Police Encounters

Encounter killings is a term used to describe alleged extrajudicial killings by the police or the armed forces, supposedly in self defense, when they encounter suspected gangsters or terrorists. In India, the term became popular in the late 20th century because of a very high frequency of encounter killings by police in cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, and Kolkata. The Mumbai police used encounters to attack the city’s underworld, and the practice spread to other large cities. However, there is always a speculation behind the police motivation of these reported incidents, and further complain that the wide acceptance of the practice has led to incidents of police staging fake encounters to cover up the killings of suspects when they are either in custody or are unarmed.

After the encounter of Vikas Dubey and the 4 people accused by the Telengana police in the Hyderabad rape and murder case, questions have been raised over the legality and appropriateness of the police action leading to the debate that ‘whether a democratic country should follow the constitutional norms and adhere to the due process of law or shall it adopt the measure of retributive justice to bring instant and speedy justice to the victims.

On such extra judicial killings, the National Human Rights Commission and the Supreme Court have laid down proper guidelines and procedures that must be followed in order to prevent any abuse of the power by the law enforcement agencies. In its landmark judgment, the Supreme Court had warned the policemen that they would not be excused for committing murder in the name of encounter on the pretext that they were carrying out the orders of their superior officers.

Article 21 of the Indian constitution states that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except in accordance with the procedure established by law. This means that before depriving a person of their right to life, the person must be informed about the charges against them and must be given the opportunity to defend themselves. However, fake encounters step aside these legal procedures as it essentially means killing a person without a trial.

The police force has the right to injure or kill the criminal for the sole purpose of self defense but nothing must be done to settle personal feuds or with mala fide motives. NHRC guidelines in 2010 highlight that if the use of force cannot be justified and the death falls outside the jurisdiction of the above mentioned reasons, it is a crime and police officer would be guilty of culpable homicide.

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