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Fake Encounters: Story from Andhra Pradesh

The Andhra police have a gory history of killing political opponents, as also "unmanageable" persons, all in the name of "encounters". The state of Andhra Pradesh inherited this horrifying tradition of liquidation from the Nizam's police (1946-48) and subsequently from the union government, both during the Telangana movement (1946-51). The policy of "encounters" was revived in the 1960s. It has continued up to the present, the most well known recent example being the killing of the CPI (M-L) Janasakthi, Riaz and three others, on July 1, 2005.

Fake Encounters: Story from Andhra Pradesh

The Andhra police have a gory history of killing political opponents, as also “unmanageable” persons, all in the name of “encounters”. The state of Andhra Pradesh inherited this horrifying tradition of liquidation from the Nizam’s police (1946-48) and subsequently from the union government, both during the Telangana movement (1946-51). The policy of “encounters” was revived in the 1960s. It has continued up to the present, the most well known recent example being the killing of the CPI (M-L) Janasakthi, Riaz and three others, on July 1, 2005.

N VENUGOPAL An occasional reference to similar fake

he shocking revelations about the brutal killing of Sohrabuddin Shaik, his wife Kauser Bi and friend Tulsiram Prajapati by the Gujarat police, with probable help from police officers of Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, caught the attention of everybody, thanks to the arrest and booking of the erring police officers with criminal charges, including murder. Even as the case is being debated in all the fora, including Parliament and the media, it appears strange that most of the commentators seem to regard the case as almost the first of its kind; Indian police persons were, it seems, lawabiding saints with no knowledge of extrajudicial killings before Sohrabuddin’s case. encounters in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Maharashtra is also made, but there is some sort of a silence on the fake encounters in Andhra Pradesh, probably the worst affected state with hundreds of such encounters that snatched away the lives of about 4,000 people during the last four decades. Thus, the newly discovered fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin Shaik forces one to recollect the gory history of killings of political opponents as well as “unmanageable” people by policemen, in the name of “encounters” in Andhra Pradesh. Several mass organi sations in the state have been describing all these encounters as “political murders” since the police officers

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

responsible for these cold-blooded murders have received cash prizes, unnumbered vehicles and unaccounted fuel, accelerated promotions, gallantry awards, plush postings and other rewards from the powers that be. In the last 40 years, a variety of chief ministers, home ministers and policymakers have been at the helm in the state and apparently opposing political parties have been in power, but the policy and practice of encounter killings have not changed a bit. There are home ministers, belonging to both Telugu Desam and Congress, who on record defended encounters as a means of maintaining law and order!

History of Encounter Killings

Killing people in cold-blood and describing the incident as “an encounter where an exchange of fire took place at the end of which the police discovered some dead bodies” dates back to the early part of the last century. Perhaps it was the British who invented this devious method of killing. A well known instance of a so-called encounter took place in May 1924 when Alluri Sitarama Raju, who led a tribal rebellion against the British was killed. However, latter-day research explored the reality and showed that he was caught and killed in cold-blood without any exchange of fire. Later, during the 1940s, more than 3,000 cadres and other persons who participated in the Telangana peasant armed struggle (1946-51) were also killed in “encounters”, most of them being fake. While it was the Nizam’s police that used the liquidating method during 1946-48, two-thirds of these encounter killings took place under military rule and subsequent civil rule of the government of India between 1948 and 1951. Thus, the then Hyderabad state has the dubious distinction of the first state to kill its own people in the name of encounters in post-1947 India.

Inheriting this horrifying tradition, Andhra Pradesh police revived the socalled encounter killing policy again in 1968 and by May 1969 the policy became predominant. In one of the first major incidents of encounter killings, Panchadi Krishna Murthy, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI (M-L) ), which led the Srikakulam struggle, and six of his associates were killed on the early hours of May 27, 1969 after being arrested a few hours earlier in Sompeta railway station as they got down from a train from Calcutta. It is said that the higher-ups, including the then home minister (later chief minister), Jalagam Vengala Rao received a message on the arrest and responded with a cryptic answer: “bump them off”. The district police bumped the arrested persons off and announced that they died in exchange of fire in an encounter. The first information report (FIR)1 on this incident, filed by the inspector of police, Sompeta, which formed part of the documents of the infamous Naxalite conspiracy case (also known as the Parvatipuram conspiracy case), makes an interesting reading:

On information that Panchadi Krishnamurthy and several other communist revolutionaries, who committed dacoity with murder at Borivanka on the night of 19th May, 1969 and several other offences in the Sompeta Circle were moving in Pathakota hills, I proceeded with SIs Sompeta and Ichapur and APSP to Pathakota hills, on 26th May 1969 at about 10 pm to apprehend wanted accused. I searched in Pathakota hills but could not find them there. As I was returning with my staff at about 3 am on 27th May 1969 a mob of about 30 armed with guns, country bombs and spears advanced towards us between Jalantrakota and Pathakota hills. They fired with guns and country bombs from a distance of 50 yards. I declared the mob an unlawful assembly and gave a warning that fire would be opened if they do not surrender or disperse. The warning did not have any effect and one person who was identified as Panchadi Krishnamurthy by Sri Jagannadharao, SI, Sompeta hurled another country bomb, shouting “Comrades, Kill Police, Kill Police”. As the entire police party was about to be killed and as the communist revolutionaries were surrounding the police from all sides, I fired from my revolver four times, giving order to 15 APSP PCs also to open fire. Each of them fired one round with 303 rifles but as the mob was still trying to advance the SI Sompeta fired three rounds and SI Ichapuram fired two rounds. The mob immediately ran away as some people were found falling down shouting, “long live Mao”, “long live revolution”, “kill people, kill landlords”. Immediately the SIs and I flashed 3 torch lights and found seven persons lying dead. One of them is identified as Panchadi Krishnamurthy. I sent SI Sompeta with 10 APSP PCs to search for the other communist revolutionaries. I have found one loaded ML gun, two country bombs and one spear and five gelatine cartridges and some explosive materials at the scene, where the deceased were lying. I am sending them herewith. Some communist literature bags were also found there…

This version has almost become an unavoidable verbatim pro-forma for later FIRs and the story was repeated ad nauseam for hundreds of times over the last 38 years with mere change in names of places and persons.

Euphemism of Encounter

Encounter, if it is real, involves an accidental chance happening and by definition it is unplanned, unexpected and fortuitous and one cannot have an encounter at will. But police in Andhra Pradesh have turned the noun into a verb of intention and plan and are known for threatening people that they will be encountered! Most of the encounters took place when the deceased were arrested a few hours, if not days, before the so-called encounter. In several cases, family members and friends of the would-be “encounter” victims issued statements alerting the press about the arrest, apprehending probable elimination, and demanding the police to produce the arrested persons in a court of law. A day or two later police would announce that the same people got killed in an encounter. If it were a real encounter, the family members and friends should be highly clairvoyant to imagine beforehand that their near and dear ones were going to face the police by chance and open fire to get killed. In some cases, activists whose arrest information appeared in the newspapers suddenly faced the police and got killed in encounters. It is another strange aspect that out of the thousands of encounters, not even in a couple, the police officers were injured demonstrating the extreme and incredible efficiency of police in always killing their opponents and without even getting bruised once. If one analyses the FIR quoted above, the opponents were more in number, almost double, than the police, and apparently with equal fire power. Even then there were seven casualties on one side and not even a scratch on the other!

Surprisingly, there have been times when such a chance happening did not take place at all! There were no encounter killings between December 1989 and June 1990, a couple of months in early 1995, and between May 2004 and January 2005. This absence of encounters for months

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007 together clearly shows that it was government policy that allows or prevents encounter killings. If the government were willing to kill revolutionary activists, it would allow this to happen, and, for what ever political compulsions, if it wanted to stop, it could do that.

Legal Position

Legally police in India are authorised with crime investigation and law enforcement only but not punishment, which is the jurisdiction of the law courts. In fact, police are not even allowed to keep suspects in their custody for more than 24 hours even for investigation purposes. While that is the case with regard to apprehension, police do not have a right to snatch the life of a person who is under their custody or who happened to bump into them with arms. Restriction on the right to life in India, a legal sanction for killing a beyond-doubt confirmed criminal, is allowed only in accordance with the “procedure established by law” as per the Article 21 of Constitution of India and that too in “the rarest of rare cases” as per a Supreme Court verdict in 1983. Thus, if an ordinary citizen kills another citizen, the culprit would be tried according to the procedure established by law and in this regard the law of the land does not provide any ex ception to a public servant, even if he/she is a part of the law enforcing authority.

However, the law enforcing agencies can take shelter in using reasonable and minimum force to disperse a mob or unlawful assembly. But even then, they have to take the permission of a magistrate to open fire and even in that case they should not aim at people to kill. Sections 100 and 300 of the Indian Penal Code allow self-defence to ordinary citizens as well as police personnel but the need to self-defence has to be substantiated and proved in a court of law, with the burden of proof lying on the defender.

In any case, first of all, all killers, including police personnel, have to undergo legal proceedings, and they have to prove that the killing happened in self-defence only. No ordinary killer would be pardoned if he said he did that in self-defence. Even then he has to undergo judicial proceedings and face the charge of murder and prove his innocence by showing reasonable evidence to the act of self-defence.

Even as the theoretical legal position states so, in practice, police officers in India have been sanctioned impunity. They can kill and condone themselves by claiming self-defence and not registering any complaint. This impunity is dangerous not only to the deceased persons but also to the society at large. Police officers in Andhra Pradesh have been enjoying this socially-destructive impunity for a long time now.

Some Illustrative Cases

While over 3,000 alleged Naxalites and their sympathisers and another 1,000 ordinary people (so-called dacoits, ISI agents, factionists, rowdy-sheeters and eve-teasers as well as ordinary people) were killed in encounters over the last 38 years in over 2,000 incidents, one can easily say that over 90 per cent of these incidents are evidently fake. Even when the deceased had weapons on them, there is ample evidence that they did not use the firearms against the police and the

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

latter could have overpowered and arrested them without any harm. There are hundreds of incidents where eyewitness accounts and circumstantial evidence published along with the police handout showed that the victims were picked up from their homes, offices, streets, when they were not alone and within a couple of hours they were shown as killed in encounters.2 Sometimes it is also alleged that the victims were given poisoned food so that they could be arrested without resistance. A few incidents of fake encounters are summerised below to show the magnitude of falsehood spread by police handouts.

K Parsaiah and M Ravindra Reddy, activists of the CPI (M-L) Re-Organising Committee were arrested on July 19 and July 21, 1981, respectively. Both of them were produced before the magistrate at Suryapet in Nalgonda district on July 23. This mandatory production before a magistrate, even though it happened in violation of the 24-hour maximum duration of police custody, was done at midnight and the production before the magistrate itself was a euphemism as the arrested persons were kept in a police jeep that stood outside the magistrate’s residence and only the papers were taken before the magistrate. The magistrate signed the papers and remanded them. Within a few minutes both of them were shot dead and police released the usual encounter statement.3

Pingili Bhoopathi Reddy and Kavatam Saraiah of the CPI (M-L) Re-Organising Committee, both public activists attending various court cases, were arrested on May 27, 1985 when they were sleeping at their lawyer’s residence in Warangal and within hours they were shown as killed in an encounter in Narsapur, about 60 kms from Warangal.4

Gulam Rasool was a reporter in a Telugu daily Udayam and his exposes on the nexus of land mafia and police made him an enemy of the police, particularly a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) working in the suburbs of Hyderabad. Rasool took an aggrieved party to the district police headquarters two days before his encounter and he had a heated exchange with the same DSP. Two days later, on December 28, 1991, his dead body was found on the outskirts of Hyderabad as “unidentified”, killed in an encounter. His friend Vijay Prasad Rao, who was pillion riding when Rasool was arrested, was also killed since he was the key eyewitness to the arrest. Since Gulam Rasool was a working journalist and was on duty at the time of arrest, his participation in an encounter was an obvious lie. The journalist community protested and the government appointed a judicial commission. The terms of reference were ab initio mala fide and the commission came out with an irrelevant conclusion that the deceased were Naxalites, ignoring the main issue of whether an encounter took place or it was a cold-blooded murder.5

1998 Killings

The “encounter” at Kopardang in which 13 activists were killed is another incredible case of the Andhra Pradesh police overstepping their jurisdiction in entering Orissa without even informing the local police. It is alleged that the police used helicopters and bombs to attack a meeting of the Naxalites in the deep forests of Rayagada district of Orissa. The attack took place on August 8, 1998 and it is reported that while some activists died on the spot, some others were apprehended and killed later.6

The “encounter” case of Nalla Adi Reddy, Arramreddy, Santosh Reddy, Seelam Naresh, and Singam Lakshmirajam stands as the most relevant illustration of the state policy of elimination of Naxalites. The case has all the ingredients of covert operation, treachery, arrest, torture, coldblooded murder, killing witness to tamper with evidence, false claims to receive gallantry awards, charges and countercharges by police officials themselves, etc. The three central committee members of the CPI(ML) People’s War were arrested in the afternoon of December 1, 1999 in Bangalore and brought to Koyyur forest of Karimnagar district where an encounter was stage-managed. In order to show the encounter as a local affair, a local youth was also killed and accorded a posthumous distinction of being a Naxalite and given a nom de guerre as Arun. Later fact findings proved that the den keeper of the top leaders in Bangalore worked as a covert for the police and indulged in treachery. The friends and family members of the victims alleged that there were telltale signs of torture on the dead bodies and post-mortem reports corroborated the allegation. At least three senior police officials claimed the credit for participating in the “encounter” of the top leaders and received ‘Shourya Chakra’ gallantry awards in 2003. However, simmering discontent within the police department brought the facts to light and conclusively revealed that the three police officials were not at all involved in the incident.7

The “encounter” in which Riaz (Ch Venkateswarlu) and three others were killed on July 1, 2005 is another bizarre case. Riaz was a well known leader of the CPI(ML) Janasakthi and represented his party at the talks between the government and the Naxalites. Along with other representatives at the talks, he stayed in the state guest house for over a week and participated in talks with the government delegation that included the state home minister, other ministers and legislators. The talks were held in the media glare and it would be impossible not to recognise him. However, he was killed and shown as an “unidentified” person. While he was arrested during late evening on June 30, his friends alerted the press and home minister by midnight and almost all the newspapers published the news of his arrest the next day. After all this, the police announced that four unidentified persons were killed in an exchange of fire.

Impunity once allowed would have its own momentum and spreads fast and wide. After being allowed to kill Naxalite activists without questions for decades, the police started thinking that the same method could be applied universally according to their whims and fancies. Local vested interests started bribing police to get their opponents eliminated in the name of encounters. Gradually police realised that it would be easier to kill and justify it by describing it as an encounter and the vic tims as Naxalites or their sympathisers.

In Medak district, police killed a farmer who had to go out in the night to water his fields since power is supplied during that time of the day, and termed it an encounter. A folk artiste who was returning in the night after a performance at Sri Ram Navami festival was killed in Warangal district and the incident was justified as an encounter. A couple of shepherds were killed in order to eliminate witnesses of the killing of Naxalites in Kadapa district. A physically challenged person who was running a public telephone booth was killed in Mahabubnagar district and he, who cannot use his hands properly, was shown as involved in an exchange of fire. A police officer was also killed

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007 in this killing spree in Khammam district. He was waiting in a hotel room to apprehend some accused and another police officer knocked on the door and shot at the police inspector when he opened it. The number of so-called dacoits, faction followers, ISI operatives, and suspicious persons killed in “encounters” runs into dozens. Dozens of innocent youth in Hyderabad were killed in so-called encounters just to terrorise old city Muslims.

In a complaint filed by the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) before the National Human Rights Commission in 1994, it was mentioned that out of 496 deaths during the previous three years, only 204 (41.1 per cent) were Naxalite activists while 210 (42.3 per cent) were peasants. The list also included rural and small town poor students and unemployed youth, persons involved in crimes other than Naxalite activity and elected representatives.

The recapitulation of such incidents can go on and on. Even as some of these incidents provoked large-scale protests and subsequent enquiries, the state police and the powers that be ensured that nothing came out of those enquiries. In fact, it is customary to institute a magisterial enquiry into all encounter deaths, but none of the enquiry reports have been published till now. Of course, the local level magistrates need police help now and then and one cannot expect them to be so courageous as to distance themselves from the local police. Even when a magistrate submitted a conscientious report, the state government saw to it that the report would gather dust in the corridors of power. In one of the incidents cited above, when a joint collector filed a report indicting some police officials and showing that there was no encounter and it was a coldblooded murder, he and the collector who accepted the report, were shunted out of the district to some insignificant positions.8 When APCLC fought a case in the Supreme Court, the government of Andhra Pradesh said this report was “improper”.

Voices in Protest

As part of the euphoria of democratic resurgence during the post-Emergency days, the practice of fake encounters as a public policy came into the limelight and Jayaprakash Narayan set up a nonofficial fact-finding committee under the chairpersonship of V M Tarkunde to enquire into the encounters in Andhra Pradesh. The Tarkunde Committee which included Arun Shourie, B G Verghese, Nabakrishna Choudry, Kaloji Narayana Rao, K G Kannabiran, etc placed its reports before the nation. Institutions in the Janata Phase by Arun Shourie (1980) makes a detailed reference to the reports. The Tarkunde Committee findings and consequent concerns resulted in the appointment of the Justice V Bhargava Commission in 1978. The commission went ahead earnestly in its effort to fathom the truth and its first round of enquiry into the killing of four Naxalites in Giraipalli forest conclusively proved that the victims were arrested, tortured and killed in cold-blood, demolishing the police story. The proceedings were widely reported and the people’s suspicion that the encounters were simple killings by the police was confirmed. When the commission began its enquiry for the second round, the government created obstacles in its functioning by

Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

ordering in-camera proceedings. The civil liberties organisations opposed this move and boycotted the proceedings. The commission had to close down its enquiry abruptly.

The APCLC all through has been judiciously enquiring into each and every encounter case by sending fact-finding committees and publishing the reports.9 APCLC also approached the Supreme Court several times with regard to the extra-judicial nature of encounter killings. The first petition was filed in 1981 and the Supreme Court in 1987 asked the petitioners to submit a memorandum to the state government and seek redress at the local level. APCLC’s second petition, filed in 1985 was disposed in 1987 itself advising the friends and relatives of the encounter victims to file private complaints in the local magistrate courts. The Supreme Court’s recent response, in March 2007, with regard to the encounter killings is even stranger. In a case questioning accelerated promotions to police officers involved in “encounters”, the Supreme Court bench upheld the policy of offering accelerated and undue promotions to killer police officers.

In yet another attempt the APCLC approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the latter directed the government of Andhra Pradesh in November 1996 to investigate all cases of encounter deaths. The NHRC expressed its concern over the practice of registering a case under Section 307 (attempt to murder) against the deceased persons. The NHRC noted that in all these cases of killing by police by firing, prima facie, the ingredients of 299 IPC are satisfied and Section 157 of CrPC is attracted calling for investigation. The commission made the following recommendations, especially in regard to encounter deaths:

  • (a) When the police officer in charge of a police station receives information about deaths in an encounter between the police party and others, he shall enter the information in the appropriate register.
  • (b) The information as received shall be regarded as sufficient to suspect the commission of a cognisable offence and immediate steps should be taken to investigate the facts and circumstances leading to the death to ascertain what, if any, offence was committed and by whom.
  • (c) As the police officers belonging to the same police station are the members of
  • the encounter party, it is appropriate that the cases are made over for investigation to some other independent investigation agency such as state CID.

    (d) Question of granting of compensation to the dependents of the deceased may be considered in cases ending in conviction if police officers are prosecuted on the basis of the results of the investigation.

    These directions were considered to be of general applicability and accordingly were communicated by the NHRC in March 1997 to all chief ministers of states to be followed in all cases where deaths were caused in police encounters.10

    There is no need to state that government of Andhra Pradesh did not care to follow these directions and allowed its police department to function above the law. It is already seen that the government did not heed the direction of the state high court in registering cases under 302 IPC in each and every encounter.

    Public Response

    While there have been sporadic and local protests at the way the encounter killings are taking place, various civil liberties organisations in the state have been consistently making it an issue of public concern. The major argument of the civil liberties bodies has been that even if one does not subscribe to or opposes the victims’ political beliefs, there is a need to defend rule of law. No agency should be allowed to indulge in extra-judicial killings in the name of enforcing the law. Besides the civil liberties organisations’ efforts, at least twice there were state-wide organised public mobilisations against “encounters” in the last decade. For the first time, 34 different mass organisations came together to form the Joint Struggle Committee against Fake Encounters in 1999 and members of this committee suffered severe repression. Later the police started preventing family members of the victims from claiming the dead bodies and performing proper funerals, fearing that the dead bodies would reveal the way of killing. Consequently, the committee to claim dead bodies was formed; the need to form such a committee itself is an indication of the pathetic state of affairs in the state. Even this committee was not allowed to function. The society at large is terrorised so as to not raise its voice against this patent violation of human rights and constitutional right to life.


    The case of Sohrabuddin Shaik and Kauser Bi rekindled hopes in hundreds of families of encounter victims in Andhra Pradesh and many of them want an opportunity to make their agony public. Even as this may appear as vengeance, it is not vengeance at all. It is only a desire for the rule of law and a wish that others would not be allowed to be killed with impunity by the law-enforcing agencies. A simple request that comes out of all those anguished family members and friends is that any person who killed another should be booked under Section 302 IPC and if the culprit had done that in self-defence, it should be proved in a court of law. The culprit, even if he wears khaki, cannot take the law into his own hands and cannot don the role of perpetrator of the crime, investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury rolled into one.




    1 Naxalite Conspiracy Case FIRs, Vol V, p C-142 -2.

    2 A large body of literature informed by this viewpoint appeared in the last three decades in Telugu. Varavara Rao’s Srjana Sampaadakeeyaalu (1990), a collection of editorials of Srjana, monthly, is a systematic chronicle of such criticism between 1970 and 1990.

    3 K Ilaiah’s The State and Repressive Culture, 1989, p 82 and also OPDR’s Rights on Gallows and Repression on People, 2003, pp 159-62.

    4 See K Balagopal’s Probings in the Political Economy of Agrarian Classes and Conflicts, 1988, pp 86-87.

    5 APUWJ and APCLCs, Rendosaari Rasool Hatya, Hyderabad, 1994. 6 APCLC’s Sarihaddulu Cheripestunna Encounterlu, Visakhapatnam, 1998. 7 Joint Fact Finding Committee of Organisations of Democratic Rights and Civil Liberties,

    Where the Dead Speaks Truth – A Report on Koyyuru Encounter, Vijayawada, 2000. 8 K Balagopal’s Kallola Kathaachitraalu, 1997, p 60.

    9 Some of these reports can be found in APCLC and OPDR Prajalapai Ukkupaadam, 1991; APCLC and PUDR, NTR’s One Year, 1984; APCLC Telugu Desam Paalanalo Encounterlu, 1989; APCLC, State of Civil Liberties in AP, 1990; APCLC, Tupaakiraajyam – Perugutunna Nirbandham meeda Nivedika, 1991; APCLC, Chandragirigutta Encounter, 2000; as well as in its organ, Praja Swechcha.

    10 See Committee of Concerned Citizens, ‘A Note to the National Human Rights Commission on Human Rights Violations in the State in Third Report’, 2002, pp 43-51.

    Economic and Political Weekly October 13, 2007

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