Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Encounter killings" in Chennai: Was Police Action Justified or was it a case of "unrestrained killing"

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was rocked by a spate of daring daylight heists. At least 2 banks were looted in broad daylight and nearly 50 lakhs was carted away. The Chief Minister, Ms Jayalalithaa, unlike here predecessor is extremely strong on the issue of Law and Order and her regime is usually marked by strong police law enforecement. Her quich intervention is many instances of "land grabbing" by DMK political goondas has created a good impression in the minds of the ordinary people. Obviously the bank robberies had dented this carefully crafted image and Tamil Nadu was being projected as a state without security in the vernacular media. This negative perception prompted the Chief Minister to instruct the police to act swiftly and decisively. And that the Police under J K Tripathi, IPS did. Was the police action justified?

At midnight, 23rd Feb 2012, a posse of policemen surrounded a house in Velachery, a subburb of Chennai and killed 5 young men in the building. The Chennai Police claim that they acted in self defence a claim strengthened by the fact that 9 sophisticated revolvers were recovered from the site. The fact that the men were armed and hence dangerous brings up the question of "propotionate force". Even in UK and USA when the police deal with armed criminals, the use of force including "shoot to kill" is conceded. The real problem is to assess the "real and present" danger confronted by the Police in the actual situation of encounter. Post facto one can make all kinds of speculation, but the fact remains that the 5 men were armed with sophisticated weapons.

The Newspapers, The Hindu and The Deccan Chronicle, have pointed out that there were no bullet marks onthe walls of the room in which the encounter took place. The washing machine and the television were both in tact. This fact makes the human rights activists suspicious. I too wonder how many rounds were fired. I would like to know whether the firing was from inside the room to which the police party responded or whether the firing was only after the police gained entry into the room, The latter fact does not necessariy mean that the encounter was "fake" because weapon swere found on the site that clearly belonged to the criminals.

It has beome customary to raise doubts about the police version of events because the credibility of the police force is low and the courts grant the benefit of doubt even when circumstantial evidence is strong.

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