bent on curbing whatever remains of democratic space for the civil society to voice their disagreement with the powers that be.

Uncertainties, fear psychisis and frustration evoke protests, somewhat spontaneously somewhere in the country, almost daily. For low and middle income groups household budgets shrink to one half or one third of their previous levels. The situation is so suffocating for the vast majority of the population that the entire social fabric is crumbling. And the ruling elites simply allow their watchdogs to indulge in violence to silence any voice of dissent while NHRC periodically conducts seminars and workshops to teach police personnel as to how not to violate Human Rights.

Vol. 46, No. 5, Aug 11-17, 2013

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