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Encounters In The Dark

If governments want, they can discourage the dishonourable practice

Written by Keki N. Daruwalla |
Updated: August 24, 2017 12:00:09 am
dg vanzara, ishrat jahan case, ishrat jahan enciunter, india news, latest news, indian express, indian express news DG Vanzara. (File Photo)

Encounters are safe bets for risk-averse policemen. Get information, know the car or of bus the terrorist is travelling in, drag him out, make him “sing” and shoot the blighter. The boss, a DIG no less, will pat your back. But here the DIG, D.G. Vanzara, was himself involved. Who can pat a DIG except the home minister. And after a decade-old war in the press, we find the court “discharging” the accused.

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 people were happy, hearing that the CBI court discharged 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. Cyberspace is full of papers on the subject. It is even alleged that Kauser Bi, Sohrabuddin’s wife was raped, strangled and cremated.

All this is possibly false, but the court, after hearing evidence on both sides, should give a verdict. The accusations can be false, but the “discharge” on the face of it, is one-sided. Remember the Malegaon bomb blast cases and the statement of the fine prosecutor Rohini Salian that she was pressurised to go slow against Pragya Thakur and Shrikant Purohit, now on bail. I should know something about encounters. As UP’s only Assistant Inspector General, I wrote citations for gallantry medals, I employed my poetic hyperbole. Most inspectors claimed that the dacoit’s bullet passed through their side cap. 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 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. In two postings in Chambal area I have had occasion to be involved in encounters.

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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 placed his light machine gun and emptied about three magazines firing at an empty haveli at ten o’clock at night. 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 the 1980 elections, which ushered in Robert Mugabe. 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 Zimbabwe police 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 white nation’s cause was at stake? They thought they were doing it for a national cause. When it comes to national security, as it did in Gujarat, there can’t be any compromises, isn’t it?

If the government wants — and neither the Centre, nor the Gujarat government want it — it could do the following: Magisterial inquests which are mandatory after “encounters”, should be rigorous, and not an eyewash. The distance between the shooter and the victim is a giveaway. Was he or she shot from at least 20 or 30 yards? Let the inquest be forensically-aided; lessen the reward quotient on “heads”. For instance, Rs 50,000 for taking the man alive, and just 10,000 for the dacoit or terrorist killed. Rewards for heads smells of barbarism; in police training colleges brand fake encounters as something despicable, dishonourable.

Daruwalla, a poet and short story writer, was a member of the National Commission for Minorities

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