Shamli (Uttar Pradesh): On October 8, 2017, the day Furquan showed up unexpectedly at his home, his sons, aged 12 and 10, could not recognise him. They hadn’t seen him in seven years as he had been locked up in the Muzaffarnagar jail as an undertrial in a case involving a village brawl.
Furquan, who was 33, worked at a local bandsaw machine unit before he was arrested in Titarwada village of Shamli district. “We did not have the money or a guarantor to get him released so we were surprised that he was out,”says Nasreen, his wife. The villagers informed her that a week back, the police came to the village to negotiate a settlement with the complainants in Furquan’s case. That is how he was released. Two weeks later, on October 23, 2017, he was shot dead by the police in an ‘encounter’.
The police claimed he was involved in a large number of dacoities in Saharanpur, Shamli and Muzaffarnagar. “I want to ask two things,” says Nasreen. “One, when he was in jail for seven years, how come he was also part of these dacoities? And two, why did the cops negotiate his release on their own, when they only wanted to kill him? Were they looking for an scapegoat?”
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.
A significant proportion of those killed in these encounters are from four districts of western UP – Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Baghpat. Against the backdrop of allegations that some of these ‘encounters’ might actually be extrajudicial custodial killings, The Wire met up with the families of 14 of those killed and spoke to a range of police and official sources familiar with the encounters. The facts that emerged confirm the darkest suspicions around these killings.
1. ‘Criminal families’
In an interview to India TV in June 2017, UP chief minister Adityanath said, “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (If they commit crimes, they will be hit).” Even as a rhetorical statement, Adityanath’s formulation was a mockery of the law that he had sworn to uphold. In a landmark 2012 case, the Supreme Court stated:
“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 disregarding clear directions such as these, the chief minister was sending a message out to the police, as the spate of encounters which followed makes clear.
Furquan, killed in an ‘encounter’ but whose bones were also broken
According to the Muzaffarnagar police, Furquan had 36 cases and a bounty of Rs 50,000 on him. Budhana police station in charge Chaman Singh Chawra claimed that around midnight on October 23, 2017, they were conducting a routine check when two bikes refused to stop and instead started firing at the police. In retaliatory firing, Furquan received four bullets and died on the spot while his two accomplices escaped. The police also claimed they found a large cache of firearms and cartridges with him. Nasreen says that on October 22, she and Furquan had gone to Baraut, Baghpat to see her brother. Since Nasreen was unwell, he stepped out to buy apples for her and never returned. “The last two weeks since his release, he was with us all the time. How did he conduct dacoities then? After the encounter, even the newspapers published his file photo from 12 years back unlike the pictures of crime scenes in other encounters,” she asks.
The police handed over his body and post mortem report after squeezing Nasreen for Rs 1400, a sum she had to borrow from neighbours. Furquan had four bullet injuries – on his head, heart, spine and hand. Nasreen says that most of his bones were broken. “Which means he was beaten up before being shot dead,” she says.
The official version of encounters of the sort in which Furquan was killed involves the police firing in self-defence – a right available to all citizens.
What is often ignored are Supreme Court rulings which state that the right of self-defence or private defence falls in one basket and the use of excessive or retaliatory force falls in another basket. Therefore, while a victim of aggression has a right of private defence or self-defence, he becomes an aggressor and commits a punishable offence if he exceeds the right of private defence or self-defence by using excessive or retaliatory force.
All five of Furquan’s brothers are currently in jail on different charges of theft and dacoity. The youngest, Farmeen, has alleged torture – he has fallen ill after electrocution of his genitals in Muzaffarnagar jail. The only earning member now is Meer Hasan, the father, who works as a rickshaw puller. “If we are a family full of such dreaded criminals, why don’t we have any money to feed ourselves even twice a day? Why do we still live in a kaccha house?” asks Nasreen.
With most family members in jail, she is unable to insist on an independent investigation into her husband’s killing. She says the family fears the other brothers will meet the same fate as Furquan if they complain against the police. “More importantly, with my father-in-law’s Rs 3,000 monthly income and six mouths to feed, we cannot afford to do that,” she says.
The trend of charging several members of the same family in different offences is seen by many as the police’s way of creating a resource of obvious scapegoats during police investigations. Aslam, who made a living by selling chow mein and samosas from a cart in Bunta village in Shamli was shot dead by the police on December 9, 2017 at Dadri, Noida. According to Anant Kumar, circle officer, Dadri, Aslam was ‘planning a big crime’ and was shot dead in an exchange of fire. Four out of five of his brothers are currently in jail. Aslam’s widow, Israna, who is nine months pregnant, says that the police lands up at their house if any crime happens in the vicinity. “We have become the punching bags for the police. They use our family as suspects, just like Aslam was used, to show their efficiency in controlling law and order.”
2. Encounter politics
On June 13, 2016, the then BJP MP and Muzaffarnagar riots accused Hukum Singh had claimed that a total of 346 families were forced to leave Kairana town because of threats and extortion by “a particular community”, a veiled reference to Muslims in the area. He later denied the communal nature of the exodus, attributing it to ‘crime’. According to the 2011 census, 68% of the population in Kairana is Muslim and it is a staple of divisive political propaganda to link the town’s crime graph to its religious composition. The ‘Kairana exodus’ was used by the BJP in its election campaign for the UP Assembly elections in February 2017, where the party promised it will control the kind of bad law and order situation symbolised by Kairana.
Muslim representation in the 403-seat Uttar Pradesh assembly has never been proportional to population. In the newly constituted assembly, the number of Muslim MLAs is just 24. The presence of Muslim MLAs in the assembly peaked in 2012 when the number reached 67 under Samajwadi Party rule. According to a study by Hilal Ahmed, Muslims have only a token representation in India’s legislatures. Even those who manage to win inherit the legacies of their parents and do not represent Muslim interests in parliament, the assemblies or in government. According to the Sachar Committee report, close to 31% – precisely one-third of Indian Muslims – were living below the poverty line. There has been no qualitative change of the Muslims’ conditions.
All 14 encounter victim families whom The Wire met live in the vicinity of this municipality. Thirteen of the 14 men killed were Muslims.
In November 2017, Adityanath said that the BJP government had established the rule of law in Uttar Pradesh and that “Kairana-like incidents” would not recur:
“Traders who had migrated from the state following kushashan [misrule] and gundaraj [rule by criminals] have started coming back… You can see it in Kairana, Kandhala and nearby areas. Mafia who were sheltered by the [previous] government and had taken over traders’ shops and establishments, have handed them back to the traders and moved away to escape government action.”
As per his affidavit in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Adityanath has close to 15 criminal cases against him, including attempt to murder, criminal intimidation and rioting. Mohammad Shoaib, president, Rihai Manch (Forum for the Release of Innocent Muslims imprisoned in the name of Terrorism) says,“When Yogi Adityanath says all criminals should leave UP then he should be the first one to show the way, considering all undertrials have been declared criminals in the state and he is one of them.”
3. Why the encounter spree?
On September 16, 2017, the UP police issued official data to mark the completion of six months of Adityanath’s government in the state. The police said it had conducted 420 encounters with alleged criminals, killing 15. Figures released by the director general of police show that a sub-inspector and 88 policemen suffered injuries in the encounters between March 20 and end of September. They show that ten of the alleged criminals were killed in just 48 days leading up to September 14. Yogi Adityanath said in a press conference the same day, “Today, the people are secure and safe. The police used to be scared that if we act against criminals, we will be acted against. We have changed that. The police is leading from the front.” The encounters were seen as a major achievement of the government in controlling the law and order situation in the state.
Out of the 14 cases of police encounter killings that The Wire looked into in four districts of western UP, 11 had the same pattern. The victims were in the age group of 17 to 40. 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. The police have recovered a 32 bore pistol and live cartridges in most cases. Thirteen out of the 14 families The Wire met contend that the police announced that the dead were ‘wanted’ and had a financial reward on them only after the encounter. In fact, none of those killed ever appeared on this ‘most wanted list’ put out by the IG crime office of the UP police.
These discrepancies raise the possibility that in all these cases the “encounters” involved something other than the spontaneous exchange of fire. Indeed, the families of the slain men allege that the incidents were pre-planned.
Ikram, fruit vendor and member of a non-existent ‘gang’
On August 10, 2017, Ikram, a 40-year-old fruit vendor from the Baraut area of Baghpat district was shot dead by the Shamli police. The police claimed they got a tip off that he had snatched a bike, Rs 8,700, a gold chain and a gold ring. When they tried to stop him near the Banjara basti in Shamli, Ikram opened fire on them. In retaliation, the police shot back. He was declared dead on arrival at the Meerut Medical college. The police also claimed that Ikram was carrying a 32 bore pistol and seven live cartridges.
Hanifa, Ikram’s wife says, “How did they find him on a bike when he did not even know how to ride one.” She says that a day before the encounter, on the afternoon of August 9, 2017, he had gone to check on his friend Kallu’s son who was admitted at Aastha hospital in Baghpat. Hanifa says, “The next day, on August 10, we heard on Whatsapp that Ikram had been killed in an encounter. We did not believe it. It took us 7-8 hours to find out which police station will hand over his body to us.” According to Supreme Court guidelines in PUCL vs State of Maharashtra on police encounters, “In the event of death, the next of kin of the alleged criminal/victim must be informed at the earliest.”
Ikram had four children. His body was handed over to Sajid, his 16-year-old son at 10 o’clock at night. Belying the police’s claim, Ikram’s body had more than bullet injuries. According to Hanifa, apart from the bullet injury, his ribs were broken and he had a huge injury on the back of his head. “This means he was beaten up before he was shot. We even found his chappals from Aastha hospital. So was he riding the bike barefoot? How does one verify where he was picked up from? Does that mean that the encounter was staged,” asks Hanifa.
The police claimed that he was part of a criminal gang which had three members – Ikram, his brother Akhlaq and Zakir, a resident of Loni. “Both Akhlaq and Zakir were killed in a police encounter in 1998. So which gang are they talking about?” asks Hanifa.
The police also claims that Ikram had 13 criminal cases against him. In fact, says his son Sajid, he only had two cases, that too from 20 years back, when Ikram’s brother was killed by police. “Just because our relative was once killed in a police encounter, are we entitled to the same fate? How can the police kill someone on the accusation of stealing Rs 8,700, a bike and a gold chain?” asks Hanifa.
The teenage Sajid is now the sole breadwinner of the family and works as a street vendor of clothes in Baghpat. “If you continuously keep doing bad things to a person and his family, what will they do? They will also have to start resorting to bad things. What choice do we have?” he says.
On September 16, 2017, Anand Kumar ADG (Law and Order) said that the encounters were as per the “desires of the government, expectations of public and according to the constitutional and legal power accorded to the police.” The same day, the UP police communications department announced that to raise the morale of the police, the UP police has raised the prize money for several ranks of the police to arrest criminals: for chief secretary (home and police) rank, the reward was raised from Rs 2,50,000 to Rs 5,00,000 per arrested criminal, for superintendents of police, it was raised from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2,50,000 and so on. NDTV reported that the government has “also allowed that district police chiefs could announce rewards of upto Rs. 1 lakh for a team that carries out an encounter.”
According to the NHRC guidelines issued in 2010 on police encounters and reiterated by the Supreme Court in September 2014, “No out of turn promotions or instant gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on concerned officers soon after the occurrence. It must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officer is established beyond doubt.”
In Uttar Pradesh under Adityanath, this guideline has been turned on its head.
Sumit, a case of mistaken identity
Sumit Gurjar, 20, was picked up by the police on September 30, 2017 from Chirchita village in Baghpat. Karan Singh, his father says that his son was killed ‘for cash rewards and promotion.’
“On October 2, we were told to give Rs 3.5 Lakh to the Noida police. They said that they will do the challan and let go of him,” he told The Wire. When they reached the Ecotek police station in Noida, where Sumit was reportedly kept, the police refused to follow through. By then, they had heard rumours that Sumit would soon be killed in an encounter. The family urgently reached out to the DIG UP police, the NHRC, the CM’s office but no one responded. The same evening, the Noida police announced a reward of Rs 25,000 on Sumit which was later increased to Rs 50,000 within a few hours.
The next evening, the Greater Noida police announced that while trying to stop a car that Sumit was driving, there was an exchange of fire that left him dead. Greater Noida SSP Luv Kumar said that Sumit was wanted in several cases of robbery and extortion. “The police conducted the encounter at 8 pm and handed over his body to the mortuary at 10 pm. How was their response time so less? Was it because they had already killed him and shown it as an encounter?” asks Karan.
There is also another major discrepancy in the police version. Sumit did not have any criminal cases against him. There is another Sumit Gurjar, son of Seeshram in the village who, in 2011, had six cases against him. “These are exactly the same cases my brother Sumit was accused of after the encounter. So did the police mistake our Sumit for the other one?” asks Raj.
In protest, the family did not cremate Sumit’s body for three days. The Gurjar mahapanchayat has demanded a CBI inquiry and action against the police. The NHRC took cognisance of the case and issued notice to the UP government and the UP police, asking it to respond within four weeks. It has been four months and the response is still pending. Meanwhile, the police has filed a case of rape against two of Sumit’s brothers, Raj Singh and Kamal Singh. “We have been told that if we withdraw our complaint against the police, they will withdraw the rape cases against us,” says Raj.
Devika Prasad, coordinator, police reforms, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative says, “The state government and the UP police are accountable for every death caused and arrest made in the course of these incidents. The legality of these encounters must be immediately probed to root out excessive force and illegality.”
4. Undertrials: Fodder for encounters
According to National Crime Record Bureau prison data for 2015, over two-thirds of all jail inmates are undertrials. Over 55% of undertrials across the country are either Muslims, Dalits or tribals. Since Muslims, Dalits and adivasis together account for 39% of India’s population, their share among undertrials is clearly disproportionate to their population. Among Muslims, the community’s share of convicts is 15.8%, slightly above their representation in population, but their share among undertrials — at 20.9% — is much higher.
The same data suggests that in Uttar Pradesh, Muslims represent 19% of all convicts which is exactly proportional to their share in the population of the state. However, among undertrials, the share of Muslims is 27%, again much higher than their proportion in the population.
According to a Supreme Court ruling, Article 21 of the constitution entitles prisoners to a fair and speedy trial as part of their fundamental right to life and liberty. However, a significant number of undertrials are from socio-economically deprived backgrounds, accused in minor offences and have no access to legal aid. This hampers their ability to defend themselves in court and they end up spending long stretches in jail.
In September 2017, five such undertrials from poor families who had spent a significant time in jail were killed in police encounters. They were Nadeem, 30 and Jaan Mohammed, 24 from Muzaffarnagar, Shamshad and Mansoor, both 35 from Saharanpur and Vasim, 17 from Shamli.
Mansoor, the ‘gangster’ who lost his mind
After three and a half years and repeated torture by electrocution in Saharanpur jail in a case of attempt to murder, Mansoor, 35, had lost his mind. He spent the year and a half year after his release in a disoriented state, living with his family in Pathanpura village in Saharanpur. “He was often found sitting on the village chowk in tattered clothes, unwashed, talking to himself,” says Wasim, his cousin. “He would live on food given by villagers and had to be physically led home every evening.”
On the afternoon of September 28, 2017, three people in plain clothes arrived and took him away in a car. The same evening, the Meerut police announced that he was wanted in 25 cases and had been shot dead in the Pallavpuram area. The police also claimed to have found a ‘German brand revolver’ from the crime spot.
Akbar, his 65-year-old father, who cannot work as a daily wager any longer because of illness, is distraught. “He was shot point blank on his chest,” he says. “How come the bullet shot was so exact and well positioned when there was an exchange of 20 rounds of fire according to the police?” When they asked for his post-mortem report from the police, they were refused and told “to get it from the court”. The family is landless, lives in a clay-built house with a damaged straw thatched roof and has no source of income. “If killing a poor, helpless mad man will end crime in the state, what can I say,” says Akbar.
According to the same NCRB prison data for 2015, more than 70% of undertrials have not passed Class 10.
Nadeem, encountered after his arrest
Nadeem was shot dead on September 8, 2017. He spent one-third of his thirty year long life in jail and so could never attend school. “There are so many boys like him in the vicinity. Because they have been in and out of jail since their childhood, they never got an education, have become aggressive with behavioural problems and have no prospects in life,” says Samreen, Nadeem’s aunt who raised him after his parents death in Baghowali village in Muzaffarnagar. His last stint in the jail lasted seven years. This was in connection with a case of a possession of a ‘katta’, a country made pistol, that was used in a murder case. “I do not have any source of income so we could not release him on bail. He was upset with us for that,” recounts Samreen, who survives on the giveaways of family and neighbours. The next year, Nadeem got married and started working as a cloth vendor in Dehradun. “As soon as his work started picking up, demonetisation happened. He had to sit home for almost a year because the markets were low,” she says.
In September, 2017, he was picked up by the police in a case of an altercation with a jeweller. Two days later, he was shot dead in an encounter in the Jathwada jungle of Kakroli in Muzaffarnagar. “The police keeps charging the same people with different cases. What kind of police bravery is this to kill someone who has already faced his term in jail. What kind of reform will it inspire in other undertrials if they know that they will die anyway,” she asks.
Shamshad, convict who ‘escaped’ just before his release and was shot dead four days later
Just four days after Nadeem’s encounter, on September 12, Shamshad, 35, from Sherpur village in Saharanpur, was also shot dead by police in identical circumstances. Shamshad worked as an iron fabricator and for the past two years, was lodged at the Deoband jail. According to the police, he had several cases of loot and theft against him and had run away from police custody on September 8, 2017.
The police claimed that just a day after his escape, he made an extortion call to a doctor. They police tried to chase him and he died in the firing. “Why would he run away when his term was about to get over? And why would he start making extortion calls just a day after his escape?” asks Hussain, his brother. After Hussain and family publicly raised questions on the nature of the encounter, the police comes almost everyday to their house for questioning.
“The fact that so many people are killed by the police while they were in police custody, it seems as if the courts are not playing any role of oversight,” says Devika Prasad.
5. Police intimidation
According to an RTI query, 1,782 cases of fake encounters were registered in India between 2000 and 2017. According to NHRC data, based on the complaints and intimations it received, Uttar Pradesh accounted for an alarming 44.55% (794 cases) of encounter cases registered across all states. The NHRC does not specify the number of allegations proven to be true but recommended Rs 9.47 crore rupees as compensation in 160 cases from UP. These cases are almost half of the total 314 cases nationwide in which it recommended compensation.
Jaan Mohammed, killed in a car when he didn’t know how to drive
Twenty-two-year old Jaan Mohammed was shot dead in an encounter on September 19, 2017. According to the police, he had 22 cases of loot, theft and attempt to murder and a bounty of Rs 12,000 on him. The police claims that ‘he was planning a crime’ and was on his way to Muzaffarnagar in a Swift car. Soon after the encounter, Anant Dev Tiwari, SSP Muzaffarnagar was carried on people’s shoulder to celebrate the bravery of the police in killing Jaan Mohammed.
Zarifan, Jaan Mohammed’s mother says, “Jaanu did not know how to drive a car. So how come he was escaping in one? Even the scene of the crime shows him dead in the car with a pistol held tightly in the grip of his hand. How does that happen when he has four bullets in his body? Also, how is the police killing people on the mere suspicion of ‘planning a crime’?” she asks.
In a landmark 2010 case, the Supreme Court has held that “when there is real apprehension that the aggressor might cause death or grievous hurt, in that event the right of private defence of the defender could even extend to causing of death. A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the right of self-defence into operation… but it is also settled position of law that a right of self-defence is only the right to defend oneself and not to retaliate. It is not a right to take revenge.”
Five days after repeated questions on the circumstances of the encounter killing by Jaan Mohammed’s family, the police landed up at their one-room home in Hussainpura village, Muzaffarnagar district and broke everything their including utensils, the clay built boundary wall, the thatched roof and charpoys.
That act of vandalism, it appears, was not a one-off event.
Sabir, whose family was rendered homeless by the police after an encounter in which a policeman was also killed
In the early hours of January 2, 2018, Sabir, a resident of Jhandedi village in Shamli district was gunned down by the police in his house. According to the police, Sabir was wanted in several cases of murder, burglary, extortion and dacoity and had run away from police custody in May 2017. In the shootout, Ankit Tomar, a police constable also lost his life. The police recovered arms from the spot. After the encounter, a number of policemen came and broke all the doors and vandalised all assets inside the rooms, broke the furniture, burnt the clothes they found and trashed the premises. After the encounter, the police also picked up 14 of Sabir’s male relatives. The family currently lives at the home of a relative since their own house has been totally vandalised.
Vasim, who paid the price for being brother to a ‘notorious’ gangster
Seventeen-year-old Vasim’s house, in Jahanpura village in Shamli district, also met the same fate, just five days before his death in a police encounter on September, 29, 2017.
Vasim is the brother of Mukeem Kala, 22, who is known as ‘the most dreaded gangster of western UP’. When Hukum Singh had raised the Kairana exodus controversy, it was attributed to the crimes of extortion by the Mukeem Kala gang.
“Even if something happens in Pakistan, the police announces that it has been done by Mukeem Kala. This when he has been in jail for almost seven years now,” says Meena, his mother. Mukeem was first arrested when he was 13 after a man during the panchayat elections had been killed in the village. Since then, he has been charged for several cases of extortion, murder, kidnapping etc. Mukeem is currently in the Jamnagar jail of Haryana.
Vasim had seven cases on him, the first was lodged when he was 14. In early 2017, soon after he was released on bail after spending nine months in the jail, he did odd jobs as a farm labourer, contract farmer, and as a cleaner at a local cinema hall for a few months. “He used to keep calling every few days to say ‘Ammi, call me back. I am unable to do heavy labour work,” recalls Meena. She says that during his stay in the jail, Vasim was beaten up a lot and his body had become weak.
Vasim’s father, Mushtakim has been in Muzaffarnagar jail since April 2017 on charges of murder and attempt to murder. “His hand and leg were broken during interrogation and there has been no treatment in the last few months.” On September 13, 2017, the Shamli police picked up Meena and charged her with possession of 5 kg poppy husk known locally as ‘doda’. Sale or possession of poppy husk is banned under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. “It is the most common charge used when the police wants to send someone to jail,” says a local. Meena was sent off to Muzaffarnagar jail. On September 24, a large contingent of police from Shamli arrived and vandalised Vasim’s and his neighbour’s house in Jahanpura village. Four days later, police called the village pradhan to say that he had been shot dead in a police encounter in Sarurpur area of Meerut.
While Vasim’s parents were not allowed to attend his funeral, a large number of villagers stand in solidarity with the family. A neighbour who does not want his name disclosed says, “The police continued to say, ‘What is the need for burying him, just cremate him’.” This was viewed as a communal barb by many since Muslims bury their dead while Hindus cremate them. “Cremation also eliminates the possibility of exhuming the body in case of a judicial inquiry for forensic checks to find out the authenticity of the encounter,” says Vrinda Grover, a Supreme Court lawyer who has appeared as a counsel in several cases of extrajudicial killings.
In a letter to NHRC, Meena has mentioned that even though the FIRs filed in the cases in which Vasim and Mukeem were arrested is against unknown people, yet Vasim and Mukeem have been charged in those crimes. “It is easy to charge the same people in all cases and declare that there is a big gang at work when none exists. “How will a kid study if he is repeatedly sent to the jail right from his childhood?”says Meena.
Vrinda Grover says, “The only cases in which fake encounters have been exposed are those cases where families have gone to the court. By breaking the houses of the families and intimidating them, the police is ensuring that there is no enquiry. As it is the families are low on socio economic resources. In the face of such siege by the police, the police has demonstrated to the families that they enjoy complete impunity through political patronage.”
Several people across the four districts visited by The Wire say that the number of police informers in the area has grown exponentially in the last ten months. A person from Jahanpura village who didn’t want to be named said, “It is so high that a village of 3,000 votes now has 70-80 informers. There is also a pattern – to provide the names of young Muslim boys with some past criminal record.” The police informers often have a criminal charge themselves and are forced by the police to turn into informers. “This is also a way of creating distrust and conflict within the Muslim community, to break solidarity,” says the person.
On August 2, 2017, three days after Naushad, and Sarwar, 23, were gunned down in Bhoora village in Shamli district, Ajay Pal Sharma, the superintendent of police, Shamli district was taken on a chariot ride across the city. Ghanshyam Das Garg, president of the Shamli Traders’ Union, said, “Fear among the traders has definitely lessened because it was these criminals who used to harass us.” By then, Sharma had conducted 30 encounters which left two dead and 28 injured. The local media called it ‘Shamli police’s first surgical strike on criminals.’ Adityanath, also praised Sharma for the encounter killing of these two men through a video conference on the same day and said that ‘all police personnel should follow the same path as Ajay Pal to control crime.’
Dressed in a black and white check shirt and black pants, sitting on a silver chariot laden with marigolds and roses and followed by young men on bikes with the Indian flag, drums and band, the 32-year-old Sharma was welcomed like a ‘groom’ at a wedding. He said, “Police ka iqbal buland ho (police morale must be high) – this is the message. If anyone uses firepower on us, we will reply with necessary force.”
Except that there was no firepower used by the dead, claim their families.
A number of people are of the view that the providing information to the police has become a lucrative business. Informers suggest names that fit the profile described by police and then those people are picked up. “The real culprit bribes the police to be let go in a crime. The police get the informers to name a young boy with some criminal past and catch hold of him. The bribe is shared between the cops and the informers,” said a local resident who asked not to be identified.
Sarwar and Naushad, killed after a dinner invitation
Sarwar worked as a daily wager since the age of 11 and after his father passed away was the sole breadwinner of a family of eight. Naushad worked as a farmer on his family land. On the evening of the shootout, on July 28, 2017, both Sarwar and Naushad were invited for a dinner at Yasmin alias Rano’s house. According to the families, both were hesitant because it was late night. But Rano personally landed up at their houses and insisted that they come for sometime.
The next morning, around 4 am, news spread that Sarwar and Naushad had been shot dead by the police in an encounter. According to the police, they were both wanted in cases of murder, robbery and extortion and in an exchange of fire, both were killed. The police had apparently been looking for them but had not managed to locate them. How Rano found them, and how the police eventually caught up with them at her house, are questions that have no answer.
“If you look at this house, will you believe that he was such a dreaded criminal. He would have put at least some money in the house repairs. He would even take up work for a daily wage of as little as Rs 50,” says Hamida, Sarwar’s mother, as she points out the broken walls of the house compound. Sarwar’s daughter was a year old and Naushad’s daughter was 18 days old on the day they were killed.
When their bodies were handed over to their families after the post-mortem, they had several broken bones indicating that they were beaten up before being shot. Even though both families asked for the post-mortem report from the police, they were refused. “When I asked Shamli SP Ajay Pal Sharma why Sarwar was shot in his mouth instead of his legs, he said do what you want, all the three neighbouring districts are under my rule,” says Hamida.
A local video news report confirms the duo were apprehended by the police in Rano’s house. Five days after the killing, on August 4, 2018, Rano alias Yasmin filed a case of rape against nine people including Sarwar, Naushad and four members of his family. Raeesa says this is the reason her family is not demanding an inquiry. “Because of the rape case filed on my others sons, we are scared to file a case against the police. Rano has now asked for seven lakh rupees to settle the rape case against the family which we cannot afford.”
Sarwar’s two teenage brothers now work as labourers, one of them is physically challenged. Hamida says,“What choice do young, poor boys have except starting to earn for their families in their childhood? And if you are a Muslim boy, you can also be charged in any crime and then shot dead for it. I can either feed my children or fight a court case,” she says.
Shameem, killed after an ‘urgent call’
Shameem, 28, was also killed in identical circumstances. He used to work as a mason in Sisoni village of Muzaffarnagar and was charged in a case of motorcycle and mobile theft three years back. On these charges, he had spent ten days in Muzaffarnagar jail and a week in the Deoband jail. “On the day of the encounter, he received a call from a woman at 6 pm. She said that it was urgent,” says Fakru, his father. The next day, at 4am, they got to know through a WhatsApp forward that Shameem had been killed in an encounter the previous night at 11 pm. The police claimed that Shameem was ‘planning a crime’ in the Jansath area of Muzaffarnagar and was shot dead in an exchange of fire. Fakru says, “The same woman the next day deposited Rs 14,000 in her bank account. What does planning a crime mean? Did the police want to increase their encounter numbers by killing him based on mere suspicion?”
S.R. Darapuri, once a top policeman in UP and now a human rights activist says, “As soon as the cops start entertaining informers, the number starts rising. In the current scenario, encounters by the police are being used as a strategy which is illegal. The modus operandi and the pattern of the FIRs filed in these cases are the same. This strategy is being specifically used to immobilise the Muslim community by killing young Muslim boys and against Dalits and OBCs by implicating them in criminal cases. Why is the police not equally active in checking crimes against Muslims, Dalits and OBCs?”
7. ‘Destroying faith in the law’
While speaking to the state legislative council on February 15, 2018, UP chief minister Adityanath said: “In 1,200 encounters, more than 40 criminals have been killed and this trend will not stop.” By this estimate, in the past ten months since the BJP government came to power in the state, the police conducted roughly four encounters per day.
In ten months, the Adityanath government has received nine notices from the NHRC on a range of issues, including a fake encounter, the molestation of women and the death of children at a hospital in Gorakhpur. OnNovember 22, 2017, citing a statement by 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:
“[Even] if the law and order situation is grave, the state cannot resort to such mechanism, which may result in the extra judicial killings of the alleged criminals. It is not good for a civilised society to develop an atmosphere of fear, emerging out of certain policies adopted by the State, which may result into violation of their right to life and equality before law.”
The UP chief secretary has been asked to submit a detailed report within six weeks.The NHRC is yet to receive a response. UP police PRO, Rahul Srivastava remained unavailable for comment.
Supreme Court lawyer, Rebecca John, who was a counsel in the Hashimpura case – one of the most gruesome examples of extrajudicial killing in UP – says, “Even 30 years since the Hashimpura case, there is no result because of the complete abdication of responsibility of the court, investigating agencies and civil society. The police had complete impunity earlier and they continue to have this in 2018. Any civilised jurisprudence in the world will be amazed with these state of affairs. The state has normalised police encounters to the extent that it is only looked at as a weapon to eliminate criminal elements and it continues to be in vogue.”
Meanwhile, the media campaign celebrating Adityanath’s ‘swacch badmash abhiyan’ (movement to cleanse criminals) – a term often used for police encounters in the state – has been gathering steam for a while. Uncritical journalists have written of the bravery of the police in finishing off crime in the area. Several journalists have recorded live encounters by the police from Muzaffarnagar and Shamli. This raises a question on the official claims of the spontaneous or serendipitous discovery of gangsters and hints towards the planned nature of many encounters.
Shamli SP Ajay Pal Sharma – often referred to as ‘encounter cop’ in media reports – denies a pattern or any plan behind the encounters. He told The Wire, ‘It is good that people are critical of the encounters because they should not remain unchecked. If our intention is clear, we have no reason to back out. The biggest proof is that our constable, Ankit Tomar, lost his life in one such encounter. We wouldn’t go for encounters if they were not needed.’ But Darapuri questions the nature of the injuries suffered by the police. He says, “The report of police injuries should be made public to know the exact nature of attacks on them by the accused.”
Ajay Pal says that reports of all encounters have been sent to the NHRC and three of the four magisterial inquires, as mandated by the Supreme Court in case of encounter killings, have been completed. When asked if has received any complaints from the families of those killed regarding the nature of the encounter, he said that he has not received any. On charges of police intimidation and vandalisation of the houses of those killed he said, “The police has no reason to do that. In fact, no such statements were made by the families is the magisterial inquiries in the Muzaffarnagar court.”
According to the 2014 Supreme Court guidelines on extra-judicial killings, “If pursuant to the tip off or receipt of any intelligence encounter take place and firearm is used by the police party and as a result of that, death occurs, an FIR to that effect shall be registered and the same shall be forwarded to the court under Section 157 of the code without delay.”
This guideline does not seem to be implemented in spirit to investigate the legality of the killings by the police. Magisterial inquiries rarely if ever declare an encounter fake – the 2009 inquiry by Ahmedabad’s additional metropolitan magistrate S.P. Tamang in the Ishrat Jahan encounter is a notable exception – which is why activists strongly advocate judicial inquiries in the case of police encounters.
Vrinda Grover says, “A judicial inquiry is important, where complex details like the cases pending against the victims who died, whether they were punishable, whether the police recorded the plan of the encounter in advance or a comparison of weapons available with the police as well as the victim is done to assess whether the force used by the police was excess of vice versa.”
On February 6, the NHRC again observed that police personnel in Uttar Pradesh are “misusing their power”. The notice was sent after a 25-year-old man in Noida was killed by a sub-inspector, who termed it as an encounter on February 3. The sub-inspector had allegedly told his colleague that the encounter would earn him an out-of-turn promotion. “The commission has observed that it seems that the police personnel in the state of Uttar Pradesh are feeling free misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher ups. They are using their privileges to settle scores with the people. The police force is to protect the people, these kind of incidents would send a wrong message to the society,” the NHRC said in a statement.
Darapuri says, “Police encounters as a state policy is also wrong because some day the same police officers will be tried and convicted after inquiry into fake encounters and face life imprisonment. By my own experience, I know that that the V.P. Singh government, after the Behmai massacre, increased the number of police encounters. This led to large number of killings of police officers in retaliation. This is not the way to control law and order; instead, it starts a vicious cycle of violence in revenge.”
Meanwhile, Furquan’s teenage sons have started working as daily wagers. Nasreen says, “Encounters do not control law and order. They only create psychological disorders. Which child will have faith in the law and state when the only memory of their father is a dead body sewn together like a sack of jute after the police killed him?”