, by SYYED MANSOOR AGHA
SYYED MANSOOR AGHA recounts a few cases of extra judicial killings in custody, in fake encounters and police firing, and calls upon the civil society to give a serious though to such human rights violations, and legal luminaries to find out the way to safeguard people’s right to life without dampening the ‘morale of security forces’.
Killing in custody, in fake encounters and in police firing has become a regular feature of the police system in the country but no serious effort is there in sight to deal with the menace. Extra judicial killing is more heinous a crime than corruption related to finance. One spills human blood, the other only sucks. Some recent gruesome incidents that have shocked the conscience of people may be recounted.
On Wednesday, August 10, three farmers of Pune were killed in police firing. Police says shots were fired in self defence but videos of the incident are clear evidence of ‘aimed’ firing on protesters while they were on run.
On Friday, June 3, four villagers including a pregnant woman and a child of 7-8 months were killed by police bullets in village Bhajanpur of block Forbesganj in Bihar. The brutality of police personnel and expression of their joy on killing un-armed citizens was also grabbed in cellphone video. The civilians were protesting blocking the only road to the village for construction of a BJP leader’s factory. The land was allotted by State Government and no alternate passage was provided. The incident has come to cause huge embarrassment to Nitish Kumar Government.
Deaths of 44-year old Faiz Usmani in Mumbai on July 17 and of Nazim Rahsid Shalla in Sopore police custody, have raised many questions on the crude methods used in the name of interrogation by Indian police. Usmani’s only sin was that he happened to be brother of one Afzal Usmani, an accused of Ahmedabad serial blasts of 2008 and jailed in Gujarat since his arrest from Azamgarh on September 23, 2008. Eye witness say Faiz Usmani was grabbed by neck and thrashed as if he was a hardcore proclaimed offender. The young man collapsed while being “interrogated”. CB-CID inquiry has been set to probe.
Nazim Rashid Shalla was killed in Sopore in Kashmir. Police picked up 28-year young man on July 30 from his grocery shop without informing his family members. Strongly built Shalla succumbed to police torture the same night. The incident caused widespread anger and public protest in the area. Magisterial Inquiry has been set up in the case and cops suspended.
While Kashmir is still mourning the death of Shalla, another dreadful incident came in to send shockwaves to the entire country. The army on Sunday, July 7 claimed to have killed a Pakistani militant and divisional commander of Lashker-e-Taiba, Abu Usman, after a 12-hour gun battle at Surankote area of Poonch district in Jammu region. Some arms and ammunition was also shown recovered from the killed person. During the funeral wash of the dead body people noticed that deceased was a non-Muslim! Local Muslims refused to bury the body and returned to police for investigation. Initial probe found that the deceased was a civilian with unstable mind. Initial report claimed the person murdered was Ashok Kumar of Rajori. He was shot in face several times to hide his identity. Ironically the security personnel led by a Major fired some 2000 bullets for the whole night without a single retaliatory fire from “LeT Commander”. An embarrassed Army and police have now laid the entire blame on Territorial Army Jawan Abdul Majeed and SPO Noor Hussain. They say the duo had assured senior officers of 25 RR that they would get a “prized catch” in the next few days. A senior police official said they “misled” them. Police has arrested them and a Magisterial Inquiry has been ordered.
These are not incidents in isolation. An Amnesty International Report, 2011, says: “Recent data disclosed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on people killed in clashes with the police between 1993 and 2008, showed that of the 2,560 deaths reported 1,224 (deaths) occurred in ‘faked encounters’ implying they were extra-judicial executions (EJE).” Out of these 1,224 confirmed cases, NHRC had awarded compensation to the relatives of 16 victims only. The report further noted, “Convictions of those responsible for extra-judicial executions were exceptionally rare and proceedings in such cases remained slow”.
The report also mentioned the killing spree between June and September, 2010, in which more than 120 people, mostly teenaged youths were gunned down. Their fault was only that they were demanding legal action against the security persons who enacted faked encounters of five poor civilians to get cash rewards and out-of-turn promotions in border area of Pathribal. The Government obliged the protestors with indiscriminate firing.
According to the report, “An inquiry, instituted by the state authorities, covered only 17 of over 100 deaths.” All deaths were not covered “despite demands by Amnesty International and other organisations for an independent, impartial and thorough investigation into all the deaths. The inquiry made little progress.” The authorities made widespread use of administrative detentions, detaining 322 people between January and September, the report concluded.
Insurgency-hit Jammu & Kashmir is not the only State, menaced by extra judicial executions. A recent report of NHRC shows Uttar Pradesh ruled by Mayawati’s BSP has witnessed the highest number of fake encounters, during the last three years. Nearly 120 people were eliminated by police in dubious incidents of ‘encounters.’ Up to June this year, six persons were reportedly killed in EJEs.
In 2010-11, NHRC received complaints of 40 people killed by security forces in UP in alleged fake encounters. During 2008-09 and 2009-10, 71 people were killed in the state in alleged fake encounters. EJE is a tool of police used mostly to eliminate hardcore criminals and gangsters. They feel there is no way out to get rid of bad characters as legal procedure to get them punished is lengthy, dubious and in-effective.
There were 369 cases of alleged fake encounters registered by NHRC beginning 2008-09 till June 2011 from across the country. In 90 cases, where police action was found to be doubtful, NHRC has recommended monetary relief of Rs 4.54 crore to the next of kin of the deceased.
After Uttar Pradesh, Manipur recorded the second highest number of fake encounter cases during the three years period: 16 in 2008-09, 32 in 2009-10, 12 in 2010-11 and one in first half of 2011.
On NHRC record book there were only 14 cases of alleged fake encounters in militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir in the past three years, with the highest 11 cases registered in 2010-11. However it is a recorded fact that some 8000-10000 people have disappeared in J&K since 1989. Ms Afsans Rashid, a journalist and human activist has documented the agony of parents and relations of Involuntarily Disappeared Persons (IDPs) in her recent book, Widows and Half Widows (Pharos Media, New Delhi). They genuinely apprehend that their loved ones have been killed by security forces and buried either as ‘infiltrators’ or ‘insurgents’ in un-named mass graves and graveyards.
The problem is enormous. In a fake encounter case of Rajasthan, the Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice Makandey Katju has observed (August 8) that blood-thirsty and trigger-happy policemen who stage fake encounters deserve nothing less than death sentence for the “cold blooded murders”.
“The same parameters will apply and the law shall take its own course,” the bench of Justice Katju and Justice CK Prasad said, coming down heavily on the ‘law unto themselves’ cops.
“If crimes are committed by ordinary people, ordinary punishment should be given. But if the offence is committed by policemen, much harsher punishment should be given to them because they do an act totally contrary to their duties. They should be treated as the rarest of rare offence,” an anguished bench added.
But still there is no answer to legal loopholes that shield killers in uniform. As reported by Manoj Mitta (Times of India, August 12), “The stay order, passed two years ago by a bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India, K G Balakrishnan, has rolled back an attempt made by the Andhra Pradesh High Court to plug a major loophole in the law relating to fake encounters.
“The loophole is exploited by the police in the event of a fake encounter to evade the obligation of registering an FIR. Despite the statutory safeguard of a probe by an executive magistrate, the police generally get away with their self-serving claim that they had fired in self defence, which is an exception to the definition of murder. In its bid to end this rampant abuse of law, the High Court had made it compulsory for the police to register an FIR against police officers after every encounter death. It had also ruled that their plea of self defence should be considered by the judicial magistrate only after the investigating officer had filed his final report.”
The February 2009 verdict was in consonance with the conflict of interest principle that the police could not be trusted to take an impartial view on whether their colleagues had indeed acted in self defence or had staged a fake encounter. Yet, on an appeal filed by the Andhra Pradesh Police Officers Association, the SC stayed the High Court verdict on the basis of their contention that “the security forces grappling with terror, Maoist and underworld crimes were demoralised by the prospect of facing murder charges.”
The case is still pending for final verdict. The Government has left it to the court to decide the fate of “fake encounter victims.” Ironically, the Government also drags its feet to order judicial inquiry in each case of “encounter” killing, as it has done in Batla House “forced encounter” case. The circumstances are self evident that no genuine effort was made to arrest the accused boys and the police enacted the encounter in the month of Ramadhan.
Civil Society needs to give a serious thought to such human rights violations and legal luminaries should find out how people’s right to life can be safeguarded without dampening ‘morale of security forces’.
[The writer is Gen. Sec. Forum for Civil Rights; email: email@example.com]