Parents of Jaihind Yadav, who was killed in an encounter in Azamgarh district on August 3, 2017.
Parents of Jaihind Yadav, who was killed in an encounter in Azamgarh district on August 3, 2017. | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt
49 persons have been killed, more than 370 injured in crackdown
Over a thousand encounters in a year. That’s the record in Yogi Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh. Since March 2017, 49 persons have been killed in over 1,100 encounters, more than 370 have been injured and over 3,300 arrested across the State.
Most of the incidents have taken place in districts close to the national capital such as Meerut, Shamli, Muzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Saharanpur, Bulandshahr, Ghaziabad and Noida.
In eastern U.P.’s Azamgarh, notorious for its gangs, five suspected criminals have been shot dead. Five policemen have also died in these encounters and more than 200 have been injured.
The Opposition parties have not only criticised the encounters, calling them fake, but also questioned why most of the dead were Dalits, Muslims or members of Backward Classes. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to the State on several occasions and the SHRC is probing four cases of alleged encounters, including three in Azamgarh.
The NHRC in a statement in February, in the wake of an encounter in Noida, said: “It seems that the police personnel in U.P. are feeling free, misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher- ups. They are using their privileges to settle scores with the people.”
The chairman of the State’s Legislative Council on February 13 recommended that the government ask for a CBI probe into the cases of fake encounters in Noida and Mathura.
Legislative Council Chairman Ramesh Yadav’s recommendation followed a demand from the Samajwadi Party, which alleged that the Adityanath government was conducting “fake encounters.” However, Mr. Yadav reversed the decision following opposition from the BJP.
The issue of over 1000 encounters in the past one year since the Yogi Adityanath government assumed charge was raised in the U.P. Assembly in February, with the Samajwadi Party demanding a CBI probe into specific cases in Mathura and Noida.
A gym-instructor, Jitendra Yadav, was shot in the neck and critically injured by police in Noida in February, while he was returning from a function. His family claimed it was an attempt to execute him in a fake encounter. In another incident, an eight-year-old boy died after being shot in the head in police crossfire during an alleged encounter with criminals in Mathura in January.The police officer who shot the gym-instructor in Noida has been arrested while three policemen were suspended. Four policemen were suspended for the Mathura incident.
Jaihind Yadav is one of the 49 persons killed over the past year in encounters. He was killed by police in the Mehnagar area of Azamgarh on August 4, 2017.
His father, Shiv Pujan Yadav, who suffers from a lung ailment, says that on the morning of the encounter, he had been waiting with his eldest son for a bus to Azamgarh town to visit the hospital when half-a-dozen unidentified men dressed in mufti forced his son into a black SUV and drove off. Ill and weak, Shiv Pujan returned home after a desperate attempt to find his son, hoping that he would be returned safe as Jaihind had been picked up by the police in the past too. However, a few hours later, he was informed that Jaihind had been shot dead in a daylight encounter.
From a corner of their house in Khilwa village, his weeping wife adds: “Ask around the village, he never laid a finger on anybody.”
Their son Jaihind Yadav, 27, was allegedly shot dead in a police encounter in Mehnagar area of this district. The death complicated their livelihood as Jaihind’s four siblings, including two sisters, who are still in school, cannot help in his business, as a small-time grains agent who purchases grain and stocks it for future sales.
To back his claims of a fake encounter, Shiv Pujan shows the post mortem report, according to which 27-year-old Jaihind received 22 injuries on his body, including at least 16-18 firearm exit and entrance wounds, most of the bullets wounds below his thighs close to the knees.
Wanted criminal: police
Shiv Pujan, who has approached the SHRC, says his son was not a criminal and that he had been falsely implicated by the police. in many cases in the past and also picked up by the police. “Some people had [neighbours] started getting jealous as he was doing pretty well…he was also pursuing an M.A degree,” says Shiv Pujan, who has approached the SHRC for justice.
Police, however, put forward a dramatically different version, saying Jaihind was a wanted criminal with a bounty of ₹15,000 on his head and had 13 cases against him, including of murder, looting, extortion, attempt to murder and gangster activities.
According to the police, a Special Weapons and Tactics Team (SWAT) intercepted Jaihind, who was alone on a motorbike, near a small bridge adjacent to the Ramdas Kutir temple in Deokali, after being tipped off by an informant. Ignoring several calls for him to stop, Jaihind instead opened fired at the police. “He fired six rounds,” says N.P. Singh, ASP Rural.
Under fire, the SWAT Team called the nearest police station, Mehnagar, for reinforcements and officer C.B. Dwivedi rushed with his forces. In the shootout that followed, Jaihind was killed while the SWAT team head Arvind Yadav, constable Vinay Singh and Dwivedi were injured. A 9 mm pistol was recovered from Jaihind.
However, there is no clarity from the police on the exact sequence of events at the alleged scene of the encounter in an isolated area. ASP Singh also says that before he was shot, Jaihind engaged in a long brawl in a muddy pond with the small police team which was trying to overpower him. A witness to the incident, a staff at the temple, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this reporter that she recalls seeing a brawl but is sure that Jaihind had been subsequently either tied to a nearby tree or overpowered.
Asked to explain how the police got into a physical fight with the accused and had to shoot him despite outnumbering him at close range, Mr. Singh says the police were “forced to shoot” Jaihind after he fired at the police team.
‘Shot while escaping’
In another case where family members have questioned the police version is the encounter and killing of one Channu Sonkar on January 9 in Jahanaganj.
Police say Sonkar and one Sandeep Pasi who were escaping after trying to rob a woman, met with an accident on the night of January 8 when they lost control of their motorbike in the dense fog and hit a tree. A police officer on their heels tried to take the accused to the hospital for treatment but on the way Sonkar allegedly snatched the policeman’s .38 bore service revolver and escaped. The next morning Sonkar and his partner allegedly stole a motorbike from near a church but were soon intercepted by the police at a crossing.
Finding themselves surrounded, the two accused shot at the police. Bullets hit Jahanaganj SHO Arvind Tiwari but luckily he was saved by his bullet proof jacket but constable Subhash Yadav received injuries. So did Sonkar, who later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital. However, his partner Subhash Pasi, also a wanted person, escaped. According to the police, Sonkar had 12 cases against him, including murder, loot and attempt to murder, and carried a bounty of ₹25,000.
Sonkar’s family rejects this police version. “If Channu was injured in an accident, how can he snatch a revolver and run away with it? Aren’t you supposed to take him to a hospital and not shoot him instead,” asks his brother Jhabbu.
The family of Channu Sonkar, who was killed in Azamgarh. | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt
According to his family, Sonkar had as usual gone to their guava plantation some 20 km away. When his niece Poonam called him at 8 p.m. to ask about his whereabouts, the call had been answered by a police officer who told her that her uncle had met with an accident and asked the family to come to the hospital.
“It was a cold and foggy night and the hospital was 19 km away. And we didn’t think the injury was that serious. So we decided to go the next morning. But by the time we saw him the next morning, his body was already lying in the mortuary,” said Jhabbu.
On the day of the encounter, his family says Sonkar was set to appear for a hearing in a previous case of attempt to murder. According to his brother, Sonkar had only four cases pending against him. Jhabbu also claims that Sonkar was not a habitual criminal but was falsely implicated by the police.
While the family is yet to get the post mortem report, they also question how Sonkar’s partner Pasi managed to escape without a motrobike.
Asked about the rising toll in the encounters, ASP Singh says the police are not targeting any person but officers have been given the freedom to fire back at criminals if attacked.
“We have only boosted the morale of the police. The funda is simple: if a criminal fires at you, you fire back,” said Mr. Singh.
Mr. Singh was also allegedly injured in an encounter in Azamgarh in July last year when a suspected criminal Bheema Sagar was gunned down in a police operation. Sagar carried a reward of ₹1 lakh. His partner allegedly fled from the spot making use of the darkness.
Despite the criticism, Chief Minister Adityanath has maintained that the crackdown will continue till crime is wiped out from the State. The BJP government in a booklet released on its first anniversary also claimed that in its first year in power instances of crimes have decreased as a result of the crackdown. The government says instaces of dacoity have come down by by 5.7 %, murder by 7.35 %, road holdups by 100 %, abduction by 13.21%, atrocities against Dalits by 16.41 % and arson by 29.73%.