Questions surrounding the Bhopal encounter

Last Updated: Wed, Nov 02, 2016 12:47 hrs
Questions surrounding the Bhopal Encounter

The visuals of police shooting dead eight men, who escaped from Bhopal jail, have sent shockwaves around the country. Questions have now been raised about the alleged encounter and what, if anything, prompted the police to shoot the men, allegedly belonging to the terrorist outfit SIMI, at almost point blank range.

Catch news provides a timeline of events that took place. According to the report, the eight men escaped at around 2-3 am by fashioning a rope out of bedsheets to jump over the walls from the Bhopal Central Jail after killing the guard by slitting his throat with steel plate and glass. Later that morning, news came that all the men were found and killed at Eintkhedi village near Bhopal. The report contains two disturbing videos, one which shows a policeman shooting an already dead man and the other of ‘deadly weapons’ that the men were in possession of.



Mohan Singh Meena, sarpanch of on the villages who was contacted by the police was one of the first to spot the terrorists and chase them. Meena told ANI that the police arrived soon after and the men threw rocks at the police refusing to surrender but that he did not understand their language. He said that the encounter lasted about 25-30 minutes.

Here is a graphic by Catch News which exposes the ‘gaping holes in the police story’ by piecing together the pictures of the slain men, the video of them attempting to surrender and the police’s own account of what happened.

According to IG Yogesh Choudhary, the fugitives fired just 2 rounds of ammunition, while the police fired 46-47 rounds, in an encounter that lasted more than an hour. The police claim that three of the cops were injured by 'a sharp instrument' during the encounter. How this happened is difficult to understand, if there indeed was a shootout, as the police claim.

In fact the Madhya Pradesh Home Minister claimed that the fugitives only carried sharp utensils as weapons, and the eye witness said that they were only throwing rocks. Most importantly, the standard prescribed practice for the police is to fire a warning shot, and in case of retaliatory fire, aim at the legs of the suspect.

The pictures of the bodies show no evidence of bullet wounds on the legs which raises serious questions about the entire incident.

The Hindustan Times has carried a story about the eight who have charges ranging from shielding terrorists, robbing banks, plotting assassinations and making bombs.

While the BJP and the Madhya Pradesh state government have been quick to defend the encounter, there has been widespread criticism from several quarters.

The Huffington Post has reported that several muslim groups and clerics in Bhopal have issued a joint statement calling for judicial probe into the killing. The report also notes that these groups have never taken a stand about encounters such as these in the past.

The Ulema have also said that the use of the term 'terrorist' even when trial hasn't completed is "wrong and illegal"."This practice must be stopped.

According to News18, while Congress MP Kamal Nath also demanded a judicial probe into the incident, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari was guarded and said that they were waiting for more facts to emerge.

Digvijay Singh has been far more outspoken claiming that there may be a larger conspiracy behind the jail break itself. I have been reiterating that RSS activists and other similar organisations are behind the anti-Muslim riots in the country. It should be probed whether there is someone behind this or not.

CPIM’s Brinda Karat termed the official version of the incident as "highly dubious and suspicious". She said the versions of state government and police were "contradictory". Karat said those killed were undertrials and dubbing them as terrorists amounted to "subverting the law".

Meanwhile, the BJP lashed out at Congress’s criticism. BJP’s spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said -

Looking at the way Congress is politicising the encounter, and that too concerning the particular group or organisation, is a matter of concern. Congress seems to raise concern only when LeT terrorists are killed and when SIMI activists who are convicted and involved in jailbreak. Congress party springing to their defence raises curiosity

 

Politics aside, the encounter has raised far graver concerns about the growing acceptability of encounter killings. In his First Post article, Sandipan Sharma observes that despite several questions surrounding the killing, questioning law enforcement is seen as anti-national.

Don't ask questions because encounters have become a legitimate way of dispensing justice for many Indians, a symbol of pride and nationalism, a proud moment to savour with rousing slogans. Any under trail, as long as he is a Khan or she is a Jahan, can be bumped off on mere suspicion of being a terrorist. Why take them to court, waste the court's precious time on trying suspects, unless, of course, the case in question is of Malegaon blasts or bombing the Samjhauta Express? In India, extra-judicial killings now have both political and societal legitimacy. So, shh

Ipsita Chakravarthy also questions the use of the word ‘terrorist’ to refer to under trials. In her article in Scroll, she writes

It was not long before a large number of media outlets, not to mention the state government itself, were confidently calling the dead men "terrorists. But most news sources said the prisoners who were killed were undertrials, charged with serious crimes such as murder, sedition and bank robbery, but not convicted. While more details are awaited, reporters on the ground said the cases against them were weak and the men’s defence lawyer claimed the trials were about to conclude in their favour.

The Madhya Pradesh government has not given in to the criticism and have instead shifted the focus to the jail break, promising that strict action will be taken against officers who failed to ensure security. According to reports, the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has termed it as ‘criminal negligence’ and suspended top police officials. The Home Minister Bhupendra Singh echoed these sentiments claiming that the negligence amounts to sedition and said that the men, in all likelihood, were supported by officials from inside the jail. He told the Indian Express -

They were getting VIP treatment in their cells and enjoyed more facilities than other undertrials, probably because they were plied with cash. It’s not possible unless someone was funding them from outside

As the families of the slain men approach the courts seeking a CBI enquiry, the MP state government announced that an NIA probe has also been ordered into the security lapse, while an Special Investigation Team has been set up to probe the encounter killing.

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