Updated: August 17, 2021 8:25:14 am
In 2017, a little over two months after assuming office as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath said in an interview — “agar aap apradh karenge, toh thok diye jayenge” (if you commit a crime, you will be bumped off). Since that time, the UP police have officially shot at and injured at least 3,302 alleged criminals in 8,472 “encounters”, and killed 146 people. As reported by this newspaper, the unofficial use of excessive violence by the police has a name — “Operation Langda (lame)”. Given the political context, it is difficult not to put two and two together, and conclude that the subversion of the rule of law has political and government sanction.
The UP police is not the only force in the country that is accused of using excessive force. However, few state governments highlight this violence as an achievement. For example, in the run-up to Republic Day earlier this year, the Chief Secretary asked district magistrates to publicise “Ab tak 3,000” — referring to the high number of encounters — as one of the state government’s primary achievements. As recently as August 3, official UP BJP social media handles shared a video of an alleged criminal after an encounter, limping and injured, pleading for help and crying out his desperate apologies. The video carried the following description: “Look, how a criminal begs for his life… this is UP.” The political support for encounters and extra-judicial killings is backed, prima facie, by legal impunity. As of July 2020, 74 probes had been conducted into extra-judicial killings, and the police were given a clean chit in all of them.
“Operation Langda”, then, is no aberration. It is of a piece with the UP government’s policy towards crime and punishment, where the accused are treated as guilty and the police seem to be the agents of vigilante justice. It is also part of a political calculus that sees “hard on crime” as an aspect of good governance though, on the ground, it does the opposite. For many Indians, the police is the primary representative of the state, and the police station the most visible institution. If that basic unit of government ignores due process, replicates prejudice and inspires fear, it blurs the line between those meant to protect citizens from violence and those inflicting it. In effect, the encounter culture criminalises the police. To arrest this slide, the first step must be for the government and political class to condemn extra-judicial violence and ensure that those who violate the law are held accountable.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 16, 2021 under the title ‘Lame excuse’.
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