The practice of encounter killings continues in India and according to new data released by the government, a total of 655 encounters killings have taken place across the country in the last five years.
Here’s a detailed look at the figures released by the Centre on this trend.
Explaining encounter killings
Before we delve into what the Centre had to say on this practice, let’s understand what exactly an encounter killing is.
The term encounter killing is used in India since the late 20th century to describe alleged extrajudicial killings by police or armed forces almost invariably claimed to be in self-defence when they fell suspected gangsters or terrorists with bullets.
Centre’s data on encounter killings
According to the Union home ministry, in the period between 1 January, 2017 and 31 January, 2022, there have been a total of 655 such incidents.
Chhattisgarh has reported the highest number of such cases with 191 cases during this period. It is important to note here that the state sees many gunfights between security forces and the Maoists.
The data revealed that Uttar Pradesh was second in the list with 117 such cases, followed by 50 in Assam, 49 in Jharkhand, 36 in Odisha, 35 in Jammu and Kashmir, and 26 in Maharashtra.
Among other states, Bihar accounts for 22 cases; Haryana 15; Tamil Nadu 14; Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh 13 each; Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya 9 each; and Rajasthan and Delhi 8 each.
The numbers were provided after BJP MP Varun Gandhi had sought details on the same. He had also sought to know the number of FIRs filed into encounter killings, the number of ongoing investigations against police officers on charges of encounter killings, and the number of police officers convicted for encounter killings in the same period.
The home ministry did not give any of these details.
Most controversial police encounters
Police encounters have often made the news and there are some cases that have grabbed the attention of the public for long.
In July 2020, UP gangster Vikas Dubey was shot dead in an alleged encounter. Dubey, who was the main accused in the killing of eight policemen in Kanpur, was gunned down by the authorities when he was being brought back from Ujjain to Kanpur and the vehicle he was in toppled. According to the police, Dubey had attempted to flee after he fired at the police.
In December 2019, the Telangana police shot dead four men accused of gang-raping and burning to death a veterinarian doctor in Hyderabad. The police had said they had to open fire in self-defence as the four men tried to escape and began pelting stones.
Eight people associated with the Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) allegedly escaped from the Bhopal Central Jail and were subsequently shot dead by the state police in October 2016.
In 2008, the Batla House encounter took place in Delhi, which became a national sensation and even a movie was made on it.
Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kauser Bi were killed in an encounter with the Gujarat police in 2005. The police said Sohrabuddin was part of a Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) module.
This case was also handed over to the CBI after court's intervention. Then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah was named as one of the accused in this case. He was later discharged. In 2018, the special CBI court acquitted 22 accused for lack of evidence.
Another instance of an encounter killing was Ishrat Jahan’s in 2004. The police had said Ishrat Jahan was part of a terror plot hatched to assassinate Narendra Modi, then the Gujarat chief minister. The encounter became hugely controversial with human rights activists and BJP's rival parties alleging that it was a targeted killing.
Human rights’ activists decry encounters
Several rights activists have criticised encounter killings, saying the police cannot act like a lynch mob under any circumstance.
Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, in the Hyderabad encounter killing was quoted as saying, "This is not justice but a ploy to shut down demands for accountability from the police, judiciary, governments, and justice and dignity for women.
Former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju has been critical of encounter killings.
After the Hyderabad case, he had said in tweets: "Justice AN Mulla of the Allahabad HC in a judgment said ‘I say with all sense of responsibility, there is not a single lawless group in the whole of the country whose record of crime comes anywhere near that of the organised gang of criminals known as the Indian Police Force.’ In the Hyderabad incident, it seems evident that the ‘encounter’ was fake. The four accused were in police custody and were unarmed. So how could there have been a ‘genuine’ encounter? The truth is that such ‘encounters’ are in fact no encounters at all but cold-blooded murders by the police.”
Activist and senior Supreme Court advocate Karuna Nundy is also of the opinion that encounter killings show that people have lost faith in the slow court system and bad prosecution.
With inputs from agencies