By Abhishek Ghosh:
Javed Sheikh, Ishrat Jahan, Sohrabuddin Sheikh and a countless other names will forever be shrouded in a pall of mystery. In line with the Modi government’s policy of ‘zero tolerance against terrorism’ led by the former Minister of State Amit Shah, these, and many more people might have been the victims of what seems to be, according to the CBI, fake encounters.
In the light of the letter of resignation from D.G.Vanzara, the suspended DIG of Police, a lot of uncomfortable questions have been raised.
The encounter culture was cultivated with the tacit agreement of the local government, the urban middle class and the mainstream media in the backdrop the Akshardham Temple Attack in 2002 and the Ahmedabad Blasts in 2008 by Pakistan-based terrorist outfits such as ‘Jaish-e-Mohammed’ and the ‘Indian Mujahideen’.
In response to their threats of converting “Gujarat into another Kashmir”, the police not only had to maintain law and order and prevent crime, but also battle the growing menace of terrorism. Thus, violence through fake encounters slowly became a powerful tool in the hands of politicians to manage the waves of backlashes against the 2002 Godhra riots.
But, in the light of the innumerable PIL’s filed by the NHRC and growing judicial activism on the part of the citizens, fake encounters instantly became a crime. And who did the government find as the easiest scapegoats? The common policemen, of course.
What Vanzara has been arguing is that the police were simply following government policy. Why arrest them when the actual policy-makers, who “inspired, guided and monitored” all their actions escape scot-free?
What’s more disturbing is the way the case has been handled in court. In a blatant show of political strings being pulled to save Shah from jail, Ram Jethmalani, one of India’s foremost lawyers, managed to secure bail for Amit Shah while 32 IPS Officers, including Vanzara, were left to fend for themselves in jail.
There has been a lot of debate on whether the laws of the land must be harsher for police officers. What people don’t understand here is that the laws don’t give the police any more protection than an ordinary citizen in the case that the police uses violence in extreme situations. In as dangerous and fragmented a society as India, with the threat of Naxalite terrorism, separatism and religious-tinted riots, the police often has to take decisions that aren’t spelled out explicitly in the statute books. When the Armed Forces have AFSPA, why is the police used by successive governments to meet their own ends and then thrown to the judiciary when they are no more of use?
The need of the hour is to wake up to the fact that the law is being blatantly abused to make a scapegoat of policemen and to achieve narrow political ends. The police force is in dire need of adequate legal protection in cases of national security. On looking back at the unfortunate deaths of Salaskar, Kamte and Karkare in the 2008 Mumbai attacks and considering the plight of Vanzara, our government should be asking itself if it has done enough for the police, a force without which there could be no hope for durable peace and security in a country that is in desperate need of exactly that.