Anatomy of a fake encounter

CRPF officer’s revelation frames a practice unfortunately routine in Assam.

Written by Kishalay Bhattacharjee | Published:May 30, 2017 12:46 am
crpf, crpf assam, north east, indian express CRPF officer’s revelation frames a practice unfortunately routine in Assam. (Representational. Express Photo by Dasarath Deka)

Rajnish Rai, the police officer who investigated the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in Gujarat, till he was withdrawn and sent to India’s Northeast, has now blown the whistle again. Rai, now the Inspector General (IG) of the CRPF posted in Shillong, has called a joint operation in Assam’s Chirang district by his own force, the army, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Assam Police staged, in other words, a murder.

The operation was allegedly carried out against two NDFB(S) militants and, Rai claims, weapons were planted on their bodies. This is routine in the badlands of Assam.

The recent claim by Rai, however, takes me back to another confession, albeit in anonymity, by a serving officer of the Indian Army who had virtually split open the anatomy of staged encounters. I recall him telling me, “In the Northeast, if you are unaccounted for, you run the risk of getting killed. There are lists available with the mafia of people who are not recorded anywhere. They are picked up when the situation gets desperate.”

The most alarming aspect of encounters is that almost anyone can be a victim. That is not to say that the killings are indiscriminate. In the Northeast, and even in places in the Kashmir Valley, what the officer meant by “unaccounted for” is people who have no immediate family or are not on the electoral roll and have no ration card or identification papers. These unwitting souls — itinerant labourers, beggars, illegal immigrants and the like — are peddled to units of the armed forces and the police.

Bodoland, where this encounter was reported from, has long been the hunting ground for headcounts by Indian security agencies. Killing is the measure for performance, commendation and awards in these forces, so the lure and pressure to hunt heads is what Rai reflects in his letter where he says, “it indicates a deeper institutional malady in the functioning of the country’s most prestigious security forces. It represents a dangerous deterioration and degradation of institutional processes.”

In the same area, in 2008, a beggar who was a leprosy patient was reportedly picked up from the Rangiya railway station. At the time, a local operation was going on with the Royal Bhutan Army. People didn’t notice his absence since he was not an old-timer. The beggar was taken to the Bhutan border, killed and labelled a sergeant of the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland).

Lower Assam, from where the recent incident has been reported, has a mixed population and has witnessed strife for a long time. Nalbari and Barpeta were ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam) hubs. Beyond that was BLT (Bodo Liberation Tigers) and NDFB territory. And since the NDFB has several factions, it means there is adequate turf war. The entire north bank of the Brahmaputra is dotted with armed groups.

Across is Bhutan, a safe haven because India doesn’t have a fenced border with Bhutan, and patrolling along the border is lax. Till 2003, Bhutan had close to 40 underground camps of various Indian militant denominations. With the area under the influence of guns for 25 years, the notoriety there is an excuse for security agencies to show encounters.

Usually, victims for staged encounters are purchased. One of the locations for handing over victims is the Baihata intersection, close to where the recent incident took place. Money is paid and the victim is immediately taken to the unit. The doctor checks him and he is under observation for a few days. He is closely scrutinised and interrogated to confirm that he is a safe kill. Either he is a militant or a petty thief or an innocent Bangladeshi illegal migrant. This is confirmed by the local police station. The encounters are usually joint operations.

After ascertaining the victim’s antecedents, the police usually set the stage. While the police are left to interrogate, the others plan the encounter: The area is selected 3-4 days prior to the killing. Intelligence inputs are manipulated. Then he is shot. The hands are never tied, in case victims injure themselves, leaving contradictory evidence. One of the most controversial legislative provisions in India, and one that can rightly be said to facilitate encounter killings, is the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958 (AFSPA) applicable in Assam.

The Act contains provisions that grant immunity to members of the armed forces who kill people they suspect are militants. Even a non-commissioned officer has the power to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even leading to death, of any person acting in contravention of any law” if the officer believes it is necessary for “the maintenance of public order”.

Anyone can be arrested without a warrant. Any premises can be searched, and no legal action can be taken against the armed forces unless prior sanction is obtained from the Central government.

Bhattacharjee is associate professor at the Jindal School of Journalism and Communication, O P Jindal Global University and the author of ‘Blood on My Hands: Confessions of Staged Encounters’.

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  1. H
    Hebal Narzary
    May 31, 2017 at 4:35 pm
    Three students reading in cl Vi,vii and x were shot down in December, 2014 by Indian forces at village Raidwngbari, PS Runikhata, Dist Chirang, am, India.This sadful message reached to the ear of the then Honourable Prime Minister, Dr Monmohon Singh. But no justice is given to the victims till today......Even the Headmaster of the victims was threatened for admitting as his regular students......There are many incidents where general public were staged as terrorists and killed without justice....Such as Junior college student in Bijni,firewood collector etc..... So to say 90 percent of the encounter in am is Fake Encounter.... again 70 percent of the victims are general public.....
    Reply
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      Harshawardhan Joshi
      May 31, 2017 at 12:34 am
      This is what exactly hapens when academicians starts doing journalists job. Academicians stand for theories and then start adding up facts to support those theories. Opposite are journalists who follow the leads, get absolute facts and then take them to their logical conclusions, that are newspaper stories and news. Today Indian Express is becoming like an academic publication rather than a newspaper.
      Reply
      1. H
        Harshawardhan Joshi
        May 31, 2017 at 12:26 am
        Fake encounters sgould stop. No doubt. But this article is based on lot of hearsay information and unsubstantiated so called facts. Author seems to be fond of detective novels and conspiracy theories. Lot of. Unsubstantiated rable. What happenedto our old indian express? It used to pride upon investigative journaliam! No statistics, no inerviews of victims families, no do entory evidence, no cir stantial evidence! In the days of Mr. Shekhar Gupta rhis would not have been allowed. This section of opinions is goimg haywire with lot of people bagan opining without any sense for what Indian Express stands for. Last story with lot of courage and also equals with good evidence was General VK Singh mobilizing divisions of army and arteriallary towards Delhi. Probaly our beloved Shekhar Gupta lost his job with it. But resulting in quick action by govt of India and disbanding of special task group formed by General VK Singh
        Reply
        1. T
          Thrinethran T
          May 30, 2017 at 5:36 am
          The CRPF officer has made an allegation about a specific incident, which ought to be investigated. Does that justify this article by an academic, which is full of non-specific generalisations accusing and ing the security forces? The author is not a journalist, he does not claim to have researched and independently verified what he terms the "routine practice". The only other evidence he provides is from an alleged conversation he "recalled" with an unnamed soldier. Does this piece of speculation, unrecorded hearsay and imagination on such a vital subject, qualify for publication in your columns?
          Reply
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            deepak sankhla
            May 30, 2017 at 8:09 pm
            Bang on! Typical maligning story on IE which are so common these days..paid media!
            Reply
          2. A
            Atul
            May 30, 2017 at 5:33 am
            Why are the stupid nationalist and army symphatizers quiet over such blatant kil ? This question is like nationalists ask re Pandits in Kashmir and the dumb witted Vankaih Naidu asks re CRPF an's killed in Sukma.
            Reply
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