The murder of a 38-year-old sales executive, Vivek Tiwari, in Lucknow late Friday night has turned the spotlight on an apparently trigger-happy Uttar Pradesh police that seems to be operating in a climate of impunity. Tiwari was returning from work with a colleague in his car when a constable shot him for allegedly refusing to stop for a traffic check. The constable, Prashant Chaudhary, has claimed that he fired in self-defence. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has said that the incident was not an “encounter”, Chaudhary and his colleague have been arrested. The government has done well not to shield the accused policemen and order prompt recompense to the victim’s family. That, however, does not allow the state to escape culpability.
Tiwari’s murder should not be seen as an isolated incident — it is yet another example of police highhandedness that has marked Adityanath’s tenure as chief minister. If the government has not sought to defend the accused policemen in this case, it could be seen to be because of the caste, class and religious identity of the victim — Tiwari was an upper-caste, middle-class Hindu. Ever since Adityanath took office in March 2017, there have been over 2,300 shootouts and over 60 “encounter” deaths. Of course, police have claimed that these were all hardened criminals. But an investigation by this newspaper in August revealed that most of the FIRs lodged by the police in the “encounters” were identical. In many cases, the families of victims were not given copies of FIRs; in some cases, the families did not even receive bodies of the dead. The disdain for due process seems to flow from the top. The chief minister and his ministers have defended the “encounters”. “Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (if they commit crimes, they will be knocked down)”, Adityanath said in an interview to a TV channel. Senior police officers have also defended the excesses as necessary and inevitable measures for enforcing law and order.
Unless the climate of impunity and fear that stalks the state is ended, Tiwari’s murder is unlikely to be the last of its kind. It is high time that the executive drives home to the police machinery that due process is sacrosanct and violations will not be tolerated.