By Suhas AR:
One of the basic duties that any government is supposed to perform, is to protect its own citizens. The police and the army play a massive role in doing the same. They are important in making people feel safe, to maintain peace and fight terrorists and other unwanted elements in our society.
Imagine then, the horror when you hear about policemen gunning down citizens of the country instead of taking them into custody, of murdering people in cold blood and least bothered about the rule of law and the sanctity of the constitution. Fake encounters have the potential to damage the faith a common citizen has in its armed forces establishment and the police force, people will start to think twice about helping the police, and moreover, where one is supposed to feel safe looking at the men in khaki, one starts to feel afraid. A lot of information sharing on the ground happens through trust and if the police force is seen as an undisciplined force that engages in gunning down people instead of taking them to court and proving them guilty, the aftereffects could be disastrous for a country like ours.
Government figures show that in the last four years, 555 fake encounter cases were registered across India, with a majority being reported in Uttar Pradesh (138), followed by Manipur (62), Assam (52), West Bengal (35), Jharkhand (30), Chhattisgarh (29), Odisha (27), Jammu and Kashmir (26), Tamil Nadu (23) and Madhya Pradesh (20). Only 144 cases out of 555 have been solved so far. Those numbers only include those cases which have been reported. It is fair to assume the number of real fake encounter cases could actually be even higher.
As recently as the 13th of November, the National Human Rights Commission concluded that 20 of the 42 encounters were fake and the remaining 22 were being examined. NHRC member Satyabrata Pal said , “The government failed to establish that these were exchanges of fire by para military or police in an exercise of right to self-defence. These are joint operations, police is acting under the umbrella of para military forces and the AFSPA ensures that even if we find that these cases are fake the army is not likely to take any disciplinary action.”
When crimes are committed by men in uniform, no action is taken against them as a result of the immunity they receive under AFSPA. Even the Justice JS Verma Committee constituted by the Government for measures to prevent crimes against women spoke of the immediate need to amend AFSPA and acts similar to AFSPA.
“You go to a place in exercise of AFSPA, you commit rape, you commit murder, then where is the question of sanction? It is a normal crime which needs to be prosecuted, and that is our stand,” a bench of Justices B S Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar had remarked to the Solicitor General in 2012. Their observations need to be taken seriously indeed and amendments to AFSPA need to be made.
If a person in uniform commits a crime, they should be held accountable for it and should not be allowed to get away. Prior sanctions from the government should not be required to prosecute those accused of serious crimes. It should also be ensured that such cases as fake encounters are fast tracked and justice delivered at the earliest.
India as a country, as a democracy, as a protector of human rights and a believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals of non violence cannot afford to sit back and do nothing.
As Mahatma Gandhi once remarked “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” We would do well to remember that.