Herald View: Encounter Raj in ‘Amrit Kaal’

In Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, the state administration and police have taken the style of administering ‘justice’ to an all-new level

Atiq Ahmed (right) and his brother Ashraf (PTI Photo)
Atiq Ahmed (right) and his brother Ashraf (PTI Photo)

Herald View

This country is no stranger to police ‘encounters’ or vigilante justice. They have been reported with discomfiting regularity, from Punjab and Maharashtra in the 1980s, Kashmir in the 1990s, Gujarat between 2002 and 2006, Assam and the Northeast and from Uttar Pradesh in the past six years. These encounters have also enjoyed a perversely high degree of popular support. People have been led to believe that this is a lawless country and the criminal justice system is incapable of dealing with lawlessness. Bollywood cinema has played no small part in glorifying vigilante justice, and the media too has gleefully fed the same narrative—by making heroes of the so-called ‘encounter specialists’.

In Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh, the state administration and police have taken this style of administering ‘justice’ to an all-new level. The chief minister, in his zero-tolerance-for-crime spiel, of which the bulldozer has become the most visible symbol, does not even bother with the pretence of upholding the ‘rule of law’. His government freely admits to having eliminated 183 ‘criminals’ in the past six years and staging over 10,000 police encounters since 2017. It’s a badge of honour in the new code. For perspective, let’s also look at the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) data: while UP police claim to have nabbed 5,967 criminals in 10,713 encounters during this period, the state either tops or comes close in most categories of crime recorded by the NCRB. The mafia, engaged in liquor, drugs, sand or real estate, have continued to flourish and extortions, cold-blooded murders and rapes are routine.

There’s more. In Yogi’s UP and Modi’s Amrit Kaal, some ‘criminals’ are eliminated while in police custody, on their watch—i.e. not in ‘encounters’ while supposedly escaping custody—while others serving life terms for gang rape and brutal murders have their jail sentences commuted—and are garlanded and feted like heroes on their release. One wonders how normalised this mistrust and open hatred of Muslims is in India today: does the apparent popular support for Yogi’s brand of instant justice have anything to do with the names of the two underworld dons? Do we care that they were called Atiq Ahmed and Ashraf Ahmed? Does it matter that their killers were Hindus, who chanted ‘Jai Shri Ram’ before ‘surrendering’ to the police? Or that the police party was reportedly unarmed and did nothing to stop the killers?

There are other questions too that give the lie to the police spin on these murders on the night of Saturday, 15 April. For example, according to the police, the brothers were being taken for a ‘routine medical check-up’. At 10.30 p.m.? Doesn’t that story stretch belief? It certainly defies common sense and possibly has no precedent. How did the media (TV camerapersons et al) even know that the police would take Atiq and Ashraf for a routine medical checkup at that unlikely hour? And if all this beggars belief, did the police perhaps know the entire script? We’ll never find out, but the police story—and its actions even after the murders—are highly suspicious, to say the least. For instance, the police didn’t even bother asking for a police remand of the killers of Atiq and Ashraf and instead sent them to a prison outside the district. Does that sound like the police wants to investigate these murders?

However, the Uttar Pradesh Police has announced not one but two SITs (Special Investigation Teams) to investigate the murders, and so has the state government set up a judicial inquiry under a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court. That sounds like a burial of the case by committee. If the police and the state administration are complicit in instigating vigilantes, can we pin our hopes on the judicial system? Not on the evidence of the past: few policemen have had to pay for taking the law into their hands. They can also manipulate trials by delaying chargesheets; they can obfuscate facts, tutor witnesses and produce never-ending chargesheets with impossibly long lists of prosecution witnesses. These are their stock-in-trade, designed to drag out trials for decades—and delay, frustrate and deny justice.

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