UP: A death in ‘Encounter Pradesh’ on Republic Day

There are signs of a silent but sweeping rage building up in Uttar Pradesh over 40 ‘encounter deaths’. With Dalits, OBCs and Muslims at the receiving end, BJP may well have to pay a political price

Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Zaheeb Ajmal

Twenty angry women were more than they could handle. Policemen from Azamgarh learnt the hard lesson on March 10 earlier this month when they were forced to back off by the women of Mukkatalipur.

Policemen had arrived in two motorcycles and a jeep, recall the women. They wanted family members of Mukesh to sign on blank papers, ostensibly to close a case of motorcycle theft lodged against the 17 year old who was no more. He was allegedly killed in a fake encounter barely three months ago in January, 2018.

The women, already angry at the fake encounter, chased the policemen out of the village, they recall with satisfaction. Their only regret is that in the heat of the moment, they failed to video record the encounter. It is not every day the police is chased out of villages and certainly not in ‘Encounter Pradesh’, as Uttar Pradesh is coming to be known.

But despite growing evi­dence that the state poli­cy of eliminating alleged criminals is having little effect on general law and order, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declared last week that police encounters would not stop. In the cavalier style that is by now familiar, he pointed his finger to the opposition benches in the state’s Legislative Council and declared that ‘everybody knows who provides patron­age to criminals’.

The Chief Minister also admitted, “A total of 40 dreaded criminals have been gunned down in 1,200 encounters and this will continue.” Facts, however, fly in the face of this claim. If the CM cares to examine the list, he would find that petty criminals, undertrials who were arrested follow­ing village brawls and even teenagers, who by no means can be described as dreaded criminals, have been killed in these encounters.

Even state minister Om Prakash Rajbhar had demanded a CBI inquiry into another death in an encounter. The curious case of Mukesh Rajbhar, whose body is still missing, shows why the demand for a CBI inquiry is bound to snowball

The issue cropped up when a BJP MLC Devendra Pratap Singh questioned the propriety of the Council chairman Ramesh Yadav directing the state govern­ment to order a CBI inquiry into three encounter deaths.

Yadav is not the only one to feel that a CBI inquiry is needed. Even state minister Om Prakash Rajbhar had demanded a CBI inquiry into another death in an encounter. The curious case of Mukesh Rajbhar, whose body is still missing, shows why the demand for a CBI inquiry is bound to snowball.

In December, 2016, Mukesh had spent his 16th birth­day in jail. Picked up in October that year by the police for stealing a motor­cycle. Villagers recall that he had taken a break from his work in Mumbai, and was on a short visit when the police picked him up from the playground.

He was released on bail in January, 2017 but not acquitted, when the motor­cycle-owner testified that he was not among those who had snatched the bike.

But that was not the end of his trouble. Returning to Mumbai was no longer an option because the police demanded a sum of ₹1.5 lakh to close the case, a sum the family did not have. And the compulsion of appear­ing in court at regular intervals meant he could not move very far away from home.

Send him away for his own sake, warned the policemen. “My brother did not want to leave home. He was in a bad shape after his release from prison. Beaten up and tortured in jail, for several days he could not even sleep,” recalls sister Lakshmi.

Mukesh was on a bike with an accomplice and opened fire on the police when he saw them. In the shootout that followed, Mukesh was killed but his accomplice curiously got away

However, a chance meet­ing with a ‘social work­er’, Shiv Pratap and his wife Seema, helped make up his mind. Shiv Pratap offered him work in their Kanpur unit that made tiles and also a place to stay. Mukesh made the 366 km journey to Kanpur—eight to ten hours by bus—secure in the knowledge that he would also be able to attend court hearings in Azamgarh.

“Police would often come during daytime when I would be alone at home. They would abuse me and demand that I part with his Kanpur address. Initially when I refused, they threat­ened to implicate me in false cases. Once they even threatened me with rape,” says Lakshmi.

The police version is that the teenager had attacked a policeman on January 22. Acting on a tip-off, police laid a trap on January 26 in Sidhari police station area of Azamgarh.

Mukesh was on a bike with an accomplice and opened fire on the police when he saw them. In the shootout that followed, Mukesh was killed but his accomplice curiously got away.

“When was the reward declared and why,” ask bewildered family mem­bers. There are two indica­tions that suggest that the teenager was killed in a fake encounter. One, there is no sign of the body. The family says they never got either the body or the post-mortem report.

The second piece of ‘evi­dence’ is the statement of the teenager’s employer in Kanpur, Shiv Pratap. “We have the CCTV footage as proof to show that Mukesh was with us on Republic Day this year. We have in fact filed a case against the police,” Pratap claimed.

Shiv Pratap also contests the claim of Azamgarh police that they had a close encounter with Mukesh on January 22 in Azamgarh. “We can prove that Mukesh was with us on that day in the Agra court. There is pressure on him to with­draw the case, he admits but says defiantly that he would fight till the end,” said Pratap.

But despite a public furo­re and demand for a CBI inquiry made by a minister in the BJP Government, Om Prakash Rajbhar, no action has yet been taken.

The teenager is not the only one to get killed in an ‘encounter’. While the state government admits to only 45 encounter deaths in the entire state, in Azamgarh alone, police are said to have gunned down Channu Sonker, Ramji Pasi, Mohan Pasi, Jai Hind Yadav and Raees Ahmed among oth­ers. The actual number could well be higher.

A villager says that while he does not know if Yogi Adityanath, as a ‘good Hindu’, believes in spirits and curses, he is certain that his political career will be haunted by the dead for a long time to come.

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