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Published in the 1-15 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Extrajudicial execution as a way of life

The Milli Gazette Online

Custodial killings, disappearances, torture and mutilation by police and security forces continue in a culture of impunity

A few years back, four young businessmen came to New Delhi’s upmarket business centre, Connaught Place. After parking their car they went inside a bank. No sooner than they were out of the bank they were caught in a hail of bullets. Within the next few seconds all of them were lying dead in a pool of blood. The brave deed was done by the Delhi Police, which surrounded the corpses and announced that they had killed four “dacoits”.

It turned out that they were mere businessmen and had nothing to do with dacoity, and had no record of any criminal activity. When city reporters gathered at the police headquarters for their daily afternoon briefing, the first question they asked the police commissioner was about the killing of the four innocent young men. The police commissioner laughed heartily as if it was some great practical joke his men had made. After the villainous laughter that resonated with contempt for the dead, he observed grandly: “I am sorry, but not ashamed”. All this happened right under the nose of the Central government.

The macabre scene of the dead lying in their own blood was shown in the evening TV news along with the police commissioner’s remarks, and laughter. The police officers are still there, the commissioner had been getting his regular promotion and ended up as Director General of Police, the highest position a police officer can attain. Everything remains the same as if nothing had happened. It is this culture of impunity that fosters custodial killings, extrajudicial executions, disappearances and torture. The fact that the four victims were from the well-to-do class got them some media attention. Thousands of others who don’t have the privilege of being killed under the shadow of parliament and Rashtrapati Bhavan don’t get a mention in the media, sometimes not even in police records. The following excerpt shows the extent of the rot:

In June 1990, in the state of Maharashtra, a teenage nomadic tribal boy was beaten to death for protecting his pregnant sister, who the police were trying to rape. It started when police wanted to take Parvati Rusankote to the Tulzapur station, her brother Namdeo Atak insisted on accompanying her. When they began to assault Parvati Rusankote, Namdeo tried to stop them. “Some of the 7 policemen tied Namdeo to a table and began whipping him with their belts and hitting him with their lathis (bamboo sticks). Meanwhile, the rest caught hold of me. One of them gripped my hair and ripped apart my blouse, while another disrobed me and stood on my thigh… They kept abusing me and also kicked me on the stomach. An examination of Namdeo Atak’s corpse found 40 external injuries and many broken bones.”

The “reasons” for torture by police and paramilitary are diverse, says Amnesty International. These are: to extract confessions, to coerce, as punishment, and to intimidate. Severe torture often makes innocent people “confess” crimes they never committed. This only derails the judicial system.

As such acts are illegal, government officials routinely dismiss the charge as false. Diplomats posted abroad similarly shrug them off or declare that the guilty are being brought to book, while in fact, not much happens on the ground.

India’s human right groups have frequently raised the issue, so has the official Human Rights Commission of India. Findings by the Amnesty International, Asia Human Rights Watch, and the European Union confirm this vicious pattern. In all cases, it is the culture of impunity that promotes such lawlessness.

One major factor behind the general tolerance of human rights violation is insurgency. The police and paramilitary argue that they can’t afford to observe rules where they are faced with armed militants. But that is not always the case, as is evident from the following documentation:

Again in areas where the security forces are countering militant activities there have been allegations of arbitrary reprisals against the civilian population because of militant successes. Masroof Sultan, a 19 year-old college student from Batamaloo in Kashmir, was traveling on a bus when it was stopped and searched by members of the BSF. He alleges that he was picked on and beaten by four of the soldiers. He was then blindfolded and, along with three other young men, taken to a safe house where he was forced to admit he was a militant. When he denied the allegation he was stripped, his hands and knees where tied together, he was hung from a pole and beaten until his leg was broken.

Orders were then given to take Masroof Sultan to a detention centre called Papa II, a centre near Srinagar where allegations of torture are often reported. In Papa II, metal rings and wires were attached to his body and he was given electric shocks ten or twelve times, on his toes, his right arm, legs and other sensitive parts of his body, until he started bleeding from the nose and lost consciousness. He was told by one member of the security personnel: “Last night in Batamaloo four of our persons were killed. We know that you are innocent, but we have to kill you (because) our four persons have been killed.”
He was then taken out to a secluded area about an hour’s drive from the detention centre. He was dragged out of the jeep, stood against a tree, and shot. “They shot my legs first… I fell down.” After ten minutes, they came back and found him still alive. An officer told one of the BSF men to shoot him in the heart, but the shot, hitting him in the chest, again was not fatal. Masroof Sultan says he was then shot a third time and hit in the neck and survived by pretending to be dead. He believes that the three others were killed near the same spot, but their bodies have not been found. A doctor’s report confirmed the allegations of Masroof Sultan being shot. It also recorded that his body had been considerably violated.

According to Congressman Edolphus Towns of Newy York, The Indian government has murdered over 250,000 Sikhs since 1984, more than 300,000 Christians since 1948, over 87,000 Muslims in Kashmir since 1988, and tens of thousands of Tamils, Assamese, Bodos, Manipuris, Dalits, and others. The Indian Supreme Court called the Indian government’s murders of Sikhs “worse than a genocide”. Mrs. Inayatullah testified that in Kashmir, “since 1989 and as of January 2004 the death toll stands at 87,648. The orphan count is 105,210, women aged 7-70 molested is a shameful 9,297 and another 21,286 reported widowed, with there being no record of the number of youth sexually incapacitated through torture and disabled for life.

The disappearance of Khwaja Yunus (MG 125) is not a lone case. He is one among thousands of others. To break this chain, the culture of police and paramilitary impunity has to end and rule of law to take hold. Nothing else would work.
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