ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When the Republic Kills Its Own Children

How the judiciary deals with encounter killings will have a crucial bearing on the rule of law.

At present there are six high-profile police encounter death cases pending before the country’s courts at different stages of litigation and investigation. In one of these, five policemen are accused of allegedly functioning as “contract killers” at the behest of a businessman and gunning down his rival in a fake encounter in Mumbai in 2006. On 13 May, the Supreme Court (SC), while upholding the Mumbai High Court’s (HC) dismissal of their bail applications, observed that where fake encounters are proved, the policemen involved must be given the death sentence. Now, while we are, in principle, against the death sentence, fake encounters are cold-blooded murders and must be judicially dealt with as such.

Encounter killings, termed “extrajudicial killings” by civil rights activists, first became notorious in Andhra Pradesh (AP) in the 1970s and the following decades when a number of “Naxalites” were killed by the police. That the criminal justice system has been unable to dispense justice in such cases of extrajudicial killings is a blot on its reputation. Indeed, the cold-blooded murder of Cherukuri Rajkumar “Azad”, spokesperson and Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) by the police in the forests of Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh on 2 July last year and the cooked-up story, full of incongruities, that he was killed in an armed encounter led a judge of the SC to remark, “Our republic cannot bear the stain of killing its own children”.

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