Ease of extra-judicial killings!
Published : Friday, 31 July, 2020 at 12:00 AM Count : 253
Police in all the countries of our subcontinents; have been given unlimited powers by laws made by their colonial rulers. Most of these have been left untouched after independence. Since the present-day rulers depend on the police for their extra-constitutional activities, they are reluctant to reform the police.
As a result, the people suffer and are forced to live with a system of broken-down law and order. Torture has now become an integral part of police culture.
At a 2017 review meeting of international law under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, to which India was a signatory in 1997, India's Attorney-General waxed eloquent, saying, "India, the land of Buddha and Gandhi, believes in peace, non-violence and upholding human dignity. As such, the concept of torture is completely alien to our culture and it has no place in the governance of the nation."
Can hypocrisy scale greater heights? "Encounter Killing" is a system evolved by the police of the undivided Andhra Pradesh to eliminate Naxalites from Srikakulam district in the 1970s. It has since become a Standard Operating Practice in police stations across the country to eliminate inconvenient people without due process of law.
In the country's widely discussed 'Disha rape and murder case of Hyderabad Deccan, in December last, the police shot dead four youths, Chennakesavulu, Mohammed Areef, Naveen and Shiva - accused of the crime with no sustainable evidence. No court of law pronounced them guilty.
In sharp contrast to the custodial killing of a father and son duo in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, last month, the nation applauded the Hyderabad police for dispensing instant 'justice'.
On the night of 2 July, a team of the UP police set out on an 'encounter' mission, but its target got the better of the police, and instead killed eight of the policemen in the encounter. Though India signed the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) in 1997, it is yet to ratify it.
Unfortunately, extrajudicial killings are not new to India. They have been used in the past by the police and security forces in varying contexts - to quell insurgencies such as in the states of Bengal in the 1960s, and in Punjab in the 1980s. Currently, the guise for many of these killings relates to national security offences including terrorism, and in areas of active conflict, such as in Kashmir, states in the North East of India including Manipur well as areas of central India affected by the Maoist insurgency.
Such killings are also a regular feature in "ordinary" circumstances, for example in those states that do not have active conflicts (such as Uttar Pradesh) and in the course of regular law enforcement operations. As a result, such killings have not escaped the notice of international rights experts at the United Nations previously, indicated in statements issued in2012 and 2018
A high-profile case filed in 2012 before the Supreme Court of India related to allegations of 1,528 extrajudicial killings in the state of Manipur, which is conflict-affected. The Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in 2026, in which it stated in unequivocal terms the illegality of such actions and the lack of "absolute immunity" in such cases.
The UNCAT aims at preventing torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment around the world. In order to ratify it, India should enact an anti-torture law of its own. The Bajpayee government was not very enthusiastic about enacting such a law. Eventually, the Congress-led UPA government brought forward the Prevention of Torture Bill and got it passed in the country's parliament Lok Sabha.
Another particularly troubling aspect is the way these crimes are valorised in popular culture and media. Police with such serious allegations against them, are termed 'encounter specialists' and many of them have been awarded medals, as well as financial rewards. So rather than prosecution and punishment, there appears institutional and popular support for these killings.
Ultimately, to curb this rampant criminal practice these need to be checked through concerted efforts on multiple fronts-that are legal, the institutional and the societal.
The writer is a former
educator based in Chicago