The conviction of all the ten accused police personnel in the infamous Connaught Place ‘encounter killings’ is welcome for many reasons. Not the least of which is that it brings delayed justice to the families of the victims after ten long years.
To recall: on March 31, 1997, the Delhi Police gunned down the occupants of a car in broad daylight, claiming that one of the passengers was a notorious gangster. They then tried to portray it as a case of provocation saying that the police had only fired in defence, after there was gunfire from inside the car. Living the terrible lie, the policemen apparently planted a pistol in the car and then tried to bluff their way out saying it was a case of 'mistaken identity'. The truth, however, came out later when the case was transferred to the CBI.
Thanks to the high level of public interest in it, the case presents a good opportunity to refocus attention on the alarming frequency with which extra-judicial killings continue to occur throughout the country. It will also hopefully set a good precedent that discourages the violation of the most elementary rules of police conduct in future. Extra-judicial killings by the police and paramilitary forces are nothing new going by the reported frequency with which security forces often execute alleged militants instead of bringing them to trial. It may be true that sometimes the police are forced to stage such encounters because of the glaring loopholes in the judicial and political system that allow even hard-core criminals and mass-murderers to walk away scot-free. This puts policemen under tremendous pressure, as they are damned if they do, and damned if they don’t.
But that doesn’t mean men and women in uniform can afford to forget established terms of engagement and dispense the kind of vigilante justice that extra-judicial killings represent. Unfortunately, successive governments seem to turn a Nelson’s Eye to such goings-on, if not actually adopt a de facto policy that sanctions these extra-judicial killings by members of the police forces, Army and security personnel. Only a zero-tolerance policy could prevent the continued abuse of the most fundamental of all rights: that of life. After all, at the end of the day, wouldn’t it still be worth saving an innocent life even if it means letting a hundred criminals get away?