By Sandeep Sahu
No other word in the English dictionary generates as much heat in India as the word ‘encounter’. The word divides the intelligentsia down the middle – one side promptly dubbing it a ‘fake’ or ‘false’ encounter and the other hailing the security forces on their ‘success’. And it was no different this morning when news about the shooting down of the eight SIMI members, who had escaped from the high security Bhopal jail after killing a jail guard, on the outskirts of the city by the Madhya Pradesh ATS started doing the rounds.
Even before the full details of the alleged ‘encounter’ (the use of the word ‘alleged’ is deliberate because the jury is still out on whether it was a genuine encounter or a staged one) had emerged, the naysayers began raising questions and pointing to the discrepancies in the statements of the Bhopal IG and the Madhya Pradesh Home minister. While the former claimed the escaping SIMI activists had fired on the ATS chasing them, the latter said they had nothing more lethal than twisted jail utensils by way of weapons, but the police had ‘no option but to fire on them’ when they refused to surrender.
The questions raised by sections of the media, human rights activists and civil society in this particular case are, of course, all valid questions. We have seen far too many cases where security forces have gunned down terror suspects or alleged Maoists in their custody and then sought to pass it off as an encounter. Why, there have even been cases where innocent villagers have been killed and then their bodies dressed up in Maoist clothing in an effort to prove that they were Maoists. One only has to remember the Gumdumaha incident in Kandhamal district on July 29 this year to realise the trigger-happy nature of our security forces.
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Thus it was perfectly in order to raise questions about the seemingly dubious nature of today’s encounter. But what was not alright was pronouncing a verdict that it was a false encounter as some people have already done. The best course under the circumstances is not to jump to any conclusion and to wait for the outcome of the inquiry that has already been ordered into the incident.
But there are some people in the country who would dismiss any inquiry – judicial or otherwise – as mere eyewash and pass their verdict holding security personnel guilty, before and after the official inquiry, irrespective of its conclusion. The infamous Batla House encounter is a case in point. Even after several inquiries found that it was a genuine encounter, some in the human rights brigade continue to claim that it was cold-blooded murder of innocent youth. But they would not take the trouble of explaining how and why Inspector ML Sharma, one of the finest officers of the Delhi police, was killed if it was a ‘fake’ encounter.
While it is eminently possible that the Bhopal ATS gunned down the eight fleeing SIMI men in cold blood without giving them a chance to surrender, what cannot be brushed aside is the fact that the latter did kill a jail staffer to make good their escape. At this stage, no one knows for sure whether the SIMI men mounted an attack on the ATS personnel (with our without guns) or were bumped off in cold blood. So, it is best to reserve judgment on that.
But the distrust of the security forces is so complete among a section of the civil and human rights activists that they would hold them guilty even if the facts just don’t add up to prove their contention. They have demanded a judicial inquiry into the October 31 encounter in the Malkangiri forests that left 28 Maoists, including some top guns of the dreaded Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee, dead. Fair enough. But to say that they were killed in cold blood at a time when they were not prepared is to ignore the fact that it’s a war out there where no quarters are given or asked for. On numerous occasions in the past, Maoists have ambushed and mercilessly killed security personnel catching them completely off guard and they can’t expect the ‘enemy’ to give them advance notice about an impending attack, can they?
There are times when the distrust of security forces is taken to ridiculous lengths. Like the preposterous theory first propounded by the late AR Antulay and later seconded by a former police commissioner of Mumbai – no less – that the then chief of Mumbai ATS Hemant Karkare was killed by Hindutva forces and not by the Lashkar terrorists during the 26/11 Mumbai attack. Or the equally contemptible theory that the December 13, 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament was masterminded by RAW and not the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Why, some members of the left liberal school even suggested that the Uri attack on September 18 was the handiwork of Indian intelligence agencies!
The Doubting Thomases and the proponents of conspiracy theories would, of course, not bother to explain why security agencies would do something like this. After all, what did the RAW and – by extension – the Indian security establishment gain by getting seven of their fellow security personnel killed in the Parliament attack. Or why did the Hindutva forces have to wait till 26/11 to kill Karkare if they were so capable? Is it their case that the whole 26/11 attack was stage managed by the Hindutva forces and 166 people killed just to kill the Mumbai ATS chief? (Given their love for conspiracy theories, I, for one, would not be surprised if they do just that. Viewers would perhaps recall that our incurable cynics pointed to the red thread on Ajmal Kasab’s hand to propound precisely such a theory!)
It is queries and propositions like these that bring the credibility of the naysayers into serious question and give rise to suspicion that they are working at the behest of some unknown forces.
While we must never stop questioning the security forces for their acts of commission and omission, we must also dismiss the motivated conspiracy theories floated by a section of the ‘professional’ Doubting Thomases with the contempt they deserve.