Encounter killings by police
Encounter killing is a term used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka since the late 20th century to describe extrajudicial killings by the police or the armed forces, supposedly in self-defence, when they encounter suspected gangsters or terrorists in a shootout situation. Sometimes policemen are also killed by criminals in encounters.
Critics are sceptical of the police motivation behind many of these reported incidents, and further complain that the wide acceptance of the practice has led to incidents of the police staging fake encounters to conceal the killing of suspects when they are either in custody or are unarmed or have surrendered. These are also termed fake encounters. In some cases, surrendered criminals are shot in the leg as an extrajudicial punishment, and these are called as half encounters.
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. In Pakistan, the Sindh Police are notorious for extrajudicial killings through fake encounters especially in Karachi.
In the six years between 2016-’17 and 2021-’22, a case of encounter killing has registered once every three days in India, with 813 cases of encounter killings, according to National Human Rights Commission of India data. Further, there were no convictions of any officials in these six years.
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, Kolkata and Ghaziabad. 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).
The first recorded encounter killing was Alluri Sitarama Raju, who was a local hero in the Rampa Rebellion of 1922. The police of Nizam of Hyderabad passed on some traditions of police execution to the state of Andhra Pradesh at Independence in 1947. During the Telangana movement the State government used encounter killing as the explanation for killing more than 3000 people. From the 1960s, the culture of using encounter killings has developed into a tolerated practice.
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||312||||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 the 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.
On 20 July 2020, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Mathura convicted 11 policemen, including former deputy Superintendent of Police Kan Singh Bhati in former MLA Raja Man Singh's murder case. Raja Man Singh was killed along with his two supporters in a fake police encounter in February 1985.
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)
When the NDA government came into power in the state in March 2017, they ordered state police to initiate the encounters against criminals. There were many controversies regarding this. National human rights commission issued a notice to the state government and a bench of three judges from the supreme court of India warned and issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government in this case.
Other notable cases
Veerappan, the notorious forest brigand, was reportedly killed by the Special Task Force (STF) Headed by K Vijay Kumar 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. While sections of the media still oppose the ruling and believe the police to be culprits, a video clip that surfaced in 2016 featured a confession from the terrorist who had escaped the encounter, about how he managed to do so and later join the ISIS, further confirming the credibility of the encounter.
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 2019, all four men accused in the 2019 Hyderabad gang rape were killed in a police encounter on 6 December 2019. Police alleged that one of four had gestured to the other three to flee after attacking the cops, that the four tried to run towards a deserted pathway, and that the cops opened fire in self-defense.
On 10 July 2020, it was reported that Vikas Dubey, regarded as one of the most notorious criminal in the state, was shot dead by policemen in their own defense after the murder suspect got hands on a gun when the vehicle being used overturned.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in 2015, 2,108 men, seven women, and six minors were killed in Pakistan in alleged police encounters, including 696 people in the city of Karachi alone. Of these, 1191 men and three women were killed in the province of Punjab, 829 men and one woman were killed in Sindh, 64 men and one woman were killed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 22 men and two women were killed in Balochistan, and two men were killed in Gilgit-Baltistan. According to HRW, many of the encounters were "faked and did not occur in situations in which lives were at risk." HRW added: "In the vast majority of these cases, no police officer was injured or killed, raising questions as to whether there was in fact an armed exchange in which there was an imminent threat to the lives of police or others."
- January 2014 - May 2018
A total of 3,345 people, including 23 women and 12 minors, were killed in 2,117 alleged police encounters in Pakistan from 1 January 2014, to 11 May 2018, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). 55 police officials and 10 passersby were also killed in the encounters. Most of the alleged police encounter cases occurred in the Punjab province (1,036 cases) followed by the Sindh province (944 cases), whereas most of the killings in the alleged police encounters occurred in Sindh (1,592 killings) followed by Punjab (1,556 killings). The encounter cases and killings were reported to be much lower in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (71 killings in 54 cases) and Balochistan (57 killings in 34 cases) during the period.
Since the data collected by HRCP was based on monitoring of media reports, the total number of cases and killings may be higher than the estimate.
On 13 January 2018, Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed in a fake encounter staged by the senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rao Anwar in Karachi, sparking countrywide protests against extrajudicial killings.
Other notable cases
On 16 January 2018, when the inquiry against Rao Anwar was about to start following the extrajudicial killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud, Rao Anwar claimed that he came under attack in Karachi's Malir Cantonment while he was heading towards his house. He alleged that a suicide attacker detonated explosives near him and his squad but they remained unhurt, and that two accomplices of the attacker then opened fire on the police, both of whom were shot dead in the exchange of fire. He also alleged that a few militants escaped the site under the cover of fire while the police and Pakistan Rangers were conducting search operation. However, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) probing the case doubted if a suicide attack had even taken place at the site. The investigators found out that contrary to Rao Anwar's claim, no exchange of fire had taken place. They termed the incident a fake encounter. According to the investigators, the alleged suicide attacker Gul Saeed was first riddled by the police with bullets, then a suicide vest was wrapped around his body, and then the vest was set on fire which burned his body.
In popular culture
Police encounters have been featured in several fiction and non-fiction arts.
- Aan: Men at Work (2004)
- Ab Tak Chhappan (2004) and its sequel, Ab Tak Chhappan 2 (2015), both starring Nana Patekar
- Bardaasht (2004)
- Batla House (2019), based on encounter of suspected terrorists in Delhi
- Encounter: The Killing (2003), starring Naseeruddin Shah
- Kaakha Kaakha, a 2003 Tamil film starring Surya
- Kagaar (2003)
- Khakee (2003), starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan
- Yuddham Sei, a 2011 Tamil film starring Cheran
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- Paayum Puli (2015), a Tamil film starring Vishal
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- Risk (2007)
- Shootout at Lokhandwala (2007) and Shootout at Wadala (2013)
- Singham (2019 film), Singham (2011) and Singam
- Tharkappu (2016), a Tamil film starring Sakthi Vasudevan
- Visaranai (2015), a Tamil film directed by Vetrimaaran
- Sacred Games (2007), a novel by Vikram Chandra, is based on the police force in Mumbai. It includes dramatic depictions of police encounters.
- The Third Squad (2017), a novel by V. Sanjay Kumar, revolves around a Mumbai encounter policeman with Asperger's Syndrome. It includes multiple depictions of police encounters.
- Lists of killings by law enforcement officers
- 2015 sandalwood smugglers encounter in Andhra Pradesh
- Crossfire (Bangladesh)
- Killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud
- List of attacks on civilians attributed to Sri Lankan government forces
- Cordon and search
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