November 01, 2016

India: Staging an ‘Encounter’ - Madhya Pradesh Police Style (Statement released by JTSA, 1 Nov 2016)

Staging an ‘Encounter’: Madhya Pradesh Police Style

The brazen killing is linked to the bogey of SIMI being raised in the state
for long
Questions are being rightfully raised about the suspicious circumstances in
which eight under trial prisoners are alleged to have escaped from the
Bhopal Central Jail, and then gunned down in a supposed encounter less than
12 hours later, less than ten kilometres away from the jail. Far too many
discrepancies about the course of events, about the modus operandi of the
jail break, and the ‘weapons’ they were carrying have emerged in the
statements of the various state officials. Photographic and video evidence
points to the staged nature of the encounter killing – down to the new
clothes and shoes the undertrials were wearing, the suitcases lying strewn
around the dead bodies, the gleaming knife a brave police officer recovers
from the lifeless body. From the police version it appears that the Eight
spent their short-lived time after jail break togging up in jeans and
sports shoes, procuring dry fruits, suitcases and country made revolvers
while giving no thought to really escaping the area. They did not even
bother to split up.

The Madhya Pradesh police and administration has predictably brushed aside
the criticism ignoring the multiple contradictions its own and government
spokespersons have indulged in. The Chief Minister has announced that the
NIA will probe the jailbreak *but who is probing the ‘encounter’?*
Experience shows, in most cases of encounter, FIRs are filed against the
deceased rather than the police party. The FIR in the killing of the Eight
must be made public; their killings must not be allowed to fall into a
legal blackhole.
No doubt, there will be those who will point to the purported SIMI
affiliations of the deceased to justify their killings. Already, a central
minister has lauded the encounter as a ‘morale booster’, as though nations
need to be nourished by blood. In their book, a genuine encounter is one in
which an alleged terrorist is killed, and one in which public perception
can be managed successfully. Rule of Law however has a different test. It
demands that the police demonstrate that the killing was a proportionate
and justified response in face of murderous violence.

The cavalier way in which policemen can be seen pumping bullets into the
supine bodies – that too on camera – can be understood in the context of
the ease and success with which the SIMI bogey has been raised in Madhya
It is remarkable that there have been no incidents of terror attacks in
Madhya Pradesh for the last many years. In fact, the only incident of
actual violence was a shootout in Teen Pulia area of Khandwa district on 28
November 2009, in which three people, including an ATS constable, Sitaram
Batham died. The local police alleged that the motorcycle borne assailant
was a member of the outlawed association, SIMI. Except for this solitary
incident – and the veracity of the assailant's link to SIMI or even whether
this shootout was indicative of any terror activity rather than being an
instance of 'ordinary' criminality, was not established – there have been
no other incidents reported. For a state with such a history, the number of
cases in which the accused were charged with furthering the activities of
an unlawful association under UAPA is fairly high. As our report, *Guilt by
Association* (2013) showed, cases are registered against former SIMI
members, their friends and acquaintances – and sometimes people with no
links to either SIMI when it was a lawful association, or any of its former
members – in police stations in Indore, Seoni, Khandwa, Bhopal, Burhanpur,
Ujjain, Neemuch, Guna etc, practically the entire state.

The FIRs are more or less identical – with similar allegations (shouting
slogans in favour of the banned organization SIMI, vowing to take forward
the cause, distributing pamhlets, possessing banned SIMI literature,
membership slips, Urdu posters etc). Sometimes, the set of accused and the
dates and time of the crime are also identical.

In some cases, the evidence of guilt is identical: for example, the same
copy of a magazine has been produced in at least 4 different cases across
the state. The same receipt of contribution to SIMI funds has been produced
as evidence in two different cases.

In another case, clippings of *Dainik Jagran* newspaper, which carried
stories about SIMI – especially story about Safdar Nagori's narco analysis
– have been submitted as proof of 'furthering of activities of an unlawful
association'. The Pithampur case of Dhar (FIR no. 120/2008), one of the
most prominent SIMI cases of Madhya Pradesh is revealing of the way in
which SIMI cases are manufactured in the state. Arrests of 13 leading SIMI
activists were allegedly made on 27 March 2008. Immediately after the
arrests, on 29 March 2008, the Senior Superintendent of Police, Dhar, shot
off letters to various districts of Madhya Pradesh asking for registration
of similar cases. These letters immediately set of a chain reaction,
resulting in 18 cases within one month, and another four over next six
months. This surely must have been a record of sorts!

Many accused, appearing regularly in FIRs across the state were later also
arraigned in terror and blast cases outside the state. Cases against Aquil
Khilji, one of those killed, were regularly registered from 2001 onwards,
right from when SIMI was banned. Most of the cases pertained to possession
and distribution of ‘unlawful’ literature. In June 2011, the Khandwa police
claimed that they had raided Khilji’s house at midnight and busted a SIMI
meeting where Khilji and others were planning a terror strike. Among those
‘arrested’ were Khaleel and Amjad, also killed in the ‘encounter’. It might
be interesting to note that while the police preened through the media
about this midnight raid carried on the intervening night of 13-14th June,
families of Khaleel and Amjad had moved applications in the CJM’s court
complaining that the police had picked up and detained their sons between 10
th- 12th June, failing to produce them before the magistrate even after the
lapse of 24 hours. In response to these applications, the City Kotwali
police submitted to the CJM that though Khaleel had been called to the
police station on 10 June, he had not been detained thereafter. The police
also claimed that Amjad had not been traceable and could not be questioned.
These responses are dated 13th June. So, these foolhardy and senseless
‘SIMI’ activists had decided to convene a meeting the same night – in the
middle of being questioned and searched by the police – to plan a terror

Such are the SIMI stories of Madhya Pradesh police. In trying to prove the
‘encounter’ genuine, they have outdone even themselves. The killing must
be situated in this context of longstanding criminalization of SIMI, and
these numerous cases booked against Muslim men (and at least in one case,
also two young women) across the state.

Released by JTSA on 1st November 2016.