Encounter killings by police
"Encounter killing" is a term used in India and Pakistan since the late 20th century to describe killings by the police or the armed forces, allegedly in self-defence, when they encounter suspected gangsters or terrorists. In the 1990s and the mid-2000s, the Mumbai Police used encounter killings to attack the city's underworld, and the practice spread to other large cities.
Critics are sceptical of many of these reported incidents, and further complain that the wide acceptance of the practice has led to incidents of police creating 'false encounters' to cover-up the killing of suspects when they are either in custody or are unarmed.
This term has come into popular use in India since the late 20th century because of a very high frequency of encounter killings by police in such cities as Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. Some of the killings have been controversial, and critics have alleged that the police created 'fake encounters' as opportunities to kill suspects.
According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of India, there were many cases of alleged fake encounters:
440 cases. States with high number of cases were: Uttar Pradesh (231), Rajasthan (33), Maharashtra (31), Delhi (26), Andhra Pradesh (22) and Uttarakhand (19).
- 2009/10 - February 2013
555 cases. States with high number of cases were: Uttar Pradesh (138), Manipur (62), Assam (52), West Bengal (35) and Jharkhand (30).
On 11 January 1982, the gangster Manya Surve was shot dead by police officers Raja Tambat and Isaque Bagwan at the Wadala area. This is often referred to as the city's first recognised encounter killing. From that period until early 2003, the police killed 1,200 alleged criminals.
Members of the Mumbai Police involved in these killings became widely known as 'encounter specialists', and several became well-known to the public in India, including:
|Pradeep Sharma||Inspector||104||||He once remarked "Criminals are filth and I'm the cleaner". He was accused of having staged the encounter of Ram Narayan Gupta and suspended in 2009/10; however, he was acquitted by the court in 2013.|
|Sachin Waze||Assistant Inspector||63||||Resigned from service, later joined Shivsena|
|Vijay Salaskar||Inspector||61||||killed in November 2008 Mumbai attacks|
The term 'police encounter' was used often during the Punjab insurgency between 1984 and 1995. During this time, Punjab police officials reported 'encounters' to local newspapers and to the family members of those killed. The victim was typically a person whom the police believed to be a militant or involved in the militant separatist movement; proof of alleged militant involvement was rarely given. Ultimately, the practice became so common that 'encounter' became synonymous with extrajudicial execution.
It is alleged that police typically take a suspected militant into custody without filing an arrest report. If the suspect dies during interrogation, security forces would deny ever taking the person into custody and instead claim that he was killed during an armed encounter, placing weapons on or near the body to suggest the police acted in self-defence.
Between 2002 and 2006, 22 police encounter killings were reported in Gujarat. According to the NHRC figures, during 2002–2007, there were four alleged fake encounters in Gujarat (out of 440 fake encounters in all of India). These cases gained national media attention:
- Sadiq Jamal (2003)
- Ishrat Jahan case (2004)
- Sohrabuddin Sheikh case (2005)
- Tulsiram Prajapati case (2006)
It is notable that the only cases which attracts media attention among the hundreds of fake encounter cases as per the data available at public disposal from NHRC and other authoritative sources, have two specific characteristics as noted below:- 1. The alleged victims are Muslims. 2. The alleged state is a BJP ruled state.
Other notable cases
Veerappan, the notorious forest brigand, was reportedly killed by the Special Task Force (STF) in an encounter on 18 October 2004. Some human rights organisations claimed that the circumstantial evidence indicated that he was killed in a fake encounter after being tortured by the police.
On 19 September 2008, Delhi-police Inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, a decorated officer, and two suspects were killed in the Batla House encounter case in New Delhi. The encounter led to the arrest of two suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists, while a third managed to escape. The Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid termed the encounter as 'totally fake"' and accused the government of harassing Muslims. Several political parties and activists demanded a probe into the allegations that the encounter was fake. After an investigation, the National Human Rights Commission cleared the Delhi Police personnel of any violations of human rights.
An alleged 'encounter' in 1991, led to the 2016 sentencing of 47 policemen to life imprisonment for the slaying of 11 Sikh pilgrims in the Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh.
In popular culture
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Police encounters have been featured in several fiction and non-fiction arts.
- Encounter: The Killing (2003) starring Naseeruddin Shah
- Kagaar (2003)
- Kaakha Kaakha, a 2003 Tamil film starring Surya
- Khakee (2003), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan
- Ab Tak Chhappan (2004) and its sequel, Ab Tak Chhappan 2 (2015), both starring Nana Patekar
- Bardaasht (2004)
- Aan: Men at Work (2004)
- Risk (2007)
- Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007) and Shootout at Wadala (2013)
- Maximum (2012) starring Sonu Sood, Naseeruddin Shah, Vinay Pathak, Mohan Agashe
- Rege, a Marathi film (2014) starring Mahesh Manjrekar As Pradeep Sharma
- Paayum Puli (2015), a Tamil film starring Vishal
- Sacred Games (2007), a novel by Vikram Chandra is based on the police force in Mumbai. It includes dramatic depictions of police encounters.
- Lists of killings by law enforcement officers
- 2015 sandalwood smugglers encounter in Andhra Pradesh
- Crossfire (Bangladesh)
- Encounter killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud
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