Dead Hence Guilty?

“Governments have always lied. They naturally deny it, even long after it is abundantly clear that they have lied, trailing multiple red herrings, dismissing inconvenient evidence, implying that there is counter-evidence they are not free to produce. When a lie can no longer be credibly denied it is justified, usually by an appeal to the national interest. Governments of modern representative democracies are no different, even if they are more liable than dictators to be exposed.”
Colin Leys, Quoted in Socialist Register, 2006

The National Capital Region (NCR) witnessed a police encounter on the eve of the republic day. Two young men who were supposedly carrying a big cache of arms and ammunition were killed on the spot. We were told that this duo was part of a larger LeT module, which wanted to wreak havoc in the capital.
The killings of the two young men did not cause much uproar.
The police officers appeared jubilant over this episode for foiling such attempt. To blunt any possible criticism of the incident a due enquiry was also ordered by the powers that be and has even promised that it would be completed in a stipulated time.

A nation which is still coming to terms with the terrorist attack in Bombay, which saw deaths of more than 200 innocents largely, remained silent over this encounter. One could even say that it was a reflection of the tremendous sense of fatigue among the masses about such incidents. Another interpretation of the silence could be the emerging consensus among the articulate sections of our society, which proudly says that human rights are for humans not for ‘terrorists’. A senior judge of the Supreme Court had given vent to similar feelings in a public meeting recently when he had said that “..[a] terrorist is not fit to be called a human. He is an animal so what is required is animal rights.”

The only consolation in this otherwise bloody episode was that few conscientious journalists including some civil rights activists tried to look beyond the official truth. They were perplexed to find that the ‘terrorists’ were killed in the same lonely and uninhabited area, which had witnessed two encounters in a span of one month, and despite the ‘heavy exchange of fire’ between the ATS team and the terrorists, only one cop suffered a minor injury on his hand whereas the terrorists received four bullets each. A newspaper like Times of India plainly posed all these ‘curious questions’ :
Questioning the ATS version which stated that the terrorists were chased on a 25 km stretch and then shot, it asked why did not the ATS alert the three police posts on the way during this ‘chase’ and why were there not bullet marks on the car carrying the terrorists despite the ‘heavy exchange of fire’? The reporter also expressed surprise over the fact that and despite being on an undercover operation, the ‘terrorists’ were carrying a Pakistani passport.

Another daily also deemed it necessary to express disagreements over the official truth. Its first editorial ‘Encounters’ that begs answers of UP police’ Mail Today (27 Jan 2009) wrote :
“To begin with, we would have been a wee bit surprised had the police not produced some ‘terrorists’ – slain or alive – in the run-up to the Republic day. For the past many years, encounters and arrests have been as regular as the official ceremony on these occasions.”
Questioning few other oddities which ‘don’t fit so well’ it ended with a sombre note : ” What surprises in no less measure is their ‘confession’. If the police story is to believed, the terrorists confessed – after they had received four bullets each – how they had come to India and what they intended to do before they succumbed to their injuries. Who tells stories while at death’s door, and in such detail ?”

One can see for oneself that there is a sense of deja vu with whatever was being said as the official version about this encounter. In fact as we go to the press newspapers are awash with the recent developments in the ‘Singhavaram encounter in Chhatisgarh which had witnessed merciless killing of 19 ordinary tribals by a joint team of security personnel and Special Police Officers (SPOs).
Perhaps it would be opportune to know that the SPOs are nothing but ordinary civilians who have been asked or coerced to join the counterinsurgency operations. Apart from arming them the state also pays them some money at regular intervals.

Looking back it is clear that these encounter killings of ‘dreaded naxalites’ (as it was earlier called) would have similarly joined countless other similar killings if a group of social activists (belonging to Vanvasi Chetna Ashram) alongwith a few journos had not decided to act. In fact they refused to buy the official version and persisted in their efforts to know the other side of the story. Responding to a PIL filed by these people the high court also issued notices to the high level police officials to appear before it to explain the incident.
It is difficult to say what would happen next in the case? It is possible that after giving patient hearing the courts may decide to ‘dump the case’ as any revelations would supposedly ‘harm national interest’ or would ‘weaken the morale of the police’. A faint hope is that the courts may yet decide to act against the guilty police personnel.
Whatever may happen in this case but that won’t erase the fact that each and every state, each and every city, in fact each and every police station in the country would have countless such stories to tell about the barbarity and brutality of the force which is supposed to guarantee life and liberty of the people. And despite the near consensus among a large section of the vocal citizenry about the ‘uselessness’ in raising doubts over such killings still there would be people/formations/organisations who would raise their voice of dissent and yell ‘I differ’.

4 thoughts on “Dead Hence Guilty?”

  1. “National Interest”, “Patriotism” and ‘War on terror” have been the biggest bludgeoning forces used around the world in recent times to silence protest and drown reason. A stick so heavy that it has been used effectively to club down any dissent and stub out any voice to the contrary.

    So we have a million plus Iraqis whose life got destroyed forever and anyone who dared ask a question was immediately cowed down by that stick and debunked as a “non-patriot”.

    So we have 1300 Gazans killed and any sign of protest is smothered by the calls to National Honour.

    So we have Dr Binayak Sen languishing in prison but no questions can be asked, because in the “War on Terror” As Darth Vader would have said…”If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy.”

    In a country as ours where a vast majority has no credible means of information and the minority is muddled by a self-serving MSM there is no voice of opposition or reason which can break through.

    Reading your post has been reinvigorating.


  2. Majority of the mainstream civil society(as they like to describe themselves or are described as such in the media-the so called opinion makers)have become so tame that they are afraid to ask questions. The kind of people who vociferously go on TV or in the edit pages giving their opinions and righteous points of views on various issues afflicting society would not give a contrary opinion on such matters for fear that they may not make it to the list of Padma awardees if they indulge in such foolishness.


  3. If anyone is interested in the procedural dimension of “dead, hence guilty” (which also relies on a commonsensical justification – guilty, hence dead) the following links can be useful.

    NHRC letter to chief ministers – 1997

    Click to access CasesOfEncounterDeaths.pdf

    Minority view in an AP High Court judgement (1999) giving a summary of an earlier judgement of the AP High Court 1995. Incidentally, the 1995 judgement was appealed against by the AP Government in the SupremeCourt. I dont know what happened to that appeal.

    an appeal from PUCL chennai written in 2003 which invokes the AP High court judgement of 1995 and the NHRC letter from 1997.

    In a nutshell – anytime a policeman fires from his weapon, there has to be a magisterial enquiry. This maigsterial power vested in the civil services is resented by the police services. But most often, the enquiry does not amount to much.

    In cases where there is a death due to firing by a police officer except when there is an explicit executive order to fire by an authorized official, the law requires that a case of culpable homicide be registered against the policeman and investigated. The onus of proving that the killing was legal, rests on the policeman – the accused. The routine practice however, has been to register a case against the dead. The idea is that someone causes a life threatening situation to the policeman. The policeman opens fire in self protection. Since the person who first caused the life threatening situation is dead, the case cannot be investigated any further. File closed. To make it even stronger, police pull out a variety of old cases against the dead person. The AP High Court in 1995 held this procedure was completely illegal. The NHRC in 1997, sent instructions to all state governments to change the practice. Justice MN Venkatachallaiah then chairperson of NHRC explicitly asks governments to book cases of culpable homicide against the policemen who participated in the encounter. Investigate and bring to trial. It is for the policeman to ‘prove’ that he had indeed acted in self defense. I do not believe that this has been actually followed anywhere. In the current atmosphere, the AP High Court order and the NHRC instructions may not amount to much, but they are worth remembering.


  4. To continue the debate let me add two small bits of information.

    Do you remember Hari Krishna, the loner who was ‘witness’ to the Ansal Plaza shootout in Delhi. He was really hounded by the Delhi police for speaking the truth. ‘Bhaskar’ a hindi newspaper reported that he would be presenting his evidence against many of the accused police personnel.

    There is another good piece of news from A.P. A five member bench of the A.P. Highcourt has directed that ‘every encounter case be treated as murder and cases be filed against the police.’ : (NDTV)

    Try encounters like murders: AP High Court
    NDTV Correspondent

    Friday, February 06, 2009, (Hyderabad)

    The Andhra Pradesh High Court has said encounter killings must be treated as any murder case and the police must be booked.

    This becomes significant after the alleged encounter killings of leftist extremists and more recently, the killing of three acid attack accused allegedly in a fake encounter.

    A five-judge bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court said this afternoon that in every case of alleged encounter, a case must be registered against the police.

    This reverses the 2:1 judgment of another Bench that had dismissed a petition seeking a murder trial against police officers involved in ‘encounters’ with the Naxalites.

    The majority of the Bench had said that without a complaint a case should not be initiated against the police. Whereas one judge had argued that those involved in encounters should be tried in the same way as in any other murder case.

    Nearly 11 petitions were filed by revolutionary writer P Varavara Rao and civil liberties groups following the Manala encounter in Nizamabad district which took place on March 7, 2005.


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