[Assam] From Outlook India

Chan Mahanta cmahanta at charter.net
Wed May 16 07:34:43 PDT 2007

>Who is to blame for this -- the politicians and media, or the middle class?

*** Where have we heard this before?


( Highlighting mine)

The Real Fake Encounter

Not the middle-class, but political parties and the media have always 
distanced themselves from this ugly reality of law and order.

The alleged fake encounter perpetrated by the Gujarat police is 
horrendous. Sympathizers of the Gujarat government dwell on the 
reputation of the victim, Sohrabuddin Sheikh, allegedly a criminal 
with possible links to terrorists. Does this unproven fact justify 
cold-blooded murder? That politicians justify police excess by 
questioning the nature of the victim is nothing new. Decades ago the 
police paraded Maya Tyagi naked through the streets of a UP town for 
alleged misdemeanor. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister justified the 
police action by describing Maya Tyagi as a woman of dubious 
character. So much for a woman PM defending the rights of women! In 
the current fake encounter case, two women witnesses to the murder, 
not described as criminals, were allegedly killed by the police to 
ensure their silence. More cases of fake encounters by the same 
police officers are surfacing.
Is it too cynical to suggest that the revelations in Gujarat have 
surfaced only because of a silent power struggle within the BJP? The 
Hindu wrongly attributed a police report related to the Gujarat fake 
encounter to one officer. The Gujarat government rebutted the news. 
The Hindu conceded that the report had not been officially submitted 
but was in its preparatory stage. Significantly, The Hindu editor 
claimed that the report had been leaked by a senior BJP leader. BJP 
leaders maintained a diplomatic silence over the editor's claim.
The current buzz against police fake encounters lends hope that it 
will lead eventually to a systemic reform. To ensure that any such 
effort is not derailed one must recognize reality. The hard reality 
is that police excess in India has decades-old origins. It was 
allowed to flourish under criminalized politicians and a subservient 
media. Political parties and the media have always distanced 
themselves from this ugly reality of law and order.

Last week, the leading columnist of a national daily commented that 
India could not claim to be a democracy if it "countenances rogue 
police officers playing God". The leading columnist of another 
national daily, while deploring the police excess in Gujarat, 
suggested that the ultimate responsibility lay with India's middle 
class which condoned police crimes. Was the distinguished columnist 
including media as part of the middle class?

Politicians across the country are pulling out old fake encounter 
cases from closets to score points against political rivals. Fake 
encounters have become the current drawing room conversation topic. 
Whatever the motives of politicians in digging out old dirt, the 
effect is positive. Whether the muckraking arises from infighting or 
from a belated sense of responsibility, the result is welcome. It 
could initiate a long delayed cleanup of the police system.

Consider the case of Punjab. An Akali-BJP combine now rules the 
state. The consequent desire of the Punjab government to even the 
score against the Congress after the Gujarat exposure is 
self-evident. Media reports revealed that several alleged terrorists 
"killed" by the police, for which policemen duly collected rewards, 
are still alive. This was sufficient ground for the Punjab government 
to order "a fact-finding inquiry" by a team under a senior police 
official. The probe will cover the fake killings involving the state 
police during the height of the militancy two decades ago when the 
Congress governed Punjab.

Should one laugh or cry over the antics of these politicians and over 
our hand-wringing media pundits? What new facts will any inquiry 
reveal? It may be instructive, though, to recall the past.This should 
among other things set the record straight for the benefit of the 
distinguished newspaper columnist who condemned the middle class for 
allowing excesses by the police.

Reports of police excesses against innocents in the name of fighting 
militancy had circulated in Punjab for a considerable time. Many 
youths had disappeared. In 1995 Jaswant Singh Khalra, who headed the 
human rights wing of the Akali Dal, issued a press note alleging 
thousands of police custodial deaths. Khalra claimed that the victims 
were secretly cremated. In the police records they were listed as 
"unidentified". The Punjab Director General of Punjab police at the 
time, KPS Gill, rebutted Khalra's claim. He said: "Thousands of Sikh 
youth who had left for foreign countries under fake names and 
documents were claiming to be missing persons killed by security 
forces in encounters." He added, "They are missing with the consent 
of their parents." It is possible some youths might have disappeared 
in this manner. But to offer this as adequate explanation for the 
disappearance of all the missing youth betrayed careless, callous 

The Punjab media picked up the report. After this, Khalra was whisked 
away by the police. He too disappeared. It was presumed he was 
killed. Middle class citizens (newspaper columnists please note) 
belonging to human rights bodies formed an apex body, the Committee 
for Coordination on Disappearances in Punjab (CCDP). It was funded 
solely by local donors. CCDP took Khalra's case to the Supreme Court. 
Ensuing investigation proved that Khalra had been killed. Nine police 
officials were indicted. The Supreme Court then ordered the CBI to 
investigate Khalra's charges of secret police mass cremations.

The CBI confirmed that the police had illegally cremated 2097 victims 
of custodial death or fake encounters in Amritsar district alone. The 
remaining 16 districts of Punjab were not investigated. Of these 
victims the CBI identified 582 who were all non-terrorists. The CCDP 
identified over 1700 victims and their families. It chronicled the 
torture, harassment and extortion inflicted by the police on the 
victims and their families. Many among them were unconnected to 
terrorism, and killed in cold blood by the police. A leading CCDP 
activist, Ram Narayan Kumar, wrote a meticulously researched book, 
Reduced to Ashes, which laid bare the whole truth of this gruesome 

After the CBI report the Supreme Court in 1997 designated the 
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to deal with the case. It 
vested NHRC with full powers of the Supreme Court. Apart from 
awarding paltry compensation to the families of victims, the NHRC did 
precious little. In 2002 LK Advani and Amarinder Singh pleaded 
amnesty for all the tainted policemen. KPS Gill continued to trash 
human rights activists on TV. The national media virtually ignored 
the 2097 police custodial deaths that had been verified by the CBI 
and the Supreme Court.

Recall -- Pinochet of Chile was held personally responsible for 3000 
innocents killed; and Milosevic of Serbia, personally, for the death 
of 2000 innocents. Both were reviled as international war criminals. 
But for 2097 deaths in only one district of Punjab nobody has been 
held accountable. Who is to blame for this -- the politicians and 
media, or the middle class?
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