The Hyderabad encounter does not serve the ends of justice

The Hyderabad encounter does not serve the ends of justice

Many people including several responsible figures happened to term Hyderabad encounter ‘justice delivered’ which shows their lack of trust on Indian justice system. It also demonstrates that they are not ready to address the real solutions to the plight of sexual incidents.


By Faheem Usmani Qasmi

Early on 6 December morning, news broke that the Telangana police has shot and killed the four suspects in the rape-and-murder case of Hyderabad veterinarian in an ‘encounter’. The media reports said that the police had taken the suspects –Arif, Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, Jollu Shiva and Jollu Naveen – to the scene of ‘crime recreation’. There, allegedly, they tried to attack the police and escape when the police opened fire in self-defence and put them to death.

Since the encounter news hit the headlines, approximately 2,000 people had gathered, causing a huge traffic jam on the spot and showered rose petals on the police. Applauding the swift action of the Hyderabad police against the culprits, thousands of people all over the country celebrated this encounter with firecrackers as they took to the streets to hail the police action. The public feted the police officials with garlands and sweets for the encounter.

On the other hand, as soon as the news surfaced, social media platforms –Twitter and Facbook, were filled with mixed reactions from politicians and other celebrities and influential personalities from across the country. They welcomed the act and congratulated the cops for taking down all accused in the encounter. Meanwhile, many others condemned it calling it extra-judicial killing. Many politicians and social activists raised pertinent questions about the circumvention of due process through extrajudicial killing.

The Human Rights Forum condemned the killing by the police. “The judicial process should have been completed and punishment could have given according to law. The government has taken advantage of the emotional public outcry. The State should have adhered to the due procedure in delivering justice. We are compelled to believe that the government has no faith in judiciary and its own law”, said S Jeevan Kumar, a committee member of Human Rights Forum.

The Forum also demanded that the police personnel involved in the bencounter should be booked under murder charges, 302 IPC as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines and put to trail in court of law.

The incident triggered a heated nationwide debate, dividing public opinion between ones hailing the killing as justice being delivered and those who are raising questions on its legality. However, although it sounds good for rhetoric that the culprits should be thrown in front of hungry lions, castrated or lynched in public, but actually its consequences are horrifying.

With this incident, people have crossed one more boundary and expressed that they neither need rule of law nor do they trust.

If the matter can be handed over to the police personnel who have the power to decide who the criminal is and how they should be treated, it can destroy India’s justice system and can lead the society to disaster. This move, apparently, makes us feel safe but actually no one is safe if it is encouraged and appreciated at large.

While it may be admitted that it is good some have got justice instantly but the real happiness will be when such an effective preventive security system and protective social environment is created that such heinous crimes should never take place.

For this change to take place in mindsets, one has to re-orient one’s own mentality and nature towards women, - and that a woman is not just commodity to be used for sexual desires. She deserves due respect and honor in all the aspects of the society.

Encounter can’t be termed as justice

Many people including several responsible figures happened to term Hyderabad encounter ‘justice delivered’ which shows their lack of trust on Indian justice system. It also demonstrates that they are not ready to address the real solutions to the plight of sexual incidents. The police mobs can’t have such powers to shoot any criminal or accused in the midnight for justice to satisfy people’s anger or to escape their questions. There happened in many encounters and instant justice in the past which were then proved wrong the similar encounter now is sheer injustice.

In March 1997, Justice M N Venkatachaliah, then chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), wrote to all Chief Ministers to say that “the Commission has been receiving complaints from the members of the general public and from the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that instances of fake encounters by the police are on the increase and that police kill persons instead of subjecting them to due process of law if offences are alleged against them”.

Justice Venkatachaliah, who was Chief Justice of India in 1993-94, underlined that “under our laws the police have not been conferred any right to take away the life of another person”, and “if, by his act, the policeman kills a person, he commits the offence of culpable homicide whether amounting to the offence of murder or not unless it is proved that such killing was not an offence under the law”.

The only two circumstances in which such killing would not constitute an offence were (i) “if death is caused in the exercise of the right of private defence”, and (ii) under Section 46 of the CrPC, which “authorises the police to use force, extending up to the causing of death, as may be necessary to arrest the person accused of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life”.

Fake Encounters

For nearly five decades, encounter killings have a familiar story and also a matter of concern in India as there have been many narratives and stories concerning encounter killings. A similar story was narrated about the Hyderabad encounter which is under investigation.

In July 3, 2009, a 22-year old MBA student Ranbir Singh was killed in a shocking incident of encounter with 29 bullets in Dehradun. The policemen, in their appeal, weaved a story that Ranbir Singh, a resident of Ghaziabad had gone to Dehradun with two others for a dacoity and snatched the service revolver of one of them. The story was proved wrong and the policemen were sentenced.

In this case, the 18 cops had been charge sheeted by the CBI in December 2009. On 6 June, 2014 court had had found seven of them guilty for murder, 10 of them for criminal conspiracy and kidnapping to murder and another one was convicted  for destruction of evidence.

In 2018 the Delhi High Court in appeal confirmed life sentence of 7 policemen out of 17 which were originally given life sentence by trial court. (The Hindu)

In September, 1992 a teenager was killed in an encounter in village near Beas in Amritsar but after 26 years –in September 2018, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court sentenced two Punjab police officers to life imprisonment. Both the two –Raghubir Sing (81) and Dara Singh (75) were convicted for killing Harpal Singh –a 15 year old, in a fake encounter.

The post-mortem report said Harpal was shot from point-blank range under his right eye and from a distance of 3 meters in the forehead. Furthermore,  in this story, the  police claimed that two youths had opened fire at the cops but it was proved wrong. (Times of India)

In November 8, 1996, four young men –Jasveer (23), Jalaluddin (20), Ashok (17) and Parvesh (17), from Bhojpur in broad daylight were killed in an encounter by local police in Ghaziabad, UP. Then in February, 2017 the CBI court in Ghaziabad sentenced four UP police officers to life imprisonment. The cops were held guilty of murder, providing false evidence, and destroying evidence by the CBI court. (The Indian Express)

The recent report of retired justice Vijay Kumar Agrawal reveals a horrific incident of Chhattisgar and shows the brutality of police. The Chattisgarh police killed 17 persons in cold blood in a staged gunfight at Sarkeguda in Bijapur district on June 28, 2012 and passed on as elimination of Maoists, but the report indicts the police, suggesting clearly that the people killed in the gunfight were not Maoists.

The police claims of firing from the villagers’ side were wrong and the security forces could not provide any proof of the targeted group being Maoists or opening fire at the security forces, the report said. (India Today)

As per an RTI query filed, Firstpost found that 1,782 cases of fake encounters were registered in India between 2000 and 2017, of which only 1,565 cases have been disposed of so far. Fake encounters are essentially staged confrontations between the police or military forces and victims who the security officials believe to be “culprits”.  

According to data received from the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) of India, based on the complaints and intimations it received, Uttar Pradesh accounted for an alarming 44.55 percent (794 cases) of the cases registered across all states.

Following Uttar Pradesh, the next five states which account for the highest number of fake encounter cases are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Jharkhand and Manipur. However, each of them registered less than six percent of all the cases registered since 2000 - Andhra Pradesh (94 cases; 5.27 percent), Bihar (74 cases; 4.5 percent), Jharkhand (69 cases; 3.87 percent), Assam (69 cases; 3.87 percent) and Manipur (63 cases; 3.53 percent). The national capital reported 40 cases while Jammu and Kashmir reported 22 cases during the same period.

The aforesaid stories and data show that the encounter is not the solution of the problem as the encounters are mostly fake, but by supporting them, people are favouring vigilant justice and throwing the rule of law into the dustbin.. It is indeed a matter of worry that institutions and individuals, including celebrities and parliamentarians, are not taking the right steps for ensuring that the investigative and legal process becomes more efficient and swift. They are also looking for an easy way out.

People must consider that for the time being they heave a sigh of relief in case of an encounter but the problem would not be resolved. Brutality cannot be the response to brutality, but rather justice must prevail.

If the people are justifying Hyderabad encounter by ‘delivering justice’ so would they allow allegedly killing in encounters in all 32,000 cases of rape which were reported only in 2017?

An India Today TV’s special investigation team has found that some members of UP police force could be implicating innocent civilians in false cases and shooting them down in staged confrontations in exchange for bribes and promotions.

This shortcut also diminishes the accountability of responsible institutions which are entrusted with the task of upholding justice This is why Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad Arvind Bobde said in the backdrop of the Hyderabad incident, said “I don't think justice can ever be or ought to be instant. And justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge.”

So now the people have to decide what they want ‘instant action’ or ‘real justice’.

What are the solutions?

  1. Reforms in poor police system

To find out the solution to come out of the plight of the assaults on women or other crimes, one has to see the root cause of Indian justice system and its declining condition.  One of the root causes is that police is responsible to prevent crimes and to maintain ‘law and order’ but the condition of police system in India is very poor.

According to a 2018 survey of 15,562 respondents across 22 states on perceptions about policing, the Lokniti team at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that less than 25% of Indians trust the police highly (as compared to 54% for the army).

The sanctioned strength of the police across states was around 2.8 million in 2017 (the year with the latest available data) but only 1.9 million police officers were employed (a 30% vacancy rate).

As a result, according to Mint’s calculations, there are only 144 police officers for every 100,000 citizens (the commonly used measure of police strength), making India’s police force one of the weakest in the world. India’s police-to-population ratio lags behind most countries and the United Nations-recommended ratio of 222 while the condition in some states like West Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh, the situation is worse.

Decreased spending on the police force in recent years is adding to the resource crunch. Between fiscal 2011 and 2015, states spent 4.4% of their budgeted expenditure on policing on average but this has reduced to 4% over the last four years, according to PRS Legislative Research. An under-resourced, overburdened police force means that both core police activities (enforcing daily law and order) and more long-term criminal investigations are compromised.

So this is the problem actually created by the government in the police system that needs at first to be addressed to reduce the crime rate in the country.

How can one reduce the crime rate? It is surprising to know that in India about 24% police personnel in India work for more than 16 hours a day, on average, and 44% work more than 12 hours, the Status of Policing in India Report 2019, , released on August 27, said. A workday is 14 hours long, on average.

Long working hours combined with few weekly and monthly offs characterise the lives of Indian police. About 52 percent male police personnel get no weekly off, against 48 percent women police personnel.

  1.  Reforms in poor justice system

The other root cause is our justice system which has serious deficits with under-capacity and gender imbalance plaguing police, prisons and the judiciary and fund crunch affecting state services like free-legal aid.

India’s justice system has been affected by poor budgeting, the recently released India Justice Report has concluded. Inadequate allocations, poor planning and underutilisation of funds –all these have impacted the ability of the justice system to address its capacity constraints and improve its functioning.

No state or union territory in India, except Delhi, spent even 1% of its budget on judiciary, said the report which reviewed budgets between 2011-2012 and 2015-2016. The average national spending on the judiciary in this period was 0.08% of the gross domestic product (GDP), said the report which was published by Tata Trusts, a philanthropic organization, in collaboration with six organizations.

The study drew on figures from across the four major constituents of the justice system –police, prisons, judiciary and legal aid. 

The annual per capita spend on legal aid, for which 80% of the Indian population is eligible, was only 75 paise, as per the study. The expenditure on police, prisons and legal aid varies between states. While police budgets, on average, accounted for 3-5% of state expenditure, average prison budgets across states and UTs stood at only 0.2%. (IndiaSpend)

These are the actual problems that the people do not want to address as the inability and Inadequate resources in major constituent of the justice system and poor maintenance in law and order has led to a rise in violence, crimes against women, mob lynching. So, before celebrating the encounter or instant action, people must have take this poor situation of the country in the mind and raise their voice to resolve actual issues in the system.

The Writer is research excutive at MMERC, Mumbai