New Delhi: Following an article by Neha Dixit in The Wire, a group of academics and activists have a released a statement protesting against alleged extra-judicial killings in Uttar Pradesh under chief minister Adityanath.
The signatories have been involved with research around the theme of state impunity in India and South Asia.
According to UP government figures, by January 2018, the police had conducted 1,038 encounters. In these, 32 people were killed and 238 injured. Four police personnel also lost their lives. The National Human Rights Commission has taken note of these incidents, and issued a notice to the state government over the chief minister’s alleged endorsement of encounter killings.
The full statement by the academics and activists is reproduced below.
The undersigned have been involved with a few publishing projects to do with the theme of state impunity, in India and more generally in South Asia. This projects have yielded several books to date. Historians, sociologists, economists, lawyers, and civil rights and women’s rights activists across the country have contributed to these volumes.
The research focused on India meticulously document specific instances of rights violations, including the right to life and liberty, over the years, and under all political regimes. They call attention to how officers of the Indian State, embers of its Police force, para-military forces, sections of the Indian army and non-state vigilante groups acting on behalf and with complete state complicity have subjected diverse populations to untold violence, from Manipur to Punjab and from Kashmir to Chattisgarh. They also provide analytical and political frameworks to comprehend the extent, patterns, regularity and depth of state impunity in the Indian context.
As authors and editors of these volumes, we would like to express our strong criticism and protest at the latest instance of state impunity: the extra-judicial killings that have taken place in Uttar Pradesh over the last ten months (from March 2017 until end-February 2018).
- Since the BJP government under the chief Ministership of Adityanath assumed office, 420 encounters have taken place, leaving 15 people dead. Of these 10 were killed over 48 days leading up to September 14, 2017 when Mr. Adityanath proclaimed in a press conference that the encounters had successfully cleansed the land of criminals, and showed the police acting from the front.
- Muslims are a majority of the dead, and there appears to be a pattern to what clearly appear to be extra judicial killings. For one, to a man, they are all from extremely poor families and secondly, they have all been killed in ways that suggests a clearly executed plan of action. The Wire notes in this regard:
“They were all undertrials in a number of cases. Just before each encounter, the police received a tip off about their location. They are either on a bike or a car. As soon as the police tries to stop them on the road, they start firing. In retaliatory fire, the accused receive bullet injuries and are declared dead on arrival at the hospital.”
Mr Adityanath has made the connections between Muslims and criminality publicly, and indicated that ‘cleansing’ the land of such ‘criminals’ was a task he took seriously: “Police in UP will now respond to a bullet with a bullet. Unlike the previous government, I have given full authority to the force to deal with criminals in the most appropriate way possible.”
- Adityanath’s statement is in blatant violation of important Supreme Court judgements that have repeatedly called to account ‘trigger-happy’ police personnel. For example, In the Om Prakash and Ors. Vs. State of Jharkhand through the Secretary, Department of Home, Ranchi-1 and Anr. [(2012) 12 SCC 72] case, the Court noted:
‘It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. This Court has repeatedly admonished trigger happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State sponsored terrorism.”
In addition, when such killings take place, the law of the land requires that they be probed and guidelines for doing so have been defined by the National Human Rights Commission (in its letter to the Government of Andhra Pradesh, D.O. letter No.4/7/2008-PRP&P dated 12th May, 2010) and by the Supreme Court (in People’s Union for Civil Liberties Vs. State of Maharashtra (2015 CriLJ 610). However the police not only ignore such guidelines but actually triumphantly proclaim their expertise as encounter specialists. A police officer (from the district of Shamli, UP) where an encounter was carried out in the last few weeks was actually paraded in a chariot, as an acclaimed hero who had carried out the chief Minister’s mandate.
- The charge of extra-judicial killings against the government of Uttar Pradesh was taken note of by the National Human Rights Commission. On November 22, 2017, citing a statement by Mr. Adityanath that “criminals will be jailed or killed in encounters”, the NHRC issued notice to the UP chief secretary calling for a detailed report in the matter but to date, it has received no reply. It made a related observation in February 2018 stating that the police are misusing their powers.
- In December 2017, with barely any debate, the UP state assembly passed the Uttar Pradesh Control of Organised Crime Act (UPCOCA). Like other such laws, this one too has draconian aspects that are easily used to detail those who do not have the ability and resources to defend themselves. While there exist stringent provisions in existing laws, enhanced by central laws like the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, to deal with what police consider crime and criminality of a high order, states insist on drafting and passing new laws to give themselves additional powers to deal with crime, or terror, all of which are often used against hapless individual citizens.
- A disturbing trend in this context is the manner in which the police appear to go about the business of identifying potential and actual ‘criminals’ – by the setting up of a system of paid informers, who are themselves in trouble with the law and therefor coerced by the police into spying on their neighbours. If this charge is indeed true, it is covert vigilantism resorted to by the police and highly condemnable.
Our concerns and demands
- We condemn in the strongest possible terms the spate of extra-judicial killings in Uttar Pradesh
- We insist that public celebrations of police vigilantism are stopped and those who are celebrated as ‘encounter specialists’ brought to justice, in keeping with the laws of the land.
- We call for a halt to the harassment and intimidation of the families of the dead.
- We demand that the government of Uttar Pradesh respond to the NHRC’s queries and also institute enquiries into the killings, as per the guidelines set forth in various judgments of the Supreme Court and the guidelines defined by the NHRC.
- We call upon the NHRC to pursue its probe into the so-called encounter deaths.
- We call upon all citizens to condemn such acts set in impunity.
- We demand justice for all victims and due compensation, as inscribed in specific laws and rulings.
(The ‘Studies in Impunity’ team)
(Civil rights and citizens’ rights activists)
Anand Teltumbde, Committee for Protection of Democractic Rights
V.S. Krishna, Human Rights Foundation, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana
S.V. Rajadurai, writer and civil rights activist, formerly president, PUCL (Tamil Nadu)
Gabriele Dietrich, National Association of People’s Movements
Kalpana Kannabiran, professor and director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad
Tarun Bhartiya, raiot.in
Vasudha Nagaraj, advocate, Hyderabad
Sanjay (Xonzoi) Barbora, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati