Gangster Vikas Dubey, who was accused of killing 8 personnel of the Uttar Pradesh police, was killed in an encounter on Friday morning. The incident came close on the heels of the killings of two of his aides — Prabhat Mishra and Amar Dubey.
In each of these cases, the police have said that the accused tried to escape, forcing them to fire in self-defence.
In Dubey’s case, the police claimed that the car that he was travelling in overturned before the gangster tried to escape. The Kanpur police was quoted by NDTV as saying, “Then Vikas Dubey grabbed a gun from an injured policeman and ran. The police team caught up and surrounded him and tried to get him to surrender, but he refused and started firing. The police had to fire back in self-defence.”
PTI reported that Dubey was the sixth man to die in a police encounter after the ambush he allegedly masterminded in Kanpur’s Bikru village on July 2, killing eight policemen who had come to arrest him.
Hours after the killing of Dubey, who was caught on Thursday after a massive hunt that spanned three states, questions are being raised on the veracity of statements being made by the Uttar Pradesh police about the encounters.
Another NDTV report bored holes into the police’s version of events — it said that the car that Vikas Dubey was travelling in had been switched and that the media vehicles that had been following the convoy were stopped 2 km away from where the incident happened. It also said that Dubey, a hardened criminal, was not wearing handcuffs.
Hours before the encounter, a Mumbai-based lawyer had approached the Supreme Court, warning that the gangster may be killed under the custody of the UP police.
The write petition, the copy of which was tweeted by Mumbai Mirror’s Sharmeen Haqeem, read, “There is every possibility that even accused Vikas Dubey shall be killed by the Uttar Pradesh police, like other co-accused once his custody is obtained by the Uttar Pradesh police.”
The incidents have once again put the spotlight on the Uttar Pradesh police’s tendency to crack down on alleged violations without letting the accused go through a judicial process. Under the Yogi Adityanath government which came to power in 2017, activists say these encounters, often alleged to be extra-judicial killings, have become commonplace.
The state police’s trigger-happy habits caused widespread outrage in 2018, when an Apple executive named Vivek Tiwari was shot dead in what cops claimed was an “accident”. Reuters reported at the time that even that did not deter the crackdown on crime that Adityanath and the police have boasted about many times.
In December 2019, in reply to a tweet from former CM Mayawati, the Uttar Pradesh police claimed 103 people were killed and 1,859 injured in 5,178 “police engagements”.
In 2017, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) had expressed deep concern over the extrajudicial killings in Uttar Pradesh.
“There seems to be a culture of police encounters in UP which has the effect of doing away with due process,” Devika Prasad, the coordinator of CHRI’s police reforms programme, told HuffPost India over the phone,
Prasad said that there are no records to show that the UP government or the police have followed any of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court of India.
Former Uttar Pradesh DGP Vikram Singh told HuffPost India that it was too early to say whether Dubey’s killing was a fake encounter, but warned that all such incidents grossly violated human rights.
“A single fake encounter erodes the credibility of the police. My advice to all police officers is that the law gives you sufficient powers to use to the rule of law to nail the criminals. Do not be carried away by emotions or films like Dabangg and Singham,” Singh said.
However, comments from Adityanath himself show that the Uttar Pradesh government thinks otherwise. In Rajat Sharma’s show on India Today, Adityanath had said confidently, “Agar apradh karenge, toh thok diye jayenge (If you commit crimes, you will be knocked down).”
Former DGP Singh said that the next step for the police would be to conduct a “faithful, incisive and an honest investigation” into the incidents of the past week.
“It should be supervised by the senior-most officer, not less than rank of the senior superintendent of police or DIG also. The final report should be scrutinised threadbare. The integrity of the scene of crime should be preserved with all photographic and video graphic evidences. All applications that come and will come raising questions on this encounter should be incorporated in the investigation,” Singh said.
However, with the government itself claiming that these encounters are a way of curbing crime, will this happen?
“There has been a glorification of encounter killings in recent times. And this seems to obfuscate the state’s mandate to be accountable for deaths caused by state actions,” said Prasad.
While the rules on investigations into encounters mandate that probes be done by officers from other districts, the rot in the system also begs the question on whether an investigation will make any difference.
Prasad told HuffPost India said that one has to rely on higher courts.
“The Allahabad High Court has been very active in monitoring and intervening swiftly in terms of police brutality from last year relating to the clampdown on protests... so that is certainly one institution which one could look to,” she said.
State human rights commissions and the National Human Rights Commission have guidelines on such encounters, along with those by the Supreme Court, Prasad said.