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PUCL, June 2007

Fake Encounters: The Indian State’s Only Response to Political Dissent?

Dear Friend,

Jan Hastakshep, Campaign Against Fascist Designs and Peoples Union for Civil Liberties ( PUCL ) strongly condemns the manner in which the Indian state has started using fake encounters and custodial killings as the sole means of curbing political dissent.

The Indian state, instead of engaging in dialogue with the people and making concrete and sincere attempts to understand the people's problems is using all means to curb any dissent that might emerge from the toiling masses. It is even more distressing to notice that a large part of this illegal violence by the state is being directed against the tribal poor and religious minorities.

Jan Hastakshep and PUCL are deeply concerned about the widespread encounter killings in different States in the country. Fake encounters which started in the seventies, as isolated and sporadic incidents, have assumed a systematic pattern in different States. In the seventies, encounter killings were mainly directed against Communist Revolutionaries. Civil Liberties Organizations raised their voice and reports such as the Tarkunde Committee on encounter killings in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab brought to light the manner in which the State apparatus indulged in the elimination of political activists in gross violation of the rule of law and fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

In the eighties and nineties again hundreds were eliminated in fake encounters by the security forces in the guise of bringing “peace” to Punjab and the North East, similarly, for the past twenty years, Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed thousands of cases where people are labeled militants and executed in fake encounters.

It is now an open fact that the armed forces are using “encounter” killings in the valley as a tool to counter political dissent. The democratic opinion in the country is strongly opposed to this approach because it is the absence of democratic rights in the valley which leads to further spiraling violence. Peace can only be restored in the valley by ensuring Rule of Law and fulfilling the democratic aspirations of Kashmiris. “Encounter” killings on such massive scale have been made possible because there exists no mechanism to ensure accountability in the functioning of the armed forces. Laws like the Jammu and Kashmir Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act have contributed to the functioning of the Army and Security Forces with impunity. Today, the courts are reluctant to bring the guilty to book because of the mistaken belief that violation of Human Rights is only a necessary corollary to bring about “peace” in the valley and any pro-active measures bringing about accountability may have a “demoralizing effect” on the security forces.

The response of the courts particularly to the Human Rights situation has been absolutely pathetic. A recent Supreme Court judgment on a JandK case concerning death in army custody has now shifted the burden of proof of innocence on the accused; while allowing the state to get away with false charge sheets, incomplete post mortem reports and “lost files,” strikes the final nail in the coffin of any hope pf legal address.

The recent fake encounters in Gujarat and Chattisgarh add to the shameful list of excesses by the state even where Special Acts (such as JandKAFSPA and AFSPA) do not exist. Chattisgarh is now become infamous for its “Salwa Judum” the state sponsored anti tribal drive; while the state apparatus in Gujarat is daily worsening its already dismal record in human rights violations and fake encounters by openly targeting Muslims.

In Delhi there are many cases of fake encounters and custodial deaths. The recent custodial killing of a Muslim teacher in Sultanpuri is a case in point. It is time that the civil liberties movement and concerned individuals take an in-depth view on the entire issue of encounter killings. Extra judicial killings are fast becoming the accepted norms for state intervention in quelling dissent and Jan Hastakshep and PUCL believe that only a sustained democratic movement can deter the State apparatus acting with impunity.

Jan Hastakshep, PUCL

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014