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Beware an encounter raj

  • Vikas Dubey’s ‘encounter’ killing should alarm the country. If elementary principles of justice are flouted so brazenly, our democracy will be in danger.

The killing of Uttar Pradesh (UP) gangster Vikas Dubey while in custody of the UP Police—under hazy circumstances—once again raises disturbing questions about extra-judicial “encounters" being used as a tool to deliver rough-and-ready “street justice". Even though Dubey is reported to have as many as 60 criminal cases against him, and was a key accused in the ambush killing of eight UP cops earlier this month, his death should alarm the country. Dubey should have been tried in our courts for his alleged crimes. Like all citizens, he had the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The UP administration, however, seems to have little time for the due process of law, as its record of police killings would suggest.

A wanted man, Dubey was identified and nabbed by cops at a temple in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday. So, how did he die? The police say he tried to snatch a policeman’s weapon while being transported to UP and an ensuing struggle led the vehicle to overturn, after which he tried to escape into nearby fields, fired at cops calling out for his surrender, and lost his life in their return fire. Dubey reportedly received four gunshots, while several cops were injured in the exchange. Forensic examinations will be needed to establish the plausibility of this sequence of events. For now, we must wonder why the police can’t manage to get an unarmed fugitive safely into a courtroom, or even a lockup.

The applause that his death appears to have received from some people should dismay us still further. This reminds of a similar public response after four rape accused were killed by cops in a supposed encounter in Hyderabad last year. No matter what people think of those seen as outlaws, it is dangerous for a society to ignore the basics of justice. It is not for police officers or their political masters to decide matters of life and death, no matter how grave the accusations. Dubey is said to have been a local tough who fell out with his politician patrons, and his survival could have helped investigators work out his gang’s operations. Not only is that chance gone, few seem to care for judicial principles that apply to all—without which we’d be a deeply flawed democracy.

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