Goonda Raj turns Encounter Raj in Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath may have termed the killing of at least 80 ‘hardened’ criminals in police encounters an achievement as a result of his ‘thok do’ (shoot them) policy. But the families of many so-called criminals feel otherwise. Their allegation that a majority of the encounters are fake casts a shadow on the UP government’s sense of achievement.

READ: 'Encounters lead to acceptance of violence in society'

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Sample this: It has been two years since Jaihind Yadav, son of Shiv Pujan Yadav, a resident of Tarwa in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district, was killed in an alleged police encounter.

Jaihind Yadav was picked up from home by the police from Mehnagar station around 10 in the morning on August 3, 2017, according to his father. A few hours later, they came to know that he was killed in a police encounter. 

“His body was found in the field,” Shiv Yadav tells DH. “My son was not a criminal,” the teary-eyed father adds.

Records show that Jaihind was involved in petty crimes. He was arrested once but let off on bail.

Police claim that Jaihind was killed in a genuine encounter. They say that he fired at them first when he was asked to surrender and was subsequently killed in retaliatory firing.

Shiv Pujan Yadav has lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). A rights organisation has also filed a petition in the Supreme Court.

“All I want is justice,” Yadav says.

In another incident, 18-year-old Mukesh Rajbhar, a resident of Mutkallipur village in Azamgarh district, was picked up by some police officers on January 26, 2018, from Kanpur Dehat district on the pretext of questioning him in connection with a looting case in Azamgarh.

The family members got to know the next day that his body was found in Sidhari area of Azamgarh district. They were told by the police that Mukesh was killed in an encounter at night.

His father, Nand Lal Rajbhar, says that his son was implicated in a case of looting. “He was not even present in Azamgarh. He was in Kanpur when the incident occurred.” 

The police, however, claim that Mukesh was killed in retaliatory firing.

A complaint has been lodged with the NHRC. While the rights body and the courts are yet to decide whether these encounters were genuine or fake, an analysis of such encounters in the state reveals some worrying and disturbing patterns.

Disturbing patterns 

According to reports, a majority of the ‘criminals’ with whom the police were involved in alleged gun battles hailed from the Muslim community and were undertrials. 

“There are specific encounter zones in the state. They include Azamgarh district in the eastern zone and Muzaffarnagar, Meerut and Shamli districts in the western zone,” says Rajiv Yadav, a human rights activist.

Rajiv Yadav is a member of the NGO Rihai Manch, which took up cases of human rights violations with the NHRC. 

“There are some trigger-happy police officials in the state who specialise in encounters,” he says.

“In many cases, the cops tie up a victim’s knees with a sac and fire from close range. This is called a half-encounter,” he says, adding that the cops have resorted to them after getting flak over extra-judicial killings.

According to sources, more than 200 half-encounters, in which the criminals are wounded, have taken place in Gautam Buddh Nagar and Meerut districts in the past one year.

A former cop says that the district police chiefs had set encounter targets for the police stations under their command and the stations in-charge did their best to achieve the targets.

The station house officers were given oral directives, sources add. “When targets are set, there will be fake encounters,” an ex-top cop, who wishes to remain anonymous, says.

There were reports that the police went out of the way in some cases to help the jailed criminals get bail and then got them killed in encounters. One such case was reported from Meerut. The encounter spree has also exposed the criminal-police nexus.

Recently, a senior cop was caught on tape advising a history-sheeter on how to avoid being gunned down in the police encounter. In the audiotape, which went viral on the social media networking sites, the station house officer identified as Sunil Singh was heard telling Lekhraj Singh Yadav, a dreaded criminal and history-sheeter, who faced 60 cases, including those of murder and kidnapping, to speak to two local BJP leaders to ‘prevent’ his possible encounter. The probe is still on.

In last February, a cop had allegedly shot and seriously wounded two youths in Noida over personal enmity and claimed that they were criminals and were injured during an armed encounter. The sub-inspector was arrested and sent to jail while three other police personnel were also suspended.

Recently, an eight-year-old child was also killed in Mathura district during an encounter between the police and the criminals. The boy was plucking plums near the highway when a bullet fired by a cop hit him in his head. The police claimed that there was an encounter with some criminals in the vicinity. Four cops had been suspended in this connection.

Chance encounters are rare

Former UP IPS officer S R Darapuri said that chance encounters were rare. “The police misuse the Right to Self-defence,’’ he said. Darapuri also said that a majority of the victims of the encounters were poor. Reacting to the cases taken up by the NHRC, he said that the commission does not have the powers to punish the erring cops.

“All it can do is to recommend compensation to the victims’ families. Their directives are often not complied with,’’ he said.

The encounters have also impacted the social and economic condition of the families of the victims. “The families suffer social stigma. They are looked at with suspicion,” Rajiv said. 

The UP police contest the allegation of fake encounters. “We too have lost many members of the force. We are probing every case of fake encounter. The cops are punished if they do anything illegal,’’ said UP police chief O P Singh.  

The opposition parties have sharply condemned the ‘fake’ encounters. Former UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party supremo Akhilesh Yadav said that Yogi Adityanath’s ‘thok do policy’ has resulted in the killing of cops as well. He was referring to the retaliatory killing of police constable Suresh Vats by a mob in Ghazipur district a few months back.

“There are other ways to deal with the criminals,” he said. He also said that police officials were resorting to encounters to stop their transfers. “They know that they will not be transferred if they conduct encounters, even if they are fake,’’ he remarked.

BJP leaders have rubbished the allegations. “Yogi Adityanath has been able to instil confidence in people. The criminals are on the run,’’ UP BJP leader Vijay Bahadur Pathak told DH. With the UP government terming its ‘Operation Clean’ a huge success, the incidents of encounters in the state are likely to rise in the days to come.

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