May 06, 2007

Such killing

In Gujarat, police officers kill a man who was apparently a small-time criminal, label him a terrorist and their act an "encounter". Later, they also kill the man's wife and burn her body. They also kill an informer who had witnessed the event.

All this happened 1.5 years ago, but has only now come into focus, with the arrest of the officers concerned.

Count with me just three nauseating things about this entire episode.

One, many people have expressed support for those officers. You know: they "got rid of criminals"; "if policemen are pressurised and victimised like this then we will never be able to live peacefully"; and such actions will lower the morale of the police force. (Quotes from the Hindustan Times, May 2 2007).

Well, on the evidence of reports produced by other police officers who investigated this, at least some of the people these officers killed ("got rid of") were not criminals. (Not that killing criminals is acceptable anyway). Therefore these were by definition pretty poor officers. (Putting it kindly). And I can think of no more surefire way to raise the morale of the police than to weed out and punish the wrongdoers.

Two, members of the community that one of these officers belong to, the Vanjaras, staged a show of support for him. In other words, solely because this man is a Vanjara, other Vanjaras decide to rally behind him. "He was the only one of us who made it big," one of these ralliers told the HT. "The community has to rally support for its members."

Those who like to claim that caste is vanishing in India, especially in our urban areas, might give some thought to this little nugget.

Three, this case has grabbed headlines, but by no means is it an isolated one. "Encounters", the police tell us, happen when they accost a suspect, he opens fire on them, they fire back and hit him, they grab him and rush him to hospital where he is declared dead. This is by now a familiar and celebrated method of policing in this country. We fete the officers who resort to encounters, tout the numbers they have racked up in the manner of fighter pilot kills, and actually believe such "policing" is acceptable and reduces crime. Or fights terrorism. Fueled by such public approval, the police think there is nothing at all wrong in operating this way.

This has been so for years. Remember Javed Fawda? Sada Pawle? Vijay Tandel? Add to those once familiar Bombay names from a decade ago, Kausar Bi and husband and informer from Gujarat. And tell me this, since you think their deaths and so many more fight crime and terrorism, you will go to sleep tonight without bolting your front door, right?

Why do we -- you and I -- support, even applaud, such killing?


Anonymous said...

1. "Encounter" killing is almost casually accepted, from what you get in conversation, TV and movies. Oddly enough both as "good" (hero cop disgusted with system takes revenge) and "bad" (hero villager gets framed by villain cop escapes encounter).

I dont know what can be done to change this mindset. Dilip, can you pls suggest some steps?

Here are some I could think of:

- un-halo the "goodness" of the hero cop in the above scenario.

- make criminal investigation and prosceution more effective, get higher conviction rates reasonably fast without compromising defence rights.

- undo the Afzal effect.
Implement sentences that are awarded after due process without extraneous considerations.

"Kashmir will burn" if Afzal is hanged was one example of a pretty bad argument put out by some ppl, that helps "encounter" proponents.

(My view on Afzal: he deserves a fair trial, I think he got it, open to new arguments on it, but with friends like Arundhati Roy Afzal may not need enemies)

2. On the positive side, had a chat with somebody yesterday who spent a lot of time "explaining" but "not justifying" the Guj 2002 riots (post Godhra) and even he condemned this "encounter".

While googling your stand on reservations for some reason this unrelated riot-discussion was brought up, where you walked a fine line between "explain" and "justify".

I hope you handle it better than my chat mate did, because by the end of the discussion here, I couldnt really tell.


Amrit said...

Encounters, especially the fabricated encounters should neither be applauded nor should be mutely accepted. The law should take it due course and the policemen that do the "dirty Harry" jobs must be contained. No citizen of the country should be subjected to such a treatment. This is a separate issue.

About the caste thing: there is another shade of this problem. The Vanjara community takes a stand in favor of the police officer because our misguided intellectuals and manipulative politicians keep the poisonous pots of caste-ism simmering for all sorts of twisted reasons. Every caste feels that it should protect its own. The same happens in Kashmir -- people protect and sympathize even with terrorists that blow up small children. Dilip, strangely you have no scruples when caste is used for quotas and reservations, but when the same caste card is played to garner support for an encounter-stained cop you feel nauseating -- this is the pervasive mentality that lies in the crux of the problem. Our double standards.

People that justify Vanjara's actions (read this, for instance) are simply trying to create a counter balance otherwise our country will be thrown into lopsided chaos.

Writing Cave

Dilip D'Souza said...


* To me, this Vanjara demonstration shows (among other things) that caste is alive and kicking, not dying like some of us would like to believe.

* Some societal imbalances need to be addressed. Reservations is one of the methods suggested for addressing one of those. I believe that on balance they are the best mechanism in those circumstances, though I'm always willing to listen to other mechanisms. I'm not going to get into a further debate on this here.

* Reservations for a given community is, in my mind a very different thing from saying "I need to support this guy only because he is from my community." In that sense, Swapan Dasgupta's defence of Vanjara, even if I don't agree with it, makes far more sense to me, because it is at least reasoned, and he makes a case for it. "This guy is from my community" is no case.

Anonymous said...

- undo the Afzal effect.
Implement sentences that are awarded after due process without extraneous considerations.

"Kashmir will burn" if Afzal is hanged was one example of a pretty bad argument put out by some ppl, that helps "encounter" proponents.

Yes. This is precisely the reason. When the law takes its due course and a sentence handed out - and there is no indication that the trial is unfair, there are enough people to step in and reverse the process.
Yes - Kashmir will burn because a kashmiri has been sentenced.
Some writers come up with books asking all sorts of questions and spinning conspiracy theories.

Now if Masood Azhar and his companions had been killed in an encounter, wouldnt the hijacking of the IA flight have been prevented?

Encounter killings will always be justified by a large section of the people as long as the justice system in the country keeps getting hijacked by vested interests.
When our political leaders ensure that rioters and terrorists are given ayurvedic masseurs, will the ordinary person not feel that this is an easy way out.

Regards caste being alive and kicking - it will be as long as politicians and other assorted travellers keep playing caste politics.
Now when we have the PM saying xxx community should have first claim on resources and yyy community should have reservations without data or any justification, when we coomunalise existing institutions that have been free of caste or communal viruses, when a community can riot when a despot is hanged in faraway Iraq then why deny the Vanjaras or any other caste their 15 minutes of fame?

Bland Spice said...

Caste is definitely alive, as any moatrimonial page in the leading dailies would testify; The 'respectability" of the family, the IIT-IIM-ification and NRIsation of the groom notwithstanding.

What saddens me most is that even in a national case like this instead of questioning the roots from where this rot emantes in our society, we are dishing out these medivialistic red herrings.

Bland Spice said...


Excellent comment!

wise donkey said...

mits also bothers me that the facts were not discovered by a process..what about the other killings, what if there are officers who have got away with it..
perhaps its time we have a system, to investigate these killings..and a faster stronger legal system. sounds boring, but that doesnt meann its unnecessary..

on the caste, wonder what would have happened if the officers and the victims had been from the same caste..
""He was the only one of us who made it big," one of these ralliers told the HT." arent the Vanjaras, Indians?? why does this seem so normal?

and why are you suprised that caste exists in urban India, just browse thru the matrimonial ads..

on the comments regarding reservation..just a thought..
when it comes to issues like quotas based on caste or physically challenged, people focus so much on merits, where its assumed, "these people" are not equal.. but dont care to question if a quota or a college seat is gained thru money or contacts. after all the rich and the influential, even if they dont score the marks are always "better people".

Bombay Addict said...

This has been so for years. Remember Javed Fawda? Sada Pawle? Vijay Tandel? Add to those once familiar Bombay names from a decade ago..

perhaps add to that Khwaja Yunus?

Anonymous said...

and why are you suprised that caste exists in urban India, just browse thru the matrimonial ads..

Matrimonial columns also prefer linguistic groups. So dont you also see linguistic preferences are also alive and kicking. Do you see ad's for a Mysore Brahmin that says alliances from Kashmiri/Bihari/UP Brahmins will do.
Matrimonial ad's prefer the same liguistic/caste/regional grouping mainly as it will be easy for the families to adjust.

Wise donkey
when it comes to issues like quotas based on caste or physically challenged, people focus so much on merits, where its assumed, "these people" are not equal.. but dont care to question if a quota or a college seat is gained thru money or contacts. after all the rich and the influential, even if they dont score the marks are always "better people".
Your comment does not hold water. At least the people gaining through money at least spend from their own pockets. First IIT/IIM seats are alloted purely on merit. It is only private colleges that give away seats based on money, influence etc. I have issues when the progeny of Laloo, Karunanidhi and Ramadoss have seats reserved for them. But Dilip for long has been such a champion of OBC quota that he nicely brings up caste even during a case of encounter killing.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Dilip ... nicely brings up caste even during a case of encounter killing.


A man is accused of a crime. Many people who belong to his community come out to protest this and support him, saying "we have to support our members."

I find this crazy and remark on it.

It's me who "brings up caste."

Learn something new every day.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dilip, my only regret is you were not killed instead in one of those fake encounters. Maybe next time.

Anonymous said...


1. I am not *absolutely* convinced on the Afzal case but I believe he has done enough to deserve the death penalty, and extraneous stuff like Kashmir politicking, or Arundhati's conspiracy theories should:
- not affect us pro-Afzal.
- not affect us anti-Afzal either, ie the case should be considered on its merits and not influenced by 'helpful' campaigning above.

2. Hope we can avoid the slippery slope thing here. I dont think all or even most encounter kills are motivated by the "these guys will get away otherwise" mentality, more because they the encounter crowd can get away with it.

3. You have a point in that with caste politics so very active today, it will be surprising if ppl DONT align themselves on caste lines.

As WD and others have pointed out however, we have been aligning that way anyway and its possible caste politics emerged out of that. It becomes chicken and egg.


Dilip D'Souza said...


you say you are "open to new arguments" on the Afzal case. Well, that's precisely what some people are trying to do, offering new arguments.

I have no idea what you are getting at, re: walking a fine line. Could you clarify please?

Anonymous said...

I don't see why it is difficult to understand the alleged dichotomy in Dilip's reactions to caste.

When OBCs demand reservations Dilip, like some others, sees it as 'the best possible alternative' to righting some wrongs and bringing some balance. This is the only repreive that many underprivilaged can get(in spite of some well off OBCs getting benefits) without waiting for a tremendous policy which though based on things other than caste(say financial status in a country that has pathetic tax collections) will be implemented brilliantlyand quickly.

On the other hand when someone gives caste as a reason to support criminals, Dilip finds it unpalatable.

How is this hard to understand? When he supports OBC reservations he is only being a realist.

I on the other hand will proceed to move to Sweden where the people a happy, wear the most fashionable cocktail dresses suitably enhanced by glass ceilings everywhere

- Zap

Anonymous said...


1. New arguments for Afzal:

Yes I recognise that. I was trying to point out that some of the arguments worked against him. Had to make conscious efforts to NOT get affected anti-Afzal by the politicking etc.

2. Fine line between explain/ justify:

Didnt want to publicize this site and discussion here- remember this is the one I had requested you to avoid in 'outreach', much better to talk with confused instead or something like that.

But I brought it up and so have to link it. Its the comment thread at:

Pls note that I am not saying you blur it. I dont know enough of your debating to comment on that. My chat partner here blurred and crossed that line quite a few times on the Guj2002 violence.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Jai, I'm still not sure. Among other things in that discussion, one thing I said was: people offer "backlash" as an explanation for events, and that I can see. Bom blasts were a backlash to the riots, killing across Gujarat was a backlash to the killing at Godhra, killing of Sikhs was a backlash to the murder of Indira, etc.

But when you say a backlash is justified by some events, there I cannot agree. The Bom riots did not justify the blasts, the killing at Godhra did not justify the killing across Gujarat, the murder of Indira did not justify the killing of Sikhs.

I mean, for example, Srikrishna was asked by the BJP-Sena govt to inquire into the causes of the blasts; he concluded that the riots led to the blasts. Meaning, the blasts were a backlash to the riots. He did not conclude that the blasts were justified by the riots; if they were justified, why did we spend a dozen years trying the blast accused?

An explanation is entirely different from a justification, and we should remember that difference despite the attempts of too many people to blur it.

Amrit said...

Dilip, I understand why you wrote that piece in Tehelka regarding the people who comment. Some of your commentators ARE whackos :-).

No violent reaction can be justified, and in fact, if you start justifying violence, it means you are reconciled to the fact that you are living in an anarchy, governed by an impotent government. Riots, bomb blasts, can never be justified, they can only be termed as utter law and order failure and the ruling government/party should be held responsible for that.

Writing Cave

Anonymous said...

"..when you say a backlash is justified by some events .."

1. Hope you noticed I didnt say that.

2. Actually the difference btwn explain / justify isnt as clear to me as it is apparently to you.

I dont really accept 'backlash' as explanation.

3. Taking my comments here as an example, some of it can be placed into a frame of "explanation" for encounters.

4. There is an element of justification creeping in too, that I can perceive. Other commentators here have run away with that ball.

5. I keep working on and thinking about this on my commentary. You seem to have clear cut definitions in place and no confusion. Good for you.

6. Lets agree to disagree and bring this digression to a close?


Anonymous said...


explain/ justify:
Got one clear difference.

Explanations can be used to understand *why* and hopefully to avoid recurrence. Analysis and explanation may be the only way to resolve conflicts.

The line to justification, is still not too clear but this isnt my blog/ space.

I admit to being a very "middle_class_moral" law & order guy who has trouble when somebody goes:

" *this* is why so & so bombed trains/ killed 55 ppl/ destroyed mosques/ etc."

unless they clearly state that this isnt justification.

Familiar territory for me, this is where I earned my first jump_hoop from you ("assume whatever you like about my stand on terrorism").

My final comment here. Sorry to take up so much commentspace.

Thank you,

B said...

Scares me.

Anonymous said...

The 'apparently small time criminal' seems to have a sterling track record

Anonymous said...

I dont know about you, I support extra judicial killings, because:~

1) The criminal justice system is dead in India. Criminals frequently arent punished for their crimes. This guy who was bumped off had 52 (!!!!) cases registered against him. Cases of extortion, murder, possesion of illegal arms etc. His wife was simply 'collateral damage', i.e. an acceptable amount of damage as far as I am concerned.

2) Regular Police forces in India are undermanned, and are 10 steps behind criminals in technology. In their present state, they cant be expected to pursue high tech and well moneyed criminals.

3) Once indicted, habitual mafia criminal types often intimidate witnesses and manipulate evidence to get out of prison. Its far easier to execute them.

4) There is really no federal agency in India that can effectively investigate inter state crime. Criminals know this and take advantage of this.

5) I know that the policemen are one of us, (us includes you too), they take broad directions from people you and I elect. It isnt as black and white a picture as you want to paint.

Here are the things I find nauseating:~

I find your attitude to this whole affair where you support a known criminal against cops nauseating. There is no equivalence between the police and the criminal in this case.

You dig up caste in a totally irrelevant and irresponsible manner. Just goes to show that if a cat and dog had sex, you will find evidence of caste in it.


Anonymous said...


Heard of the Euston Manifesto? Food for though at least, if not anything else

Surya said...

Do you ever write anything other than Gujarat? How bout for a change the Sex Racket in Churches in Kerala and the death of new borns in the Hospitals due to Unhygenic conditions?
Remember its the Gujarat own CID dept that exposed the about something happening like that in Congress pseudo seculars are really a pathetic lot

Dilip D'Souza said...

Ah, the A Nony Mice brigade of abuser and impersonator of themself makes its appearance, slew of comments within minutes of each other. Must be the usual: something's striking close to home. Apart from that, it can be safely ignored.

Jai, I didn't say you said a backlash is justified. Here's one last attempt to make things clear. Let's say my neighbour Mr Falana steals Rs 50 from my home. I'm so incensed that I go beat him to death. Now I can claim that I beat him because he stole from me. The theft is the cause of, the explanation for, my crime -- because I would not have beat him if he had not stolen from me.

However, it is emphatically not a justification for my crime: any court would throw it out as it deserves to be thrown out, if I offered as a justification.

If it is not clear, we'll have to leave it there. Other commentators who ran away with some ball don't interest me.

Nikhil, small time or not, sterling track record or not, that's not the point. He should have been tried and punished for his crimes, not shot dead by the police.

Sudeep, the criminal justice system being "dead" here is still no reason to support extra-judicial killings, and in fact is the worst reason to support them. Because then you give license to the police to kill anyone they choose, often (as you say) at the direction of political masters. Which means they often carry out political vendettas.

The points you present are the case for the far tougher job: reforming our police/judicial system. It's what every reasonable police officer out there -- Julio Ribeiro to Satish Sahney to many more -- are clamouring for. But instead of getting our teeth into that tougher job, we prefer the easier one: let the police kill people, then tell us that they were gangsters and terrorists, and we can then pretend that they are ffighting crime.

I'm not particularly concerned that you find what I say nauseating. To me, killing one innocent person is an unacceptably high price to pay. I would like to see police reforms get us heading towards that ideal.

I dug up caste? Allow me to repeat (with slight paraphrase) from earlier on this page:
A man is accused of a crime. Many people who belong to his community come out to protest this and support him, saying "we have to support our members."

I find this crazy and remark on it.

It's me who "dug up caste."

Learn something new every day

hsmv: if you care to read you'd see that there are things other than Gujarat here. But why bother with that? Easier to run about calling people pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Encounter might be accepted when it done for right reasons,But not killing small-time criminal and his wife.Both the policeman have to be punished to stop these kinds of act in the future.
Car Breakdown Cover

wise donkey said...

Bombay Addict, so if a person spends money, merit is not important..then why is merit issue raised when it comes to reservations..

and what about this -
"Having stood first in a selection examination five months ago in lab medicine, he should have got the more coveted of the two senior resident posts that were on offer at All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Except that Sukhbir Singh Badhal, a post-graduate from AIIMS, subverted an unstated rule. He topped the general category although he belongs to a reserved category, scheduled caste. AIIMS admin gave the coveted post in the main department of lab medicine to the second-rank holder in the general category, while Badhal was shunted to the trauma centre.."

Anonymous said...

What I do understand is that you should not comment on things that you haven't experienced firsthand.
Its very easy to sit in a News Room or your home and say that encounters "killings" cannot be justified because they are not legal.
There would've been no U.S.A....or even India....if the freedomfighters HAD followed the law of the land (And it is the same thing.....cos law applies to everyone).
Secondly....get out of your homes n take a look around....just the fact that you can do because of these Encounter "killings".
Dont u ppl remember the state of affairs in Bombay when these gangsters ruled over the city...with organized crime flourishing...there were indiscriminate killings by them everywhere.
And there was a 74% reduction in crime...just because of these encounter "Killings"
There was a time in Delhi...when People were afraid to get out of their homes....they might've been kidnapped.....and all this changed...with the encounter "killings".
Well U could argue that the judicial system is supposed to sanction killing of an Individual.
Well the Individual here is a powerful gangster/criminal with lots of money and coerce or even kill the witnesses against him...and destroy the evidence or off the judiciary.
Even if u argue that innocent people die and the policemen claim them as gangsters....well let me tell you it possible for the police in this day and age....with the boom of the even lay a hand on an innocent civilian....the would be hanged out to dry by the police department....and would probably get a prison sentence.
When a recent poll shows that 60% of the judiciary is wander whether desperate times call for Desperate Measures.

P.S You might wander that i am justifying "encounters" cos i was affected by the movie.....I am writing this because of personal experiences.