Updated: June 15, 2015 12:01:01 am
The “encounter” in which 12 Maoists were gunned down in Palamau district of Jharkhand last week is beginning to look as disturbing as the April incident in a Tirupati forest in which 20 people were killed in an alleged “encounter” with red sanders smugglers. Only seven of the Palamau victims have been identified, of which six have no police record. Four minors were killed — celebrating the encounter as a success, the director general of police had elaborated that the “bullet does not differentiate” on the basis of age. Predictably, none of the underaged have been identified.
Perhaps the state police and the CRPF, which had conducted a joint operation, should bite the bullet and come clean, because the limits of plausible deniability are being severely tested. All of the victims identified, barring two, appear to be relations of the only plausible suspect. Of them, one was a teacher who had apparently lived under the threat of Maoist action. And the driver of the car in which they were travelling, who had recently returned home from Madhya Pradesh, may not have even known the passengers. By any stretch of the imagination, can association with a Maoist be read as a culpable offence of an order that calls for the use of lethal force by the state? Other features of the “encounter” are equally disturbing. Indeed, was there an encounter at all, since locals at the spot suggest no resistance was offered? Besides, doctors at the Daltonganj Sadar Hospital refused to conduct post mortems on the victims in the absence of forensic experts, suggesting a professional reluctance. And the tardiness with which the police have been releasing the names of the dead deepens suspicions.
The police have an unfortunate tradition of impunity in which fake encounters, framing, the planting of fake evidence and the use of unsanctioned force are par for the course. Admittedly, the forces operate under difficult and often dangerous conditions, but that cannot possibly condone impunity or the use of disproportionate force. Every “encounter” in which the authorities and the public fail to ask probing questions about worrying details strengthens the pervasive culture of impunity. As a step towards clearing the air, the police should immediately reveal the details of the Palamau operation and the identities of the dead.
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