Crime and punishment

Due process lies at democracy’s heart. That’s why government must address questions about Bhopal encounter, not quell them.

By: Editorial | Published:November 2, 2016 12:02 am

There is more than one version of the alleged encounter on the outskirts of Bhopal early on Monday morning, in which eight inmates of the city’s Central Jail, activists of the banned SIMI, were killed within hours of their escape. In its aftermath, the BJP, which rules in Bhopal and at the Centre, has sought to label all questioning of the incident as inappropriate if not downright anti-national. Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, said: “We should stop this habit of raising doubt, questioning the authorities and police”. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan accused those raising questions of “insulting his sacrifice”, referring to Ramashankar Yadav, the head constable killed allegedly by the inmates as they escaped. And BJP spokespersons have drawn a direct link between those raising doubts over the official version of the encounter in Bhopal and those who expressed scepticism about the government’s description of the “surgical strikes” along the LoC. This attempt to quell criticism, invoke the army and its morale and to drape the national flag over the events of Monday morning, is unacceptable.

In a vibrant democracy, it may even be said that it is a patriotic responsibility to ask questions of the government about an encounter that invites doubt and suspicion. In this case, there are discrepancies in the accounts of senior police officials — on whether or not the escaped inmates were armed, for instance. More than one video, purportedly of the incident, is doing the rounds. In such a scenario, the questions that are being asked give the government an opportunity, in fact, that it cannot afford to turn away from — to clear the air. Because not doing so would risk damage to the citizen’s faith and trust in the system. It is that prospect — of a waning state legitimacy and credibility — that must discomfit the government in this moment, not the questions.

True, the eight men killed on Monday morning faced serious charges in cases ranging from the 2008 serial blasts in Ahmedabad to a 2014 bomb blasts case in Bijnor, and communal violence in Khandwa. Yet, to insinuate, as is also being done, that the undertrials did not deserve the benefit of due process, that it was not their right, is to do grave disservice to the compact between India’s Constitution and its citizens. On encounters, the highest court of the land has struck a cautionary note to the government. In 2014, a bench led by Justice Lodha laid down elaborate guidelines — from making it mandatory to register FIRs and investigate the encounter by an independent agency to asking that no officer be given an out of turn promotion or gallantry award for encounter operations till the inquiry is completed. In other words, the Supreme Court was casting the onus of sobriety and rigour on the government after an encounter. The Madhya Pradesh has done well to suspend jail officials on whose watch the undertrials escaped. It must now institute a fair and impartial probe into the encounter on the outskirts of Bhopal.

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    Prashant
    Nov 2, 2016 at 6:30 am
    If encounter is genuine,,then 21 artillery salutes,,,If fake then 121 artillery salutes,,jai hind,,,,
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      Chiragh Adlakha
      Nov 2, 2016 at 1:57 pm
      Kill them in the bud.
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        Amit Govil
        Nov 2, 2016 at 12:57 pm
        Enough of fair trial for these criminal minded people. This must set an example for others of same cult. Those who don't think like them need not be afraid.
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          Amit Govil
          Nov 2, 2016 at 1:50 pm
          Time is up for radical Islamist in India. Either they shape up or ship out of India.
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            George
            Nov 2, 2016 at 12:08 pm
            MP has been at national forefront in producing SIMI terrorists. First time there is news of decline. Congratulations !!!
            Reply
            1. G
              Ghulam Muhammed
              Nov 2, 2016 at 5:50 am
              A case of bad faith can not be ruled out in the manner the 8 alleged SIMI members broke out of jail detention and shot dead by the police within the hour. For common news readers this is the common scenario of fake encounter. Any doubts left out is re-enforced by BJP authorities' aggressive demonisation of the doubting public as anti-anti ___ you can fill in as per your wish. Gradually it is coming to p that BJP/RSS are working with an entrenched mind-set that calls for the step by step erosion of our consutional framework and imposition of a different set of values that has no public sanction.
              Reply
              1. R
                Ravi Diwan
                Nov 2, 2016 at 9:52 am
                All leading dailies have given space to this news on front page and See More Details Inside ... Encounters are not uncommon, of accused in almost every case. Convicts are normally not encountered as police already proved their point. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;There are only 2 reasons I see behind this Media attention : State Govt and Central Govt are ruled by a party representing majority community Hindus. Second being that accused are from a minority community. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;Is the media sure that they are secular! !! Is it not high time that every citizen, irrespective of region, cast or religion, respect ths law of the land ?? Killing a security guard is a heinous crime.
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                  Nityananda
                  Nov 2, 2016 at 4:47 am
                  It's important to note that these SIMI people were not yet convicted. Some may well have been acquitted. Hence it is important to enquire further into the incident using the NIA or CBI. Hopefully they are impartial.
                  Reply
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