Hindutva’s ‘Encounter’ Faketory

The ‘hero’ in the new script is not a cop but a monk, an open advocate of Hindu Rashtra, who incidentally holds a high constitutional position

Photo Courtesy: Twitter
Photo Courtesy: Twitter

Mohd Asim Khan

In the climax scene of Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007), defence lawyer Dhingra (played by Amitabh Bachchan) representing the Mumbai Anti-terrorism Squad dramatically asks the high court: “Sir, you too have a family, and they are alone at home now. There is a man standing outside your house with a gun in his hand. Tell me, who would you like that man to be: Maya [gangster Maya Dolas]? Buwa [Maya’s accomplice Dilip Buwa]? Or ACP Shamsher Khan?”

On the basis of this argument, Dhingra secures the acquittal of all the ATS members being tried for the gory encounter killing of Maya Dolas and his gang members at Swati building, Lokhandwala complex. In the final scene, the ATS team is shown coming out of the court complex to rousing music, wrapped in glory.

However, one wonders how would the family of IT professional Vivek Tiwari—the unarmed man who was shot dead by a police constable in Lucknow on 28 September 2018 night—respond to that question. Or what the family of Kanpur businessman Manish Gupta—who was allegedly killed by Uttar Pradesh policemen inside a Gorakhpur hotel on 30 September 2021 feels about this ‘winning’ argument? Or how does Khushi Dubey—the teenager bride of gangster Vikas Dubey’s aide Amar, married only seven days before the 3 July 2020 clash in which eight UP cops were killed in Kanpur—feels about the presence of cops outside her house.

The debate on the extrajudicial killings has been sparked again with the encounter killing of UP don Atiq Ahmed’s 19-year-old son Asad on April 13 in Jhansi. The rights bodies, the opposition and the civil society had questioned the UP police’s tactics in the Vikas Dubey encounter as well. However, the Uttar Pradesh police, under the political patronage, have not given two hoots to the hue and cry.

“Encounters have long got social acceptance. It’s a tactic that is routinely put to use by police to get rid of gangsters and anti-social elements, though I do not support it,” says former Uttar Pradesh DGP Vibhuti Narain Rai.   

An IPS officer of 1975 batch of UP cadre, Rai says the history of police encounters in independent India has been long. “When I joined the police force in 1975, encounter killings were not unheard of even then. When V.P. Singh was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (1980-82), so many encounters took place during the crackdown on dacoits,” he adds.

“In fact, once a UP minister asked me, ‘Kaptan sahab apke ziley me counter nahi hote (Why are there no encounters in your district. People in general used to call it ‘counter’,” Rai recalls.

Bollywood’s Romance with the Trigger-happy Cop

The Hindi cinema has always glorified the ‘encounter specialist’ cop. Over the last two decades there have been scores of films on this theme that have done brisk business on the box office, which underlines their wide acceptance and appreciation. Films like Indian (2001), Ab Tak Chhappan (2004), Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007), Wanted (2009), Dabangg (2010), Singham (2011), Shootout at Wadala (2013), Sooryavanshi (2021), and many others in between, celebrate the persona of the police officer who believes in bumping off the criminals in cold blood.

“In earlier films, there used to be a moral debate on the issue of extrajudicial killings and these films almost always ended in a courtroom. There used to be the court, the lawyers, the arguments and the jury. In recent film, however, the judge and the lawyer have vanished from the script and the cop has become the judge and the executioner,” noted film critic Saibal Chatterjee points out.

He says that the modern trigger-happy cop is a “toxic version” of the Angry Young Man of yesteryears.

“There is no doubt that Hindi cinema has played a key role in establishing the persona of the trigger-happy cop as a hero amidst people,” says Chatterjee.

Filmmakers must be asking questions, not serving propaganda on a platter to their audience, he emphasises, because such glorification of extrajudicial killings is the first step towards a fascist rule, where constitution, courts, civil society have no meaning.

Stereotyping the Villain

After the BJP stormed to power at the Centre in 2014, and a strong saffron wave swept across the country, especially in the Hindi belt, the narrative in the media and the films began to change. The hero metamorphosed from the cop to an army man or a secret agent, and the villain now had a particular religious identity.

Akshay Kumar climbed the success ladder to the peak of his career playing this ‘Indian’ soldier who could single-handedly destroy an entire gang of ‘Pakistani’ agents [Holiday: A Soldier is Never Off-duty; Naam Shabana; Baby, et al], or could summarily defeat Muhammad Ghori, a Muslim invader, as Prithviraj Chauhan.

“Such films where the villain is shot dead by the police officer or soldier give a feeling of catharsis as well as sadistic pleasure to the viewers,” says Chatterjee.

No wonder then that the common people—by now primed on who the ‘villain’ is—erupt in jubilation when they see the same script being played out in real life. They feel the same contentment as they do on watching the film.

Invocation of Radio Rwanda has been too frequent of late, but that is relatively recent example to pinpoint the havoc the mass media propaganda can wreak, for Goebbels and Hitler are separated from us by many more decades.

The jubilant howling and cheering on social media by thousands of people on the killing of Atiq Ahmed’s son in police ‘encounter’ is obviously the celebration of the Hindu supremacy, not the victory of ‘law and order’ raj. Because one did not see this cheering in the case of gangster Vikas Dubey, nor did we seen retired IPS officers frothing at the mouth on TV debates at the killing of “uniformed personnel” when Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was shot dead in Bulandshahr’s Siyana on 3 December 2018 when a Hindutva mob went berserk.

The ‘hero’ in the new script though is not a cop but a monk, an open advocate of Hindu Rashtra, who incidentally holds a high constitutional position of the chief minister of the country’s largest state.  

This celebration of encounters, as well as the rampaging bulldozers that suddenly turn up at certain locations without a court order, should be seen as a warning sign that the ‘othering’ software launched by the Hindutva brigade has been successfully installed in a large section of the society’s collective conscience.

As we may recall, even the apex court of this country in the not-so-distant past ordered the hanging of a person—in the absence of fool proof evidence against him—only to “satisfy the collective conscience of the society”. At this point, the already encroached line between the ‘judicial’ and the ‘extrajudicial’ gets completely blurred.  So does the collective sense of right and wrong.

Strengthen the judicial system

Rai does not agree with the contention of many other police officers that since the courts of law are overburdened and the judicial process is slow, the police are at times forced to look for other ways to contain the crime and criminals.

"This government is spending thousands of crores in building roads and other infrastructure. What stops them from spending a few hundred crores on improving courts' infrastructure, appointing more judges and streamlining the judicial process? It's about your intentions and priorities. Blaming courts and slow or flawed judicial process in order to justify extrajudicial killings is simply not the way," Rai asserts.

But what can you do when the State begins to flaunt encounters (thok do) and bulldozer justice as its policy, and when the Supreme Court chooses to look the other way all through this?


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