Legality of Police Encounters

“Encounter killings” – extrajudicial killings allegedly committed in self-defence by the police or the military – are increasingly common in India. Recently, Uttar Pradesh police killed Vikas Dubey, a 56-year-old gangster, with more than 60 criminal cases against him on July 10 during an encounter.

The police version of the events leading up to Dubey’s death eerily resembles a case that occurred in December 2019 in Hyderabad, the capital of the southern Indian state of Telangana. In this case, four men accused of the rape and murder of a woman, in an incident that shook the nation’s collective conscience, were shot dead by police while they allegedly grabbed a gun and tried to escape during a reconstruction of the crime.

In both cases, public opinion was overwhelming in favour of these extrajudicial killings, despite criticism from certain quarters, led by human rights groups. The day after the Hyderabad meeting, people rained rose petals and policemen paraded on their shoulders. Pop culture has also done its part in glorifying this practice; Very popular police-centric Bollywood films – such as “Rowdy Rathore”, “Singham” and “Dabangg” – regularly show scenes in which the police protagonist single-handedly kills the villain in a heroic climax.

With extrajudicial killings encouraged by ruling politicians, celebrated in popular culture and publicly approved, it is hardly surprising that the police carry out these operations with impunity, in complete disregard of the law and even with a visible lack of effort and creativity in attempting to address the problem cover-up. This encouragement becomes a slide that allows the police to increasingly take matters into their own hands, accuse and execute innocent people, and decide for themselves who deserves what punishment.

In the past, officers performing these operations were regularly given awards for valour and out-of-turn promotions, which encouraged the tactic. The Supreme Court ended this in a 2014 ruling, stating that such an award would not be granted until an independent investigation determined the “bravery of the officer concerned”. In the same judgment, the Court established a 16-point procedure for investigating deaths from the encounter. This included the immediate inclusion of an initial information report (FIR or police complaint), a judicial investigation and an independent investigation by the criminal police or a team from another police station under the supervision of a senior officer.

Obviously, the current regulations are insufficient to remove something so widely accepted and deeply rooted in the system. With so much overlap between investigators and subjects, the likelihood of impartiality is jeopardized. As a quick and short-term solution, the legal provisions to solve these murders must be strengthened and implemented more seriously.

A more permanent solution, however, will involve a major overhaul of the criminal justice system. A stifled judicial system that is years behind and no coherent plan to improve the situation – for example through increased funding or judicial infrastructure – is the most frequently cited reason for officers’ lack of confidence in the police. The debate on police reforms must also be opened wide, in particular, to separate the institution from the political executive and to protect its legal independence.

The encounters are an extreme manifestation of the unlawful use of force by the establishment. If the state is to maintain its precarious moral uplift, someone must take responsibility for it.

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

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