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In Yogi’s ‘encounter Pradesh’ dead gangsters tell tales of torture and fishy bullet wounds

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The first part of ThePrint’s investigation raises alarming questions on the UP government’s “success story” of fighting crime with the bullet and eliminating 39 gangsters in 10 months

Lucknow: Thirty-nine alleged criminals shot dead in 1,142 “encounters” in 10 months in one of India’s most lawless states, and counting.

As Uttar Pradesh’s BJP government of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath races to complete its first year in office this month, this scorecard of “law enforcement” is all set to be touted as one of its biggest achievements.

After all, the people are supposed to be happy, police thrilled and criminals running scared – so much so that those in jail don’t want to step out even if they have been given bail and those outside are surrendering to the police, fearing for their lives.

But investigation by ThePrint shows the bloody scorecard is filled with holes and raises alarming questions: Has a trigger-happy police force been given a licence to kill small-time criminals and dress them up as major successes in the fight against crime? Are these staged extra-judicial killings, with some even motivated by political rivalries?

Also read: Encounters in UP: Man who went to ‘surrender’ killed, mother who heard cops ‘finish’ son

ThePrint reporters criss-crossed the state and examined the cases of each of the 39 killed. They were all alleged to be robbers, burglars, extortionists, kidnappers, shooters and even automobile thieves – but none featured in the state’s ‘most wanted list of criminals’.

ThePrint reporters also visited families of the alleged criminals killed by the police, spoke to the policemen who carried out these encounters, accessed post-mortem reports, magistrate inquiry reports and case files to corroborate facts and find answers. And almost every case threw up glaring discrepancies in the police narrative of what led to the killings.

All these men are documented to have been shot at in “retaliation”, after they opened fire at policemen, all of them in bullet-proof jackets, mostly in an open space with no witnesses around. But at the same time, many of those killed had sustained several fractures, including skull and spinal injuries.

Police say these injuries were sustained when the alleged criminals were trying to flee on foot or in a vehicle. But their families claim they were sustained when the men were arrested and tortured in custody before being eliminated.

The FIRs filed in the cases have the same template

Time: between 8 pm and 2 am or 4 am and 7 am. The police receive secret information that a group of gangsters, planning to carry out loot or a murder, will pass through a certain area. They get ready, put up check posts at relevant intersections and wait for them to arrive.

Graphic showing encounters in Uttar Pradesh


The police then spot a bike or a car from a distance and signal the driver to stop. The driver, on seeing the police, tries to flee and opens fire. The police then chase the vehicle, till both parties reach an open space – a field or an empty stretch of road – and a gun battle ensues. The bullet hits one of the gangsters, who collapses, while others manage to flee in the dark or go into hiding behind bushes. The gangster is then rushed to the hospital, where he dies during treatment. A policeman is also injured after a bullet pierces through his bullet proof jacket, or in some cases, grazes his arm.

Also read: UP encounters: Killed at 11 pm but watch shows 7; another shot dead after 7 years in jail

In all 39 cases where gangsters have been killed, their associates have managed to escape.

All the FIRs also show similar objects recovered from the alleged gangsters – either a .32 bore pistol, a 9 mm pistol, or a country-made pistol – along with live cartridges.

Except in four cases, in one of which one police personnel lost his life, the bullets fired by gangsters either grazed police personnel or hit their bullet proof jackets.

Unexplained injuries in post-mortem reports

Most post-mortem reports accessed by ThePrint show several external and internal injuries, including fractures in the scalp, ribs, spinal cord and knees, that the alleged gangsters sustained, supposedly while trying to flee.

Their family members, however, allege that they were picked up by the police and tortured in custody, much before they were killed in a ‘staged’ encounter.

In one case reported from Azamgarh, the alleged gangster sustained 21 injuries including 16 bullet wounds, and two police personnel sustained non fatal injuries in the operation.

Graphic showing discrepancies in encounters
Illustration by Siddhant Gupta

The post-mortem report of another alleged gangster, who was gunned down in Muzaffarnagar after he opened fire at the police in a bid to escape in his car, says that he was shot in the middle of his forehead. He sustained an entry wound measuring 1.5 x 1 cm and an exit wound measuring 2 x 1.5 cm, which indicates that he was shot at from a close range, contradicting the police theory that he was shot dead while trying to escape. Apart from the bullet injuries, he also had laceration marks on his neck.

Similarly, the post mortem report of another alleged gangster from Baghpat showed multiple fractures in his rib cage and knees, and lacerations on the neck and scalp. He was shot in the chest.

Also read: UP encounters: One ‘mistaken identity’, another killed after ‘raising hands in surrender’

Targeted killings or encounters?

While the FIRs and status reports submitted by the police to the court and the National Human Rights Commission say the gangsters were killed in retaliatory firing while they were trying to escape, there is evidence to show that the men were picked up much earlier.

In a case reported from Baghpat, the father of the 22-year-old gangster who was killed on 3 October 2017, filed a ‘missing person’ complaint with the CM’s office after his son was reportedly picked up by the police on 1 October 2017. The father told ThePrint that he knew his son, who was involved in cases of dacoity, would be killed in an encounter, so he registered a complaint on the CM’s portal, to the DM, a day before, but no one heard him out. His son was killed on 3 October.

Family members in some cases also alleged that the police teams announced bounties on these gangsters only a few days before their arrest, following which they were killed.

The opposition, especially the Samajwadi Party, has raised questions on these encounters. It protested in the state assembly against the killings.

“People who have charges of petty crime, do they deserve to die? Were they hardcore criminals?” asks Sunil Yadav Sajan, SP spokesperson and MLC.

Graphic showing modus operandi of encounters
Illustration by Siddhant Gupta

Questions have been raised from within the government too. Om Prakash Rajbhar, a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government and president of the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, a BJP ally, has written to the chief minister seeking a CBI inquiry in the death of Mukesh Rajbhar from Azamgarh.

Rajbhar had a bounty of Rs 50,000 on his head.

But the government has been gung-ho, what with Adityanath time and again declaring that criminals would be wiped out to ensure law and order in the state.

“It is unfortunate that some people are showing sympathy towards criminals. This is dangerous for democracy. The encounters will go on,” Adityanath said in reply to a question by a BJP MLC in the legislative council on 15 February.

Also read: UP encounters: A thug who was ‘mentally unstable & begging’, a ‘rushed’ midnight cremation

It’s a message echoed by state police chief O.P. Singh.

“The government has decided to account for criminals. They either flee the state or be locked in jail. Western UP was flooded with criminals. These gangsters treated UP as some sort of sanctuary. They used to come and strike and then go back,” Singh told ThePrint.

“With this crackdown, we are trying to create a healthy environment. We are getting a good response from locals.”

Political observers say state governments have resorted to encounters when there is a sharp rise in crime. And encounters make governments instantly popular because citizens think the police is doing well to gun down those who take the law into their hands.

In the case of UP, the most high-profile spate of encounters took place when Congress’s V.P. Singh became CM in 1980. At the time, the state, along with Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, was struggling to deal with dacoits. A special anti-dacoity law was brought in, which consisted of draconian measures to deal with those who harboured dacoits and acted as go-betweens in disposing of the items that had been looted.

Several encounters took place, but several questions and protests were raised by leaders of opposition parties such as Mulayam Singh Yadav, George Fernandes and Karpuri Thakur, finally culminating in Singh’s resignation on 18 July 1982.

Trigger-happy cops?

“Do not call these ‘encounters’,” DGP Singh insists. “It is a crackdown on criminals. So far, we have arrested over 3,000 criminals. It was necessary to mount such pressure on them and it has definitely acted as a deterrent.”

Graphic showing modus operandi of encounters

Indeed, in addition to the 39 criminals killed and 265 injured, about 5,000 criminals have been arrested, and the National Security Act has been imposed on 167.

In September last year, to encourage encounters, the government allowed senior police officers to announce bigger bounties on criminals – a senior superintendent could now announce a reward of Rs 15,000 instead of just Rs 5,000; an IG could now announce Rs 1 lakh instead of the earlier Rs 25,000.

Also read: UP encounters: ‘Grabbed in front of dad’, killed & the ‘crime of being a low caste crook’

There is a new breed of super cops who have become celebrities, getting showered with praise from the people and the government. Ajay Pal Sharma, the SSP of Shamli in western UP, is one. He was felicitated by local residents, made to sit in a chariot and do a road show after two criminals, Naushad and Sarwar, were killed by the police. He was even felicitated and praised by Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar in November last year.

Azamgarh SSP Ajay Kumar Sahni is another; Adityanath took him along on a chopper ride to a sugar factory earlier this year, after five encounters took place on his watch.

“The message is clear,” said DGP Singh. “We now have a zero-tolerance policy towards crime and criminals.”

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  1. Bhardwaj and Anushman, sick Print reporters keep visiting criminals in UP and blame a govt that works to protect normal people from frenzy criminals. Do visit normal people killed by criminals and terrorist. Will be good for your future

  2. This isn’t new, it was even known 35+ years ago — why Malkhan Singh and Phulan Devi surrendered to Morena Distt (MP) police rather than Gutter Pradesh police!

  3. Tum abhi tak zinda ho, Lalanji? Kaise? Tumhe Yogi ji nein abhi tak goliu se nahi udaya? Gundagardi yahan kyon kar rahge ho?

  4. These are extremely unpleasant tactics and surely not desirable under normal circumstances. However, it is quite clear that state lacks capacity to bring criminals to book in the “normal fashion”. I am sure we will get there someday, but we’ll never get there if high rates of crime are allowed to persist in the interim. I’d much rather see a criminal’s blood spilt, than see an innocent poor village woman raped. We do need to balance idealism and pragmatism, I’m afraid.

  5. Have the same media persons ever visited families of those killed by these eliminated goons of any size?
    Had this dubious paper’s owners ever done any story on the plight of these eliminated poor people?
    What prompts these media traders to launch such stories & for furthering whose cause?
    Why this sponsored sympathy towards those killed goons?

  6. The cancer accumulated over 65 years and that also in crime loving state, is tough to remove. Yes I am with your findings, but, we have to swallow the very bitter pill for our children’s future.
    I think some ‘encounters’ should carried within police force itself. Without it’s patronage it was impossible to flourish this much of mess.

  7. Ours must be the only country where we are more bothered about the rights of rapist, dacoits and murderers. The aam Janta be damned. His job is vote for corrupt political leaders and silently bare the atrocities. But then in such situations, there is bound to be a revolution. In a democracy the revolution is through the ballot where extreme political dispensations will come to power with revisionist agenda’s. Now that Yogi has promised law and order, he is ensuring it. He is after all answerable to people who voted for him. The so-called pressitudes can keep crying hoarse.

      • Tum UP ke chor ho. Akkal nahin hai. Tabhi UP ka yeh haal hai. UP to Cìhina ko de dena chaiye. Sale danda maar ke theek kar denge.

        • Sale Bhatia ki bahat jal rehi he Mirchi powder logalo Sala tum jese log ko hi China bhejdena chahiye tabhi pota chalega human right Kya he.ha agar ek bhi am adami Mara to uska case hona chahiye aur surnder Karne Wala Gangstar Mara to jashna hona chahiye.sala naxal informer ke nam par log ko gala Kat ti he tab ye bc midea ka human right kaha Chala jata he.

  8. So you want these criminals to be put in jail and feed them biryani….
    They deserve a bullet right in their heads…

    Justice on the spot

  9. It is ok. Criminals can’t be invited over a cup of coffee, and then asked, will you please….? Criminals are making the living impossible, after all.

    • If criminals are Muslims then it’s true, otherwise he should become Prime Minister or Chief Minister or Party head atleast.

  10. If you have a doubt on those encounters, pease file a case as per the law and bring it to its logical end. Despite such a ‘Zero Tolerance’ stand, everyday we hear something wrong about UP. The press has to be neutral rather they rport onesided. That is how you are living in denial and away from the truth. When the CM of UP is doing good, say good, don’t try to intentionaly malign the CM. From the above article, even a schookid can gues that you are tryign to portray CM as bad, taking law in to hands, and impeach him for the good he is doing. This is unfortunate. UP can never attain a state of peace and tranquility unless strict measures are taken. You may only realize, when you or your immediate family is part of the issue. This is truly bad journalism. By the way, there are journos whoa re hel bent against BJP / NDA, there are strong poitical opponents and their top notch advocates, and there are many NGOs as usual. If at all UP CM has got a little wit, I think he wil be not doing wrong as he keeps reminding media’s trial of Sohrabuddin’s case. Also, I don’t think the poice will do such acts despite the orders from the CM, keeping in mind the media harassment by looking at Sohrabuddin’s case.

  11. The problem is that when a crime takes place in a remote part of the state the opposition n media comes out all guns blazing blaming the govt for law and order problem. And if the govt takes action there is human rights problem. I ask the learned writer to suggest the right course of action.

    • very rightly said, these bastards write must be put along with their families from of these criminals for at their will and wish, then they will realise the pains of others common people who had suffered and lost their loved one and assets. I salute Shri Yogi ji Govt. in UP for their actions and breaking the spines of these political and non-political criminals.

  12. A Govt. is the biggest thug, whether it is US federal government or UP state Government. And for democracy to germinate, sometime one big thug is better than many. And not every country or state is like the scandivian countries, the home of perfect republics and democracies. South India, particularly Karnataka is doing good though. Hopefully it will not be used for political cleansing. Hopefully, after the cleansing, he will establish an absolute non negotiable rule of law in UP. In the meantime, he can start building schools with mid-day meals etc all over the state to make a positive movement.

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