Encounters, Murder, Oblivion
Will the government and the media ever pay attention to fake encounter killings across the country?
The media and the political class are close allies – they not only think alike but actually share the same convictions and increasingly the same language. So while Wikileaks, which are partly gossip make it to the front page, news such as encounter deaths appear in a column somewhere inside or in the afternoon bulletin of very rare TV channels.
The example of fake encounters comes to mind because last week the Supreme Court-appointed probe committee led by Justice Santosh Hedge found 6 encounter killings in Manipur were not genuine. There are 1,500 such cases which the families of alleged victims want to be probed.
Fourteen-year-old Md Azad Khan was allegedly killed by a joint team of police and Assam Rifles on March 4, 2009, after he was reportedly picked up from his house in Imphal West. Nineteen-year-old Khumbongmajum Orsonjit was allegedly killed by a police team after he was picked up from his house. Nameirakpam Nobo (27) and Nameirakpam Govind (25) cousins from Imphal East were killed after they were allegedly taken from their house by the police and the Assam Rifles.
Elangbam Kiranjit (22) was shot dead,again allegedly,by a joint Assam Rifles-police team on April 23, 2009 in Thoubal district. Chongtham Umakanta (24) of Imphal West was killed after being picked up from a friend’s house on May 4, 2009. Akoijam Priyobrata (25) was killed on March 15, 2009.
Not just mothers who lost their children but the number of women who have lost their husbands in extra judicial killings in Manipur are significant. There is a forum called Conflict Widows Forum but beyond the token reports we do and their mention in research papers the forum draws little attention. I am mentioning Manipur because of the timing of the Supreme Court panel’s finding. Fake encounters are a national problem and routinely reported from conflict zones but face government indifference. Which might explain why this often state-sponsored murder finds little reference in the media.
Also, the media prioritises news based on numbers. The number of fake encounters or alleged fake encounters is not documented. There are of course statistics available on the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) website. Those are the official data but they are wildly inaccurate. That’s because the (NCRB) simply collates what the states report and they don’t get anywhere near the whole picture.
Neither does the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), because some States don’t report every death in police action – despite being supposed to do within 48 hours. Assam is one of these. Last year, the NHRC had discovered quite by chance, while checking their newsletters for some other facts, that they had not reported over 60 killings to the commission over an approximately 10-month period.
The NHRC data is substantially closer to the truth than those of the NCRB because they also get complaints from NGOs, the families of victims and from individuals who bring reports of suspicious deaths to their attention.
In 2011-12, the NHRC opened 79 fresh cases on encounter deaths in Assam. 65 of these were opened on intimations received from the state police, 17 on complaints received from NGOs or others. There maybe some overlaps, since often there are cases on which reports are received from the State as well as complaints from others. While investigating on these cases I found that most were dubious encounters on which the police had sketchy details and little inclination to follow up.
These figures, however, do not give us the number of victims. It is often the case that more than one person is killed in an encounter, so the numbers involved are usually higher than the number of cases they have.
The number of alleged fake encounters across the country is staggering and it is an unacceptable form of violence. Surely in the model for governance espoused by visionary politicians there is room to make people feel safer. Seemingly against the wishes of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the NHRC has decided to hold “hearings” this week in Dantewada in the heart of Naxal territory to address the issue of alleged fake encounters. It is unlikely the media will even mention it.
Kishalay is currently Editor-East, New Generation Media, a new national television channel. His book, Che in Paona Bazaar has recently released.