Around 2 am last Sunday morning, a fleeing thief fires one single shot at the police chasing him. The police retaliate with an unspecified number of shots; one punctures the thief’s heart and the other his chest, killing him on the spot.
This raises a very fundamental question. Do thieves have a right to life, guaranteed to all of us as a fundamental right in our Constitution? Under what circumstances can anyone be denied his right to life, by institutions other than the Courts? Or are we a banana republic where law enforcing agencies can dispense instant justice rather than take law breakers to court?
The TV images of a surrendering gangster in Lucknow being gunned down in full media glare by the police last year are too gruesome to forget. Remember the gunning down of Rahul Raj in Mumbai? The youth from Bihar who dared to flash a country made revolver and threaten Raj Thackery in a Mumbai bus? Similarly the numerous encounters in Gujarat which were stage managed, the Batala House encounter and the numerous disappearances in Kashmir, all of these remind us of the scant respect for human life the Indian Police has and how hard it is to bring the guilty to book.
According to the Doon Police, two suspicious characters were spotted in Vasant Vihar Colony by the Police around Sunday midnight, who fled into the adjoining tea estate on being challenged. The Police surrounded the estate and started combing when a shot was fired at them by the thieves. The Police retaliated, gunning down one of them while the other managed to flee.
Was this a proportionate use of force? Should the Police not aim at catching fugitives alive first? The country made gun of the thief had jammed with the used cartridge after firing one round and he could not have fired again at the police. Also, no mention has been made by the authorities about the total number of rounds fired by the Police. Even if the Police had to fire back, should not the aim be first to fire below the waist so as to catch him alive? Shooting a running man straight in his heart in the darkness of the night from a distance seems unusually lucky.
While it is true that in the “heat” of the moment one may not go logically, but are not our Police Officers trained to deal with situations like this? They should be able to handle much more difficult situations without raising the “kill him” bugle and no Standard Operating Procedure can call for shooting to kill of suspects after one single shot has been fired, and that too without as much as even grazing anybody.
Another inexplicable discovery was that the dead thief was carrying with him items he had stolen two days ago from the same locality? Now, why would any thief do that or was he thinking of returning them to the rightful owner? Or could it indicate a more sinister cover-up?
While it is not the intention of the author to doubt the claims of the Police, yet as a Standard Procedure, any death in Police custody or Police action must be publicly investigated by an independent authority, to prevent possible misuse of powers. The investigation must focus on the events leading upto the killing, whether the killing was avoidable and whether the police used appropriate force in the episode. In UK the Independent Police Watchdog Commission investigates publicly each and every case of Police high handedness or deaths resulting from Police action.
Life of even the most hardened criminal is precious. Right to life is the most basic of human rights and to deny it to someone just because he is a thief or because he fired at the police seems unreasonable. Not many people would cry at the killing of a thief, that too when he is an outsider without any relatives staying in the city, but then are human rights and life anybody’s charity? Ignoring injustice to others only strengthens the unjust system and one day may bring us to face to face with the same system.
Who would have heard of Ram if Valmiki had been “encountered”?
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