“Murder By The Cops”: Are Encounter Killings Justified In A Democracy Like Ours?

Posted on July 25, 2013 in Society

By Tanvi Sharma:

To answer this baffling question which is staring every Indian in the face after the heart-wrenching Ishrat Jahan encounter case, we first need to understand what an encounter killing is?

Wikipedia says “An encounter is a euphemism used in South Asia, especially in India, to describe extra judicial killings in which police or armed forces shoot down suspected gangsters and terrorists in gun battles.” A fake encounter or a “staged encounter” happens when the police or armed forces kill the suspects in custody or when the suspects are unarmed, and the police claim that they had to shoot in self-defence.


Ishrat Jahan, a 19-year-old student from Mumbra was abducted, sedated, confined and brutally killed by the Gujarat police. Bullets gushed out blood from Ishrat’s imbecile body. We do not know if she really was a Lashkar-e-Taiba operative or not as she has been labelled as one by the Gujarat police and the Intelligence Bureau. The Intelligence Bureau claims that David Headley knew of Ishrat as a would-be suicide bomber. However, the NIA (National Investigative Agency) made the argument that Headley never had direct contact with Ishrat and his comments were based on second hand information passed onto him by a Lashkar commander. A life was taken away on grounds of ‘suspicion’. Not even single evidence proved Ishrat’s malevolence.

People who are supposed to enforce law and order themselves made a mockery of the judiciary and the constitution. This is a case of bad policing. A fake encounter was staged, perhaps, to increase the tally of medals and to boost the career of a police officer. After all, encounter specialists are venerated and respected in our country. Nobody can forget Daya Naik, encounter specialist in the Mumbai police who had been shouldering the responsibility of decimating the Mumbai mafia. The saddest part is that encounter killings are romanticized in our film industry with the actors brandishing their guns in a rare display of machismo. Films like Ab Tak Chhappan, Shootout At Wadala, Department, etc. are perfect examples. The saddest part is that young boys fervently admire their heroes in such movies and aspire to be like them.

It is high time now. A realistic system needs to be set up and police reforms are desperately needed. It is widely accepted that police-politician mafia nexus is ruining the governance, yet nothing has been done so far. Our police are functioning under the outmoded Police Act of 1861, designed to perpetuate the colonial rule and subjugate the natives. In U.K., the policeman is nobody’s valet and it is the duty of the police to enforce the law of the land and is answerable to none but the law alone. In India, a policeman is like a football to be kicked about by anyone and when he is needed no more, he could be dispensed like a disposable item.

I cannot say if Ishrat Jahan was a terrorist as that is for the court to decide. The question is, even if she was a terrorist, was it still justified to murder her without following the due legal procedure? In a country where a terrorist of the degree of Ajmal Kasab was hanged after a tedious, but, just trial, how can one justify the extra-judicial killing of Ishrat Jahan or anyone for that matter? The Indian Constitution secures justice, liberty and integrity for every citizen. The Right to Life is a fundamental right guaranteed by The Constitution of India. Ours is a country where the death sentence is handed in the rarest of the rare cases. It is paradoxical that such a country allows extra-judicial killings.

With great despondence, I would also like to express that thousands of citizens are charged in false cases throughout the country. Charges of terrorism are foisted upon hundreds of men and women especially in the valley. A large percentage of them are acquitted after a legal trial due to lack of evidence against them. What had been the situation if everybody was killed on grounds of ‘suspicion’? Encounter killing is nothing but ‘murder by the cops’.

Loss of life is tragic in any case. Encounter killings should be banned in a democracy like ours.