ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Mask of 'Encounters'

The most innovative contribution made by the Indian police to the vocabulary of state repression is the term “encounter deaths” – a euphemism for the obnoxious practice of systematically liquidating both criminals and political dissidents without bringing them to trial. The alarming frequency with which such killings occur in Kashmir, the north-east and Naxaliteaffected areas in the south has come to be accepted by large sections of the Indian public as everyday policing necessary to curb terrorism. Cold-blooded shooting down of even innocents is accepted as “collateral damage” (another euphemism invented by the global military order), and the security force personnel guilty of such acts escape punishment as the relatives of the victims (usually poor villagers) rarely have the resources to approach the judiciary.

That the recent exposure of the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife by the Gujarat police has attracted an unusual degree of media attention is because Sohrabuddin’s brother doggedly pursued the case up to the Supreme Court, which finally hauled up the guilty police personnel. Emboldened by his success, relatives of several other victims are now coming forward with allegations against the Gujarat police for palming them off as “dreaded terrorists” who were supposedly conspiring to assassinate chief minister Narendra Modi, although they had nothing to do with any terrorist group. The type of “encounter killing” in Gujarat may be Modispecific, but there is a similarity in the techniques of the operation in other parts of the country, which suggests a centrally designed model. All the “encounters” follow a fixed pattern. An individual is first taken into custody from home or confronted outside, by the police. The next thing one hears is that he/she has been killed, while trying to escape or in the course of a gun-battle with the police. Invariably, “subversive” pamphlets, mobile telephone sets or diaries with addresses and names of terrorists (usually from Pakistan) are found on their bodies. There is an element of unbelievable simplicity in this police version which escapes the notice of both its manufacturers and its gullible consumers among the public. First, surprisingly enough, in these shoot-outs, rarely does a policeman get killed or even injured. Secondly, are underground terrorist operatives so naive as to carry notebooks and other records of their activities so as to give themselves away to the cops and provide them with all the necessary clues to their identity?

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