The arrest of three Gujarat police officers on the charge of killing a man in a fake encounter in Ahmedabad in 2005 should be an opportunity for our State and society to set right our moral compass that has been wildly skewed in the aftermath of terrorist violence in Punjab in the early 1990s. The senior Indian Police Service officers are charged with killing Shorabuddin Sheikh, a known extortionist. Chillingly, since there has been no trace of her, we can only surmise that his wife Kausarbi, who was not a known criminal of any kind, was also done away with in cold blood. Because we live, or ought to be living, in a State where the rule of law prevails, the armed forces and the police are given special powers through provisions like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act when they are required to shoot and kill to maintain law and order. Having given this legal indemnity, it is the government’s duty to take severe steps to punish police and security force personnel who go outside the bounds of the law and killed people.
Unfortunately, in the past few years, there have been a spate of reports about people, some completely innocent as in Chittisinghpura in Kashmir, being killed so that security force personnel can claim a reward or a commendation. The system of huge monetary bounties for killing militants led to the murder of many innocent people in Punjab in the 1990s, actions for which no one has been held accountable till now. For too long, society and the media have been easy on the activities of police officials whose claim to fame is extrajudicial killing. Some of them have been lionised as ‘encounter specialists’. In our book they are simply murderers, and their crime all the greater because the killings are usually done when the victim is in custody.
The democratic system we live in is meant to rest on two key pillars. First,‘the rule of law’ which insists that State authority can only be exercised on the basis of publicly known and written laws, which must be enforced by a laid down procedure. Second, ‘due process’ which means that the government and its instruments must respect all the legal rights of a person, especially when it comes to depriving him or her of life and liberty.