First, the life and then the death of Vikas Dubey continue to dominate headlines. His death in an encounter by the police has been brought to the attention of the Supreme Court, which is mulling over setting up an enquiry and also asking some uncomfortable questions.
Irrespective of whether an encounter is considered fake or justified, any attempt to question the motives of those responsible or to hold them accountable for a criminal act, arouses strong emotions. Those who stand up in defence of the police never fail to pull a hoary chestnut out of the raging fire of disputation between the proponents of human rights and those of ‘law and order’.
In his defence of the encounter of Dubey, former director general of police (DGP) of UP Vikram Singh states that the police version of the encounter is based on ‘clinching and material evidence’, that Dubey was a deadly criminal against whom no one in Kanpur dared to file a complaint with the police (while those killed in the Hyderabad encounter were not hardened criminals). This seems to imply that Singh thinks that Dubey deserved the death he got, whether or not the circumstances were what the police claimed.
Most significantly, the important thing to note is that Singh offers that old cliché of the need to lend the police unstinted and unqualified and unquestioning support, apparently because, otherwise, the police would fall prey to ‘demoralisation’.
This, therefore is the excuse: that any imputation of criminal behaviour to the police and any demand to punish them if proved will demoralise them. Not because they are innocent or indeed their actions justified, but to save them from ‘demoralisation’, no questions are to be raised about any kind of encounters.
It is not surprising, therefore, that even a legal luminary of Harish Salve’s eminence, did not hesitate to play that card before the Supreme Court, which is hearing a case praying for an enquiry into the killing of Dubey in which he is representing the UP Police. He told the judges, “This is not a case that merits a judicial intervention or a committee with judicial officers. Such an enquiry would also demoralise the police force.”
This threat of the police force being demoralised to the extent that it will not be able to render service to society, leaving common citizens at the mercy of criminals and murderers is used again and again to silence all questions and all criticism regarding the methods used by the police which may amount to criminal acts. The questioners and critics will, therefore, themselves be responsible for the unfettered growth of criminal behaviour and the inability of the police to deal with it.
What really is responsible for demoralisation?
The police force (along with others responsible for protecting the lives of citizens often at the cost of their own) must certainly be spared demoralisation. The question is what is really responsible for their often feeling demoralised and despondent? The life and times of Vikas Dubey provide many answers.
Who is responsible for the fact that Singh brings to our attention, that “nobody even dared to lodge a complaint against him in the police station or testify against him”? Certainly not sundry human rights activists or public interest litigators. The ones responsible for this state of affairs are those who fail utterly in carrying out their responsibility and constitutional duty to administer justice: the people at the helm of the police, the administration, the judiciary and the government.
Early in his criminal life, Dubey could succeed and gain greater notoriety because of the complicity of those who should have been restraining and punishing him. As early as 1998, when he was a fledgling criminal, he was arrested by the police in an attempt-to-murder case. The police party escorting him was attacked by his family members and supporters. The policemen were beaten, some had their uniforms torn and Dubey absconded. Nothing was done to punish any of those responsible for this humiliation inflicted on the police, a humiliation that must have surely left many of them demoralised.
Much emboldened, Dubey then proceeded to kill a BJP leader enjoying the status of a minister of state in the then BJP government – along with two policemen – inside a police station near his village. Unbelievably, he was allowed to escape and to ‘surrender’ almost a year later, after which he held court in the Maati (Kanpur Dehat) jail, from where he was alleged to have masterminded every kind of crime including murder.
Astonishingly, on every court hearing date, his supporters erected a huge pandal in front of the district court. It was filled with hundreds of local people, many of them heavily armed, and proceeded to abuse and taunt those who came to testify against Dubey. This was, of course, in full view of the police and judiciary who were enjoined upon to protect the witnesses. Not surprisingly, all the witnesses were completely ‘demoralised’, policemen turned hostile and, in a few years, Dubey was acquitted. What effect this had on the families of the two policemen murdered earlier and the entire thana in which the triple murder took place can only be imagined.
The BJP was still in power at the time of Dubey’s acquittal, but the appeal filed in the high court has done nothing but gather dust. All those responsible for these disgraceful acts are part of the system that has bestowed upon them power and authority to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.
Dubey went from strength to strength: murdering, acquiring properties in places as far away as Bangkok and Dubai in addition to land around his village and helping important industrialists attain unimaginable heights of corporate success. He was jailed and convicted for one of several murders more than a decade ago, but was released on parole that ended only with his death. The Supreme Court itself has expressed astonishment over this and has asked the UP Government for an explanation.
Since his release on parole, Dubey was unassailable in his village mansion until the fateful night of July 2, when circle officer Devendra Mishra was finally given the permission to arrest Dubey (he had been requesting it for a week). His request was granted by the new SSP of Kanpur, who had taken charge only two days earlier. Before this, Mishra had not been able to make any headway. The station officer of the local thana, technically Mishra’s subordinate, took his orders from Dubey and the earlier SSP too had not agreed.
It is illustrative of the clout that Dubey enjoyed at every level that his name did not find mention in the list of the most wanted persons of the state or even the district. Not even of his local thana! Had it been otherwise, the SSP would have ensured that many more men were deployed for the arrest and the policemen would perhaps be wearing bulletproof vests. Dubey was clearly informed much in advance about the decision to arrest him in his own village, probably by the station officer of ‘his’ local station and some others in the force. The result was the brutal ambushing and killing of eight brave policemen, including CO Mishra. Nothing could have been more demoralising for every self-respecting member of the police force of the state.
The day after this brutal killing, hundreds of policemen were deployed at Dubey’s village. Many photographs of them appeared in the daily newspapers, they were seen innumerable times on the TV channels too: horrorstruck as they gazed down at the mutilated bodies of their brother policemen. Many shed tears of anger and anguish, many others were despondent and no doubt thoroughly demoralised.
A week later, Dubey was dead, killed by the police. With his death, many secrets of deals and dealers also died. Many heaved a sigh of relief – those whom he had oppressed and also those with whom he had connived.
His death was claimed as a victory over crime and a morale booster for the force by many who have regularly expressed concern over the dangers of a demoralised force. None of them, however, has even commented on the fact that seven accused in the murder of inspector Subodh Singh were garlanded and escorted from jail after just six months of incarceration, amid celebrations in the presence of the police, some of whom may have watched Subodh Singh die. Earlier this week, Shikhar Aggarwal – the main accused in the murder – was appointed as the district general secretary of the Prime Minister’s Welfare Schemes Awareness Campaign and felicitated by a BJP leader.
Multiple enquiries are now being conducted into Dubey’s life and death and strenuous attempts are being made to unravel innumerable and endless threads connecting his humble village to the corridors of power of Uttar Pradesh and other states. Other ‘Dubeys’, however, are waiting in the wings to step into the vacuum his death has created. They are determined to walk in his footsteps and are confident that they will be helped along the way by those that helped him.
Subhashini Ali is a CPI(M) Politburo member.