New Delhi: On Thursday (September 20) morning, a group of local journalists in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district reportedly got a call from the police, asking if they wanted to “watch and film a real police encounter”. According to the Times of India, when these reporters – as well as others who had heard the message – reached the designated spot in Machua village under then Harduaganj police station, they saw a group of policemen “armed and hiding” in an abandoned irrigation department building.
The police claimed that they had been looking for the two men – Mustakim and Naushad – for a few days, NDTV reported. They also said that the two – apparently accused in six murders including that of two Hindu priests – had fired 34 rounds before they were taken down.
“This happened around 6:30 in the morning. Two men on a bike passed a police team and when we tried to stop them, they fired at us. We gave chase and they went and hid in an abandoned government office building about four kilometres away. They were firing at us from there too. We got reinforcements. When we fired, both of these people got hit and they were declared dead in hospital. One of our officers was also wounded,” Ajay Sahni, Aligarh’s police chief, told NDTV.
In what seems to be the first time the media was “invited” to watch an encounter, reporters and camera crews were asked to stay “at least 100 metres away” from the violence, Times of India reported. They weren’t wearing any protective gear.
When asked why journalists were told where to come to witness the encounter, Aligarh SSP Ajay Kumar Sahini told Times of India, “There is nothing wrong in it. We wanted to provide firsthand information to the media.” He also said that order from “the top” have specified that the media is to be given details on all encounters. “We were just adopting a transparent approach. Nothing was hidden. If anyone wanted to click pictures or record a video, they were free to do that.”
While the police said that Mustakim was 25 years old and Naushad 22, the Indian Express reported that their families have said that Mustakim was 22 and Naushad a minor at 17. They have also alleged that two were picked up by police from their house in Bhainspada on Sunday. The newspaper reported:
Rafikan, Mustakeem’s grandmother, said, “They came in around 2.30 pm Sunday and picked up both, along with Mustakeem’s brother Salman, who was arrested Tuesday, and my son Naseem, who is mentally ill.” Naushad’s mother Shaheen, a daily wage labourer, said: “We will file a case against the police for the injustice.”
SP City Atul Kumar Srivastava denied these allegation, according to the Indian Express.
According to official numbers, 66 people have been killed in police encounters in Uttar Pradesh since the Adityanath government came to power in March last year. The chief minister has bragged about his number like in achievement and also justified the widespread use of encounter killings. While speaking to the state legislative council on February 15, 2018, Adityanath said: “In 1,200 encounters, more than 40 criminals have been killed and this trend will not stop.” In an interview to India TV in June 2017, he had said, “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (If they commit crimes, they will be hit).”
A detailed investigation into encounter cases by The Wire revealed discrepancies in the accounts of the families of those killed and the police. 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.