Encounters of a Dark & Sinister Kind: Gujarat

If governments wanted, they could discourage this illegal practice

Image: Reuters

Encounters are safe bets for those policemen who are averse to risk. Get the right information, know the number and colour of the car or of the bus he or she is travelling in (we are talking terrorists here), drag the fellow (s) out, get the info from him and shoot the blighter. The boss, a DIG  no less, will pat your back, the reward will be yours, if not the medal. But in this case the DIG, Mr . Vanzara was himself involved! Who can pat a DIG except the Home Minister. And after a decade old war in the press between nouveau liberals and die hard nationalists, we find the court ‘discharging’ the accused.

Not surprisingly people in Gujarat can’t make out what the hullabaloo is about—this talk of genuine and spurious encounters. As long as you shoot the guy all encounters are genuine, Pal. So you can depend on it that people received with considerable glee the news about the CBI Court ‘discharging’ Mr. Vanzara and another officer of all guilt. Your premier investigating agency, under orders and supervision of the highest court charged the accused. The least one expected was that the matter would come up for trial. Cyber space is full of papers on the subject the Sohrabuddin encounter. It is even alleged that Kauser Bee, Sohrabuddin’s wife was raped and strangled and then burnt in a village. All this  is possibly false, but the court , after hearing  evidence on both sides, should give a verdict. There are accusations  that Kauser Bee was bumped off because she was a witness to the earlier ‘aforesaid’ encounter. Over three hundred mobile calls by a politician were allegedly wiped out. The accusations can be false, probably are, but the ‘discharge’ on the face of it, is one sided. Remember  Malegaon bomb blast cases and the statement of the fine prosecutor Ms.Rohini Salian that she was pressurised to go slow against the accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and Col. Shrikant  Purohit, now, ludicrously enough, posing as an ‘army mole’! The bomb was placed on the Sadhvi’s motor cycle, incidentally, killing Muslims.

I should know something about encounters. As UP’s only AIG  for three years , I wrote  citations for gallantry  medals, which  were examined by the Directors IB and CBI in the Home  Ministry. I reserved my poetic hyperboles for these occasions. Most Inspectors  noted in their post-encounter FIR’s, that the dacoit’s bullet passed through their side caps—they didn’t wear peak caps those days in UP in the early seventies. One guy wrote the bullet passed through his muffler. Such originality was not lost on me. I wrote a thumping proposal, something like, ‘Uncaring for life and limb Inspector Shyam Awasthi or Ram Khilawan or Ram Bharosay charged at the dacoits, and braving the fusillade of lead spouting from  bandit guns grappled with miscreants, captured two of them, apart from murdering (sorry) shooting in self-defence, three of them.’ Something in that order. Please note the istyle.

Having had two postings in the Chambal I have had occasion to be involved in encounters. In one of them the dacoits were favoured by a sandstorm and escaped. We had taken up positions in a barren field and the raging sand went straight for our eyes. It was a pitch dark night. I was asked by  a subordinate if we could kill the informer (a former member of this really notorious gang), because we had nothing to show for a truck load of police  moving into Rajasthan.  I remember I just said ‘no’. No  hysterics, no swear words at the abominable suggestion. After that an officer, a Deputy Supdt. Of Police,  placed his Light Machine gun and emptied about three magazines firing at an empty haveli at ten o’clock at night. The villagers had run away hours earlier. He later bagged a gallantry medal for some genuine anti-dacoity heroics he was surely involved in.

I went to Zimbabwe/ Rhodesia as a member of the Commonwealth Observers team for 1980 elections, which ushered in Mr. Mugabe of the ANC. Sigh. Guerrillas had played havoc for  seven years. The ANC was trained by the Chinese , incidentally. I went on anti-mine vehicles on roads which had not been used for five years. The white police used the word ‘Contact’ instead of our desi ‘encounter’. So the Zimbabwe police those days had ‘contacts’ (meaning  gun duels) with ‘Terrs’, their term for Terrorists. Same syndrome, but a change in nouns. To have elections cancelled outright,  police planted a bomb in a bus, killing a few people. What are a few lives when the cause of the nation, in this case the white nation, is at stake? They thought they were doing it for a national cause. When it comes to the nation and national security, as it did in Gujarat, there can’t be any compromises, isn’t it?

If government wants—and neither the centre, nor the Gujarat government want it—it could do the following. (a) The magisterial inquest which has to follow such an ‘encounter’, should be rigorous, and not an eye wash.  The distance between the shooter and the victim is a giveaway.  Was he or she shot from at least twenty or thirty yards? Let the inquest be forensically-aided.(B) Lessen the reward quotient on ‘heads’. For instance, fifty thousand for taking the man alive, and just ten thousand for the dacoit or terrorist killed. Rewards for heads smells of barbarism.(C) In police Training Colleges,  which exist in each state, brand fake encounters as something despicable, dishonourable.

Lastly what I have mentioned is the tip of the iceberg. Things are worse and need to come out in the open –the court for instance.

(A shorter version of this article was published in The Indian Express on August 24, 2017. This version has been offered for publication in Sabrangindia by the author)

(The author, a retired IPS officer, is also a poet and short story writer, and was a member of the National Commission for Minorities)




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