Zero tolerance


A magisterial probe into an alleged ‘encounter’ on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in 2004 in which 19-year-old Ishrat Jehan and three others were killed by the police has revealed that the ‘encounter’ did not in fact happen. Ahmedabad Police had claimed then that the four had links with the Lashkar-e-Toiba and were part of a plot to kill Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. They were reported to have fired an AK-56 rifle at the police provoking an exchange of fire in which they were killed. Investigations have revealed now that this was a story cooked up by senior cops eyeing promotions and prizes. It appears that Ishrat and others did not fire at police as alleged but were shot dead at close range. Weapons and money were subsequently planted on them as evidence of their ‘terrorist links’. The findings of the probe have generated heated debated; some have hailed it as a triumph of justice, while others are raising questions over procedural issues and the undue haste with which the investigation was carried out. The findings of the probe, while shocking, are not surprising. Fake encounters are not uncommon. They have been occurring for decades in conflict zones like Kashmir, the Northeast and Maoist areas. Only we chose to close our eyes to them. Now they are occurring in other parts of the country as well. The rot is spreading.

Most encounter killings are not investigated. In the process the fake ones go by undetected and security officials responsible for them have gotten away unpunished. Some have even been rewarded for eliminating a ‘terrorist.’ In fact, many encounter killings are staged with an eye on rewards. A couple of years ago, a fake encounter racket involving the security forces in Kashmir came to light. It emerged then that innocent people were being labelled terrorists and killed in fake encounters to claim monetary rewards from the government.

A culture of impunity for gross human rights violations has encouraged the police to kill at will and then cover up their crime by staging an ‘encounter’. There is a flawed perception among the public that the police are well within their rights in killing terrorists in encounters. They are not. It is for the courts, not the police to determine who is a terrorist and the punishment she/he deserves. Encounter killings are wrong and fake ones more so. There should be zero tolerance towards them.

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