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There is a place where human rights are wilfully ignored altogether. It is a place where beasts fill their own pockets with power, by hunting down the lives of others. These beasts will pounce in any direction to follow the bone-trail left behind by a hegemon. The choice made by those to refuse submitting to power will be written in the walls of torture chambers. Beware of the beasts in uniform, the police, who wander wildly, suppress rights and drink the lives of innocents.

Human life is of paramount importance. The right to life is the very first of human rights.

Voices from around the world have been raising their opposition to capital punishment being imposed by courts. In India too, such voices exist, and large movements are in operation to ban the death penalty in our country. But worse than these legally mandated executions are the ones that are undertaken by the police without any investigation or opposition- encounters.

During the colonial period, in order to keep those who opposed the British rule in check, the police forces were given the power to shoot unquestioningly at the scene of unrest. Today, even without any legal sanction, police forces continue to shoot and kill people at their own convenience. Section 7 of the Indian Penal Code states that ‘a police officer can shoot a person out of self-defence’. Police officers have used this allowance to their advantage, claiming that all deaths that have taken place in a conflict death, that is, an encounter, have been out of self-defence. “Shooting in self-defence would mean firing bullets at the arm or leg - but police officers are shooting to kill deliberately, not out of self-defence or even accidentally,” says human rights activist Sudha Ramalingam, and quite reasonably so. 

The police 'encounters' are not a phenomenon that developed recently. When India was declared independent, Periyar stated that only a mere transfer of power from the hands of the white-skinned to the darker-skinned elites had taken place. Almost as if to prove Periyar’s belief, in 1948 at a prison in Salem, 21 communists were shot and killed. Only Periyar firmly rebuked those killings. The killings that took place within those four walls without anybody’s knowledge on that day take place today in the middle of roads, in crowds, at day and night, without any apprehension. But these killings do not trouble the conscience of anyone.

appu and balan

(Appu and Balan)

The police officers today act with the same ruthlessness and power-hunger as the police officers of the British Raj. They go on rampages, treating people as slaves, and deem their lives trivial. 

At the start of the 1970s, when news stating that a Naxalite, Appu, had been killed by the police began to circulate, it was unbelievable to the public. Even today, we are unsure as to how Appu was killed or what happened to him in the first place. Later, when it was found out that Seevalaperi Paandi was shot when he was trying to escape the police, people were confused. A notorious criminal who had already managed to successfully flee before, who has been accused of multiple murders, who posed a major challenge to and had been hiding from the police officers for a long time, is suddenly shot dead out of the blue. This made the people suspicious of the event. Human rights activists have debated at length how to react to his death.

Later, in the early 1980s, when a youth named Balan came to Chennai to attend a political gathering, he was arrested by the Tamil Nadu police and shot dead after being subject to torture. This sent a great shock wave went across the state. The nerves on Balan’s legs were cut, and other reports that stated he was brutally tortured invoked strong condemnation from human rights movements. Following Balan's murder, Dharmapuri district was branded as a Naxalite hotspot, and innocent youths were hunted down by the police. Then a fact-finding team led by Nedumaran went to investigate the area. The government immediately intervened and put an end to the killings. The aftermath of Balan’s killing has had many repercussions for police brutality.

These deaths that used to occur around once a year have now become the norm. Despite the swapping of power between the DMK and AIADMK, both opposing governments have given the police unrestricted freedom and supported them without condemning their atrocious actions. When a farmer, Venkatehsa Pannaiyar was shot and killed, the DMK politicized it, allowed his wife to stand for elections, and made her a member of the parliament. The same DMK government had seen 8 encounters, 13 custodial deaths in its 10-month rule - on the 9th of May, 2006 Urundai Rajan was killed in Kanyakumari; 7th June, 2006 Nagoor Meeran in Chennai; August 2nd, Senthil Kumar in Thiruporur, Chennai; October 2nd, Muttai Ravi in Trichy; November 18th, Kora Krishnan in Kanchi; December 12th Pangu Kumar in Chennai; January 13th, Dori Maari in Melur; February 5th, Manalmedu Shankar in Mayiladuthurai.

For the next five years, around 60 people were killed in police encounters. Under the task force leader of the operation that killed Veerappan, Vijaykumar, 12 such encounters were carried out. Equally 'honourable' is Premkumar, who was the puppet of Shankaracharya. His history of encounters began with the killing of Seevalaperi. Irrespective of who came to power, the police officers continued to act on their own accord. There are two primary reasons for this. First, unethical political parties carried out their politics by entrusting the police with their dirty work. Therefore, nobody could question the police for their actions.

The second and most important reason is that those who were shot and killed in these encounters were mostly rowdies and criminals - hence, it was believed that their deaths were just. But, nobody will deny that those criminals who rise up to become 'dada's (local dons) have connections with both the political parties and the police forces. When they undertake several crimes as favours to the politicians, they do so with police assistance and are protected from punishment by the political parties. Later, when the same criminals became irrelevant or got out of control, political parties used the same police forces to eliminate them.

An important example of such an instance would be the case of Ayodhyakuppam Veeramani. During the AIDMK rule, when the DMK conducted a rally, the AIDMK used Ayodhyakuppam Veeramani to infiltrate the rally and cause chaos through beatings and shootings, to chase DMK activists away. Later, he was killed during the same government’s rule. The same AIDMK government shot another such criminal, Veerappan, in order to protect its reputation, as he had said that he wished to surrender. Even if Veerappan’s story is more extensive than Veeramani’s, it is obvious that both of these men were used by politicians for their own self-interests and were later disposed when they became too much of a headache to handle.

Though we cannot ignore the injustice of the random killings of these so-called 'social criminals', it is important for us to note the police killings of human rights activists like Ravindran and Siva. Unfortunately, the media covers these murders in small paragraphs, taking away from their significance. Ravindran, who was involved in human rights work in villages in Dharmapuri district, was shot dead by police in 2000 in a forest near Marandahalli. The only witness of the incident was Siva. Later in 2002, when 26 Naxals were being arrested in Dharmapuri, Siva was shot and killed for trying to escape. The police officers do not spare any witness who could testify against their actions.

Both Rajaram and Saravanan who were labelled as 'Tamil Criminals' were arrested, brought before the court, and were sent back to jail again - they were shot and killed on the way back to prison in Chennai’s Kotturpuram area. When they left Saidapet courthouse at 4:10 PM, their departure was registered. But, they were killed only at 7:30 PM in Kotturpuram. It takes only 20-30 minutes to reach Kotturpuram from Saidapet by jeep.

We do not know what happened in the approximately 3-hour gap in the timeline - it raised a lot of questions at the time. The Kottupuram police forces said that they had brought the traffic in the area under control by 5:30 PM. It is a blatant lie that there was no traffic at the time of the incident on the congested road. People have already been brainwashed into believing such lies by the government and the police.

In every encounter incident, police officers repeatedly get injured on their left hand. Till date, not a single police officer has been killed in these encounters. These factors prove that the encounters are attacks that are planned to precision before the incident takes place.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which investigated the 1997 Andhra Pradesh Civil Rights Movement's inquiry into encounter cases in the conflict in Andhra Pradesh that year, made some recommendations on the procedures to be followed in the event of an encounter death. But they are not being followed through properly. According to the recommendations, the autopsy of the victim should be photographed. The police, however, take a nominal autopsy and then burn the body of the victim in a hurry. Another recommendation of the Human Rights Commission is that police officers involved in such clashes should not be officially given any promotions or awards until they are prosecuted and found not guilty. But, on the very next day after Veerappan was shot and killed, the officers involved in the operation were awarded several awards and dual promotions. When human rights are not valued, it is futile to expect the government to heed the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission.

Manalmedu Shankar, a Panchayat leader, was shot dead in Mayiladuthurai on February 5. The police had been harassing his mother and Shankar by making false allegations. Moreover, the police had openly stated that Shankar's death was in their hands. Thus, Shankar's mother filed a case in the Supreme Court alleging that her son's life was in danger by the police. He came to Chennai and submitted a petition to the Chief of Tamil Nadu Police. After this, the police arrested Shankar in a case and shot him, saying that he tried to escape on the way to the court. The police force has no fear or concern about the local police chief or the Supreme Court.

It is a great pity that the average of seven to eight encounter cases per year reaches the masses only as another piece of news. No instance of encounters resonates with the people any more, like the echoes caused by Balan’s death. Only Human Rights movements give a voice and set up a fact-finding team to investigate and make a statement, which also only comes out as a message. It is a tragedy that all this has become so normalized. And none of those ‘killed’ are loyal citizens. They are criminals - what's wrong with killing them? All the news that the police give to the media about the person who was shot is the fertilizer for such an attitude.

The Tamil movie 'Thanga Pathakkam' was released around the time of Appu's murder - whether this was intentional or not, it is not known. The plot tells the story of a police officer who does not hesitate to shoot a man, despite being his son, when he does something wrong. All of these films, from Thanga Pathakkam'  to ‘Kakka Kakka’, reinforce the psychology that justifies police killings. The person who was shot may be guilty, may have committed various crimes. But the key question to ask is: who gave the police the power to kill them without trial? The job of the police is to prevent crime, find the perpetrators, bring them to court and then seek justice.

Dori Maari, who was shot dead on January 13, 2007, in Melur, Madurai district, has been on trial since 1998. Was the police reluctant to catch him for almost eight years? Okay, Dori Maari has been shot and killed. What are the statuses of the cases against him? All the cases against those who were shot are dismissed without question. It is true that justice is denied to the victims of such killings. But if the police put forward the reason why such criminals so easily escape punishment, is it impossible to prove their guilt with proper evidence? Is this the incompetence of the police or the distrust of the police towards the courts? If the police do not trust themselves, then why should people trust them? Should the department be respected?

The real reason for these encounter deaths is that they are planned by the police, the political parties, the ruling class and the judiciary!

Perhaps what is most horrifying is that people have realized the farce of the police. But they have come to the point of acceptance that this is how the police forces act.

Having successfully pushed this mind-set onto the people, the state apparatus boldly and more openly, deliberately carries out these killings even though they have been exposed. The boundaries of state violence against people continue to expand uncontrollably. Reports of casualties since the 1990s in Kashmir have left the police, the military, the judiciary, politicians and the international community in a state of total disillusionment.

When news broke that the US military was torturing the Iraqi people, the whole world, including India, erupted in protest. However, it has come to light today that the Indian Army in Kashmir has been committing atrocities daily. Police and the military have reportedly kidnapped civilians, branded them unidentified militants and shot them - all to meet their ‘assigned targets’. Not one, not two ... but thousands from 1990 to the present. During this period, an association called the ‘Parents of Disappeared Persons’ was established fully dedicated to finding out what happened to the missing people. Missing persons are not simply shot - they are subjected to severe torture. It has also been reported that the security forces are conducting special detention camps for this purpose.

The plight of survivors in detention camps is still dire. Wherever militant attacks take place, the security forces immediately search for people who were once put in the camps. Being falsely accused of crimes, being asked to pay large sums in order to save oneself and being shot for refusing to comply has become a daily occurrence. Torture in detention camps, such as genital mutilation, freezing in cold water, being dipped in petrol and being forced to stand in a smoke derived from chilli powder, are unthinkable by a civilized society. Those who once experienced such torture are brainwashed out of fear to the extent that they will do whatever the security forces ask of them. The Indian security forces in Kashmir have abducted and killed several youths with the help of police driver, Farooq Ahmed Pathar, who has become a puppet of the security forces after suffering such torture.

Mohammad Afzal Guru (who was sentenced to death for being involved in the 2001 parliamentary attack case) said in an interview with the English weekly 'Tehelka’ that he was electrocuted for about three hours until he agreed to pay the security forces one lakh rupees before being identified as guilty in the case.

As he was part of the militant movement a few weeks, the army harassed him every day even after Afzal had begun to live a normal life. Thus, when the police officer showed him a newcomer to the area and asked Afzal to take him to Delhi, he was in no position to object. But at that time, Afzal did not know that the reason the man was going to Delhi was to attack the parliament, and of course, had no idea that he himself would later go to the gallows for the same reason. Could he have refused even if he knew what was at stake? The atrocities that have begun to unfold in Kashmir are erupting into unrelenting agony across the country.

Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wifeEvidence of this can be seen in the case of Sohrabuddin Sheikh who went missing in Gujarat. His wife filed the case. On November 26, 2005, Sohrabuddin Sheikh was shot dead by the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad and the Rajasthan Special Police at Vishala, Ahmedabad. Vanzara, head of the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad, convened a huge press conference shortly after the assassination. At the meeting, which was attended by all print and television reporters, it was said that Sohrabuddin belonged to the Lashkar-e-Taiba movement and had come to Gujarat to assassinate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on the orders of Dawood Ibrahim. Sohrabuddin's wife, Kauser Bi, went missing after the murder.

The petition filed by Kauser Bi stated that the police had come looking for her husband, taken him away and then only did he disappear. On March 23, the Gujarat government admitted that the missing Sohrabuddin had been abducted and killed by police. The CBI investigation following this case has revealed many shocking facts.

Sohrabuddin, along with two others, was abducted by the police. Tulsiram Kangaram Prajapati, who was abducted along with him, was killed on December 28, 2006. In addition, Vanzara, the police officer in charge of the killings, has been found to have carried out similar killings in other areas he was stationed at. Sameer Khan Pathan, who was abducted by the police on September 27, 2002, was shot dead on October 22, 2002. Sadiq Jemal Methar was shot dead on January 13, 2003, in Naroda. On June 15, 2004, four youths were killed on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. The only charge against all of them was that they were plotting to assassinate Narendra Modi.

Only a handful of people, such as Kausar Bi, who stand firm in the hope that one-day justice will be served and withstand all the obstacles, will be able to uncover such facts. The sad truth is that the facts behind the vast majority of encounter deaths go unrevealed until the end.

"Human rights groups fighting the death toll have long demanded that an attempted murder case be filed against the police officer involved in such operations. Judge Venkatachalaya has emphasized this in his recommendation on encounter deaths. He said police officers must prove in court that they committed the murder in self-defence. But, to this day, this practice is not followed. Only RTO investigations are conducted. An RTO is a government official. What can he do against the government or the local police? Therefore, following the recommendation of Judge Venkatachalaya, an attempted murder case should be registered under Section 307 of the Penal Code against police officers who are involved in conflict deaths,” said human rights activist S.V. Rajadurai.

The police and the military, set up to protect the interests of the people, have never done that. On the contrary, they have been used only to protect the interests of those in power. Government and political parties are ready to do anything to cover up their incompetence and retain power. They use the police and the army as their partners in crime. As long as people are under the belief that this situation cannot ever be resolved, this attitude of governments is not going to change.

Almost 73 years after the liberation of India, we do not understand the sentiments of the people of the North-Eastern states who are fighting relentlessly for more autonomy. In our neighbouring Andhra Pradesh, on the one hand, we have talks with the Naxalites and shooting atrocities on the other.

How will many repressive laws like TADA, POTA, the National Security Act be imposed on the people? Little do we know about the common people who have been imprisoned for many years without trial. Lockup murders, lockup rapes ... these are only meant to be the family's concern. The name of the government that inflicts all these atrocities on its own people: for the people, the government of the people elected by the people.

Long live democracy!

Recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission 2003

1. Upon receipt of the news of a death by police conflict, the officer in charge of the police station in the area where the incident took place should immediately record it in the police register.

2. If the police officers involved in the conflict are from the same police station, an independent body should be provided.

3. If a complaint is received that the police are involved in a crime which could result in the death of a person, the first information report should be filed immediately under the proper sections of the Indian Penal Code. The investigation must be handed over to the Criminal Investigative Division.

4. For deaths caused by police action, an investigation by a district judge must be conducted. The closest relative of the deceased should be involved in the investigation.

5. Legal action and departmental action should be taken immediately against the police officers who are found guilty in the investigation of the District Judge or the Police Department.

6. Compensation to the family of the deceased depends on the circumstances of the case.

7. No immediate prize money or promotion shall be given to the officers involved immediately after the event. Such awards or promotions may be given only after the officers have been certified of having undoubted innocence.

8. On January 15 and July 15, each year, the State Police Chief shall submit a report to the National Human Rights Commission on the number of deaths caused by police action during those six months.

Written by Poonkuzhali

Translated by Pulari

(This article was published in 'Dalit Murasu' on Apr 2007)

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