An encounter is a euphemism used in South Asia especially in India to describe extrajudicial killings in which police or armed forces shoot down suspected gangsters and terrorists in gun battles.

A fake encounter or a "staged encounter" happens when the police or armed forces kill the suspects in custody or when the suspects are unarmed, and then claim that the victims were killed in an encounter when the police had to shoot in self-defence. In such cases, the weapons may be planted on or near the dead body to provide a justification for killing the individual. To explain for the discrepancy between records that show that the individual was in police custody at the time of his "encounter", the police may state that the suspect had escaped. Such killings are not authorized by a court or by the law.

In the 1990s and the mid-2000s, the Mumbai Police in India used the encounter killing to cripple the underworld in the city and bust the rampant extortion racket. The police officers, who came to be known as "Encounter Specialists", believed that these killings delivered speedy justice, but were criticized by the human rights activists.[1]

In India[edit | edit source]

The police in Indian cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata have a very high rate when it comes to encounter killings. Some of them have been quite controversial because of the allegations that they were fake encounters.

According to the National Human Rights Commission of India, there were 440 cases of alleged fake encounters in the country during 2002-2007. Most of these happened in the states of Uttar Pradesh (231), Rajasthan (33), Maharashtra (31), Delhi (26), Andhra Pradesh (22) and Uttaranchal (19).[2]

From 2008-09 to June 2011, NHRC recorded 369 cases of alleged fake encounters. By June 2011, NHRC had resolved 98 of these cases, while the rest were pending settlement. The states with high number of cases were Uttar Pradesh (111), Manipur (60), West Bengal (23), Tamil Nadu (15) and Madhya Pradesh (15).[3]

Mumbai[edit | edit source]

Main article: Mumbai Encounter Squad

Police encounter killings were common in Mumbai, India, from the 1990s through the mid 2000s and some of the police officers involved came to be known as "Encounter Specialists". The Mumbai police resorted to encounter killings as they believed that these killings delivered speedy justice. Encounter killings severely crippled the Underworld in Mumbai and busted the extortion racket which was rampant at that time. Human rights activists consider these encounter killings, together with torture by police in lock-ups and custodial deaths to be "gross human rights violations".[1]

Though highly controversial from an official point of view, little action taken against such activities by the police. This is attributed to the common understanding that "staged encounters" are primarily carried out by police to kill persons suspected of being dangerous criminals whom the Indian Police Service have been unable to prosecute legally (due to lack of evidence or powerful political connections).

On January 11, 1982, gangster Manya Surve was shot dead by police officers Raja Tambat and Isaque Bagwan at the Wadala area, in what turned out to be the city's first encounter killing.[4]

Former Police Inspector Pradeep Sharma who has killed 113 alleged gangsters and dacoits once said, "Criminals are filth and I'm the cleaner". He was fired in August 2008 for extortion of money from the underworld but was cleared of all charges and reinstated in May 2009.[5][6]

Some of the well-known encounter specialists (with encounter killing count) of Mumbai Police include:


Punjab[edit | edit source]

The term "police encounter" was often used during the Punjab insurgency between 1984 and 1995. During this time, Punjab police officials would often report “encounters” to local newspapers and to the family members of those killed. The victim was typically a person the police deemed to be a militant or involved in the militant separatist movement, though proof of alleged militant involvement was rarely given. Such encounters have also been referred to as “staged encounters” or “fake encounters,” as these deaths were often believed to be the result of torture or outright execution. Ultimately, the practice became so common that “encounter” became synonymous with extrajudicial execution.[11]

The Punjab police specifically targeted the families of suspected militants in encounter killings to punish them.[12]

It is alleged that police typically take a suspected militant into custody without filing an arrest report. If the suspect died during interrogation, security forces would deny ever taking the person into custody and instead claim that they were killed during an armed encounter.[13] It is alleged that police would add weapons to the dead body to demonstrate cause for killing the individual, stage-managing the encounter, leading to the popular phrase “fake encounter killing.”[14] They would also concoct a story about militants staging an attack or the suspect attempting to escape while being escorted to recover militant arms.[15] At times, the Punjab police applied for and received production warrants that allowed them to remove individuals accused in terrorism cases from jail; whereupon they often killed the detainees in fake encounters.[16] Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, a criminal defense attorney in Punjab who defended such suspects, himself disappeared in May 1994.Punjab's biggest encounter was done in 7 jan 1993 in village Chhichhrewal in district Gurdaspur in which police encountered 11 terrorists.

Gujarat[edit | edit source]

After the communal riots of 2002 in Gujarat, there were multiple police encounter deaths in Gujarat.[17] Some of these were attributed to attempts to assassinate the state's chief minister Narendra Modi in retaliation for the alleged involvement of the state machinery in the riots.

According to the NHRC figures, there were 4 alleged fake encounters in Gujarat during 2002-2007 (out of 440 in entire India).[2] Two of these counters, both led by DIG DG Vanjara of Ahmedabad Police, were confirmed as fake by the Indian authorities, and received high media attention:

Other notable cases[edit | edit source]

Veerappan, the notorious forest brigand, was reportedly killed by the Special Task Force (STF) in an encounter on 18 October 2004. Some human rights outfits claimed that the circumstantial evidence indicated that he was killed in a fake encoutner after being tortured by the police.[20]

In 19 September 2008, Delhi-police insepector Mohan Chand Sharma was killed in the Batla House encounter case in New Delhi. The encounter led to the arrest of two suspected Indian Mujahideen (IM) terrorists, while a third managed to escape. The Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid termed the encounter as "totally fake", and accused the Government of harassing Muslims.[21] Several political parties and activists demanded a probe into the allegations that the encounter was fake.[22][23][24] After an investigation, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) cleared the police of any violations of rights.[25]

In popular culture[edit | edit source]

A number of Indian films have depicting police encounters. These include:

Vikram Chandra's novel Sacred Games is based on the police force in Mumbai and provides a riveting account of police encounters.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 C R Sridhar. Sunshine India: Encounter Killings, Torture and Custodial Deaths. October 11, 2006.
  2. 2.0 2.1 S Gurumurthy (2011-08-11). "Sohrabuddin: Interrogating the media". Indian Express. Retrieved 2012-05-23. 
  3. "UP Tops 'Fake' Encounters List, Manipur Second: NHRC". India Today. 2011-08-11. Retrieved 2012-05-23. 
  4. City’s first encounter ended two years of urban dacoity, June 22, 2002, Express India.
  5. Alex Perry. Urban Cowboys. TIME magazine. January 06, 2003.
  6. "Mumbai: Cop Pradeep Sharma reinstated". The Times Of India. 2009-05-07. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Encounter man Pradip Sharma completes 'century'
  8. Fallen Heroes. India Today.
  9. Mumbai's encounter specialists out of favour. IBNLive, 26 March 2008.
  11. Dead Silence: The Legacy of Abuses in Punjab. Human Rights Watch/Asia and Physicians for Human Rights. 1994. 
  12. Campbell, Bruce B.; Brenner, Arthur David (2002-10-01). Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 265–. ISBN 978-1-4039-6094-8. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  13. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (India). U.S. State Department. 1993. 
  14. Pepper, Daniel (2009-02-28). "India Makes a Place for Dirty Harry". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  15. "India-Who Killed the Sikhs". Dateline. 4/3/2002. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  16. "Communication to Special Representative on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders". Ensaaf. 05/12/2006. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  17. Leena Misra. There's a hollow ring to encounter stories in Gujarat
  18. "Third victory for us, says Ishrat's family". The Hindu. 2011-11-22. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  19. "The journalist who cracked Gujarat fake encounter case". 2007-04-25. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  20. "Veerappan killed in fake encounter: activists". The Hindu. 2005-01-19. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  21. "Batla House encounter fake: Shahi Imam". 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2011-11-22. 
  22. "Batla House Encounter: Unanswered Questions". Outlook. 23 July 2009. 
  23. "SP for judicial inquiry into Jamia encounter". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 8 October 2008. 
  24. "Attack on north Indians, Jamia encounter rocks LS". Indian Express. 20 October 2008. 
  25. "Batla House encounter: NHRC gives clean chit to cops". CNN-IBN. 22 July 2009. 

External links[edit | edit source]

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