Encounter killings by police
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An encounter is a euphemism used in India since the late 20th century to describe killings by the police or the armed forces of suspected gangsters or terrorists in gun battles. The term describes the practice where police claim to have shot the person in self defense and plant weapons on or near the corpses to provide a justification for killing the individual are not authorised by any court or by the law.
In the 1990s and the mid-2000s, the Mumbai Police used encounter killings to cripple the city's underworld and break down a rampant extortion racket. The police officers, who came to be known as "encounter specialists", believed that these killings delivered speedy justice. They were criticised by human rights activists.
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 440 cases of alleged fake encounters in the country during 2002–2008. Most of these happened in the states of Uttar Pradesh (231), Rajasthan (33), Maharashtra (31), Delhi (26), Andhra Pradesh (22) and Uttarakhand (19).
From 2009/10 to February 2013, the NHRC recorded 555 cases of alleged fake encounters. The states with high number of cases were Uttar Pradesh (138), Manipur (62), Assam (52), West Bengal (35) and Jharkhand (30).
Police encounter killings were common in Mumbai from the 1990s through the mid-2000s. Some of the police officers involved in such killings came to be known as "encounter specialists". The Mumbai police believed that the encounter killings delivered speedy justice, when the courts were overloaded with cases. They used encounter killings to severely cripple the underworld in Mumbai and broke down the extortion racket, which was rampant at that time. A section of the police officers saw staged encounters as a way of fighting the dangerous criminals, whom they were unable to prosecute legally (due to lack of evidence or powerful political connections). Human rights activists consider these killings, custodial deaths and associated torture of prisoners to be gross human rights violations.
On 11 January 1982, the gangster Manya Surve was shot dead by police officers Raja Tambat and Isaque Bagwan at the Wadala area. This has been identified as the city's first recognised encounter killing. It was believed to end urban piracy by dacoits. From that period until early 2003, the police killed 1200 alleged criminals.
Some of the well-known encounter specialists of Mumbai Police include:
|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. Such encounters have also been referred to as “staged encounters” or “fake encounters,” as these deaths were often believed to be the result of torture or outright execution. Ultimately, the practice became so common that “encounter” became synonymous with extra-judicial execution. The Punjab police specifically targeted the families of suspected militants in encounter killings to punish them.
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. It is alleged that police would place weapons on or near the body to suggest the police acted in self-defence, stage-managing the encounter. This resulted in the popular phrase “fake encounter killing.” Other popular accounts were that militants were staging an attack, or the suspect attempted to escape to recover militant arms while being escorted. At times, the Punjab police applied for and received production warrants, which allowed them to remove individuals accused in terrorism cases from jail. They often killed the detainees in fake encounters outside the jail.
Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, a criminal defence attorney in Punjab who defended such suspects, disappeared in May 1994 and is believed to have been killed by the police. Punjab's largest encounter occurred on 7 January 1993 in the village of Chichhrewal, district Gurdaspur, tehsil Batala. Police "encountered" and killed 11 terrorists.
Between 2002 and 2006, 22 deaths classified as "fake encounters" 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)
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 outfits 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.
In popular culture
Police encounters have been featured in several Indian films. These include:
- Ab Tak Chhappan (2004) starring Nana Patekar
- Aan: Men at Work (2004)
- Encounter: The Killing (2003) starring Naseeruddin Shah
- Kagaar (2003)
- Kaakha Kaakha, a Tamil film starring Surya
- Khakee (2003), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan
- Risk (2007)
- Maximum (2012) starring Sonu Sood, Naseeruddin Shah, Vinay Pathak, Mohan Agashe
- Shootout at Lokhandwala
- Shootout at Wadala
- Rege, a Marathi film (2014) starring Mahesh Manjrekar As Pradeep Sharma
- Paayum Puli (2015), a Tamil film starring Vishal
- Vikram Chandra's book Sacred Games: A Novel (2007) is based on the police force in Mumbai. It includes dramatic depictions of police encounters.
- List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States
- 2015 sandalwood smugglers encounter in Andhra Pradesh
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