A Constitution is understood not merely as a binding force enabling the residents of the State to call upon the State to fulfill its responsibility, but also as a check on the perennial propensity of the State to go rouge at its will. One major Right that is inscribed in the Constitution to that effect is the ‘Right to Life’.
It has now become a cliché to loudly proclaim one’s Right to Life vis-à-vis State. But the State that is the recognizer of Rights of its residents and responsible for codifying such Rights is also the biggest enabler of its abuse, abuse for its own sake as well as abuse on behalf of some other sections through which the State is constituted.
A technique that was invented and proven successful to suppress any one section would not vanish with the subjugation of that particular section. It would then be wielded against anyone that State thinks are dispensable.
Had the democratic consciousness been deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of this country perhaps all this would have been not so necessary. But, now we are living in the stage where the democratic consciousness that is still in the formative stage in this country is now being eroded, aided duly by the State and embraced wholeheartedly by the Society. Perhaps such erasure is a sine qua non for a fascist society to emerge and thrive with no ethical problems to deal with.
The recent case of “encounter killing” of four rape accused in the Hyderabad is one such case in point. Innocent until proven guilty is the cardinal principle that runs the rule of law in this country. One might ask what this ‘rule of law’ is?
An encounter that has an element of surprise to it in its natural meaning is turned into something that has come to be attached with meanings soaked in the feelings of dread and terror. A quintessential South Asian contribution to the annals of inhumanity and barbarity.
Extra-Judicial Killings that go by the name “Encounter” in this country has a sordid history spanning back to five decades. The onset of Srikakulam Peasants Armed Struggle in Andhra Pradesh heralded the coming into existence of two of the bloodthirsty techniques that would go on to become the defining features of the Indian Security establishment- Extra-Judicial Killings and Lockup Deaths.
A slogan that is very popular in the Telugu land essentially captures the essence of this- All Encounters are Government Murders. This slogan is not some creative work of any anti-State Radical. This slogan was born from the painful history of Extra-Judicial Killings and Lockup Deaths in Andhra Pradesh. In the last fifty years, nearly 3,300 people were killed in “Encounters” in Telugu land, mostly in the present-day Telangana.
This number doesn’t include another sordid creative invention of the security establishment- Lock up Deaths. A brutal technique that was invented to subvert the armed uprising has become an important weapon to run the writ of the State and the police occasionally demanded and vehemently supported by the people.
If one were to look at the trajectory of “Encounters” and Lockup deaths one would not fail to see the gradual up-gradation of this brutality to encompass everyone and every section within its ambit. Both these techniques were invented to deal with the Naxalites who at one point of time commanded wide support and sympathy in Telugu land. A technique that was invented and proven successful to suppress any one section would not vanish with the subjugation of that particular section. It would then be wielded against anyone that State thinks are dispensable.
One cannot give an exact breakup, but we can say that “encounters” and lock up deaths were not merely limited to Naxalites or their supporters and sympathizers or any other anti-State actors but now encompasses anyone and everyone. They could be history sheeters, petty criminals, people accused of various crimes and they could also be someone whom the police themselves don’t know( There was a lock-up death in Andhra Pradesh recently where the Police are yet to identify the person. The police need not know someone to kill them). Such is the universalization of “encounters” and lock-up deaths. If people are still doubtful they could clarify their doubts by looking at the spate of “Encounters” in Uttar Pradesh after Yogi Adityanath was made the Chief Minister.
One would invariably come up with the question- where is the Judiciary that is supposed to be the upholder of the Constitution and its derivative, the rule of law? Once in awhile the Judiciary to discharges its duties constitutionally only to be upturned sooner or later. In a judgment delivered in 2010 the Andhra Pradesh High Court (Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee v/s Government of Andhra Pradesh) castigated the practice of “Encounters” in no uncertain terms and termed the practice illegal, unconstitutional and inhumane. It ordered that a case under Sec. 302 should be filed against the participating police party and they should be prosecuted as per that. However, police being police they are very adept at subverting anything remotely resembling justice. That too Andhra Pradesh that has by now become addicted to such extrajudicial killings (The popular culture- feature films in Telugu Land- is replete with references to “encounters”. “Encountering” someone is so casually spoken of in the movies. Such is the spread of that culture) had their way already.
Filing a case against the other party and then closing the case now that they are dead is the standard operating procedure of the Telugu Police. They have got a further boost for their practice from the Supreme Court. In a judgment delivered 2014 (PUCL v/s State of Maharashtra) among other things, the Supreme Court said that a case needs to be filed in the case of any “encounter”. Such an interesting wording; isn’t it? A case needs to be filed against whom? The police are already filing the case against the dead party. The Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment was pushed into cold storage in the form of stay order when the Telugu police approached the Supreme Court against the High Court’s judgment. So, that was gone. What is the law at present is filing a case? We know against whom the case is filed now.
A word about the support and clamoring of the society for such undemocratic practices by the State is necessary. Violence by the authority has always had an acceptance in this society. The “way of life” of the people in this country enables such acceptance and hegemony. Now in these fascist times such utterly undemocratic values are breathing a new lease of life. The fascist State has its own advantages in promoting them. But, the alarming rate at which society is completely acquiescing is what we have to deal with. The times are such that we have to worry more about the Society than the State. It tells a lot about the democratic content of the State to make use of such hegemonic understanding and taking forward such abominable practices for its sake. One can only feel nothing but disgust.
The author is an activist with the Human Rights Forum (HRF) Andhra Pradesh. Views are personal.