Four of the six encounters in Shamli district since July 2017 feature discrepancies, unexplained injuries, and allegations of torture and political vendetta.
Shamli: The government and police in Uttar Pradesh can’t stop patting themselves on the back for the 39 alleged gangsters they’ve shot dead in encounters in a span of 10 months.
But as the first part of ThePrint’s investigation showed, there are many discrepancies and questions in these encounters, not least of which are the unexplained injuries the ‘gangsters’ sustained, or their families’ allegations that they were picked up, tortured, and then shot.
Four of the six encounters in Shamli district in western UP present themselves as stark examples.
Shamli, carved out of Muzaffarnagar district in 2011, is part of a belt with a high Muslim population of over 30 per cent. Robbery, loot, and extortion are rampant in the district, and traders are fed up with the goons. Many have even shifted their businesses outside Shamli.
The district has witnessed an average of one encounter every month since July 2017, and the police seem to be gearing up for more.
On the day ThePrint visited Kairana police station, officials were busy compiling a dossier on an alleged gangster, with one officer telling another that he “would be next”, and the other replying. “That’s good, he’s irritated us a lot.”
Asked about these encounters, police personnel reiterate that people are happy with their action, and that instead of asking questions, they should be encouraged.
However, while investigating the six encounters in the district, ThePrint reporters found four cases that featured discrepancies and raised questions. In three of the six cases, the alleged gangsters who were shot dead also had affiliations to the Samajwadi Party.
Some locals ask if these killings were politically motivated? Or if the police have been given a licence to kill, which they are using to get the bounty on offer?
When the report of the ‘encounter’ was prepared two days in advance
Names: Naushad (23) and Sarvar (27)
Time and place of death: 4 am, Shamli
Date: 29 July 2017
Cases against Naushad: 19 — Arms Act violations, robbery, extortion, theft. No case of murder.
Cases against Sarvar: 8 — Three cases of theft; the rest are cases of robbery, Arms Act violations, and rioting.
Injuries: Lacerations on the neck, bullet injuries on chest, legs and back.
Naushad and Sarvar, two friends who grew up together and started committing thefts and snatchings in the area, were gunned down on the same day. They had a bounty of Rs 15,000 each on their heads.
According to the FIR registered by UP police, the two men were on their way to commit a “dangerous” crime when the police received a tip-off, and planned to lay a trap and nab them.
According to the case file, informers told police that Naushad and Sarvar were to reach the cemetery near Bhura village. When they arrived, they were armed with pistols. The police asked the informer to identify Naushad and Sarvar and be utterly sure before the strike. When the informer gave a go-ahead, the police surrounded the duo.
The status report of the incident says that the moment Naushad and Sarvar saw the police, they opened fire. “Police wale hain, jaan se maaro (they are policemen, kill them),” they shouted. The police claimed that they asked them to surrender; however, when they did not stop firing, the police too opened fired, killing the alleged criminals. The police recovered .32 bore pistols, a .315 bore pistol and live cartridges from their possession.
Contrary to the police’s version, a source in the district administration told ThePrint that this encounter was planned and the basic framework of the report drafted three days in advance. On that day, the police had laid a similar trap, but the tip-off was not correct, and the duo did not come to the location indicated by the informers.
When ThePrint reporter went to meet Naushad and Sarvar’s families, a local policeman accompanied her and kept a constant watch on what the relatives were saying.
Sitting in his kutcha room with no electricity, Naushad’s father Jameel started to speak about how his son was framed and killed. But the policeman intervened. “Bataiye ki aapko encounter par koi shaq nahin. Bataiye ki who aawara tha, kitne case the uspe (Tell her that you don’t doubt the encounter. Tell her he was a vagabond, and how many cases there were against him),” he directed. Jameel fell silent.
With the policeman around, most relatives of both Naushad and Sarvar told ThePrint that they were involved in several cases and often remained out of the house.
“I saw them as kids. I often told them to leave all this and return to farming, but they would not listen,” Sarvar’s aunt Noor Jahan said.
Neither family wishes to move court or get an inquiry conducted into the killings. The families have neither been given a copy of the FIR nor the post-mortem reports.
Killed for snatching a gold chain, a Sonata watch, and Rs 8,700?
Name: Ikram (28)
Time and place of death: 11:40 pm, Kandhla
Date: 10 August 2017
Cases against him: 11 — Murder, theft, robbery, trespass, Arms Act violations. Reward of Rs 5,000 on his head.
Injuries: Ribs and knees fractured, injuries to the scalp.
The police received a wireless message that two persons who snatched a gold chain, a wrist watch, and a motorbike, had fled from Balwa Gate on Shamli-Kandhla road towards Kairana, and that a check post be immediately put up.
In just a few minutes, a check post was set up and policemen were placed on duty. At around 11:40 pm, two men were spotted and signalled to stop. “We put the torch light at them (sic) and asked to stop, but instead of slowing down, the man riding pillion opened fire,” the FIR states.
The police then chased the men for over 500 metres, till they reached a field. The duo’s bike slipped and they started running on foot. The police asked them to surrender but they kept firing. In retaliation, the police too opened fire and Ikram got injured. The man who was riding pillion managed to escape, just like in all other cases.
During searches, the police found the usual .32 bore pistol, a gold chain, a watch, Rs 8,700 in cash from one pocket, and Rs 440 from another.
This is the police narrative. Ikram’s wife Hanifa, however, accuses the police of staging the encounter, as Ikram did not even know how to ride a bike, and was not even in Shamli on the day of the incident. “He was in Baghpat on the afternoon of 9 August. He had gone there to meet a friend who was hospitalised. On 10 August, the news came that he has been shot dead. In fact, his phone was switched off on 9 August itself,” Hanifa said.
“Did they kill him just for stealing a gold chain or a watch? Why could they not arrest him, or shoot him in the leg? Why shoot him in the chest?” she asked.
Ikram’s post-mortem report showed fractured ribs and injuries on his back. “He was picked up on the afternoon of 9 August and beaten up in custody. Ribs do not break just by falling from a bike. His back was also all blue. None of the policemen even cared to inform us after he was killed. We got a message on the internet and then searched for him for over 10 hours in hospitals, before we found him in a Meerut hospital,” she said.
He went to surrender, what came back was news of his death
Name: Aslam (26)
Time and place of death: 8 pm, Dadri
Date: 9 December 2017
Cases against him: Arms Act violations, robbery, theft
Injuries: Multiple fractures — wrists broken, knees fractured. Shot in the temple.
Israna (24) is nine months pregnant. Nearly two months ago, she made husband Aslam swear upon the unborn baby that he would surrender before the police. She feared he would be gunned down some day and her children (the others aged 2, 3 and 4) would be rendered fatherless. Aslam agreed.
On 8 December, Friday, as Aslam was heading to his lawyer’s office, two men came to meet him at his residence in Jagadhari, Haryana, where he had shifted with his wife and kids just 24 days back. They asked Aslam to accompany them for some urgent work.
Before leaving, Aslam told his wife that in case he does not return home for two days, she should assume that he has surrendered and should return to his parents’ house in Shamli with the kids. That was the last time Israna saw Aslam. A day later, he was shot dead in Dadri in an alleged encounter with the UP police.
“When he did not return home for two days and his phone too was switched off, I assumed that he must be in jail. It is only when I returned to Shamli after a week that I was told he was shot dead by the police. I could not even be there for his last rites,” Israna said.
Aslam had over 12 cases of robbery, theft and Arms Act violations registered against him, and also had a reward of Rs 50,000 on his head, which was reportedly announced only a few weeks before he was killed.
The circumstances leading to Aslam’s encounter too are very similar to the 38 other cases. The police claimed that while they were carrying out security checks near Rupawas crossing, they spotted Aslam on a TVS Apache bike with a pillion rider. When they signalled to him to stop, the men opened fire at the police party. The police too fired in retaliation, and the bullet hit Aslam. He collapsed, while the pillion rider managed to escape in the dark. Aslam was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Two policemen too sustained minor injuries.
Though the police claimed Aslam was killed in retaliatory firing, his post mortem report indicated that he was beaten up and tortured. Apart from the fatal bullet injury measuring 1.5 cm x 1.5 cm that pierced through his temple, both his wrists were broken, knees fractured, and there were multiple laceration wounds on his back.
“Now I know that the men who came to pick Aslam were informers. They lured him. When Aslam went to pray at the masjid, as it was Friday, the men informed the police and they picked him up from there. They then kept him in custody, beat him up and then killed him in Noida,” Israna alleged.
Aslam is survived by two brothers aged 12 years and 14 years, who work at a marble factory and earn Rs 7,000 a month each. Their father, Mausam Ali, runs a cotton candy cart, a product that he sells for Re 1 each.
“Three months ago, Aslam arranged for Rs 25,000 and contacted his lawyer. He told him that he wished to surrender, but his lawyer asked him to wait. Why kill a person who was ready to surrender?” asked Mausam Ali.
Locals also alleged that the killing was politically motivated. “He was related to the local leader, who is a member of the Samajwadi Party. It is clear that the killing was targeted,” said a Shamli resident who did not want to be identified for fear of the police.
House vandalised a day after encounter, wife kept in custody for 9 days
Name: Sabir (32)
Time and place of death: 11 pm, Jhinjhana, Shamli
Date: 2 January 2018
Cases against him: 17 — Murder, robbery, Arms Act violations, rioting, dacoity, criminal intimidation, causing hurt
Injuries: 16 bullet wounds, knee injuries
It was around 10:40 pm that police personnel on their rounds were given a tip-off about Sabir visiting his wife on 2 January. Following the information, a police team surrounded his residence, while he was in his room with his wife and one-year-old son, asking him to surrender.
The FIR stated that the moment Sabir heard the announcement, he came out of his room on the terrace and started firing indiscriminately. Following this, the police too opened fire in retaliation and gunned him down after a brief chase. A bullet also hit a policeman, who died on the spot, while another was injured.
Sabir’s mother Asmuda came out of the house upon hearing gunshots, only to find her son dead. “All I could hear the policemen shout was, ‘Goli maar saale ko. Khatam kar (shoot him, finish him)’, and the other saying, ‘Bhun de goliyon se, bach na paye (spray him with bullets, he shouldn’t survive)’. I shouted for help, but then I heard a policeman saying, ‘15 goli mari, khatam kam uska (I fired 15 bullets, he is finished)’. Somewhere, I knew that he would die tonight,” she said.
Sabir had surrendered two years ago after he was booked for a case of murder. He, however, stayed in jail only for nine months and then escaped. He was on the run since.
A day after the encounter, a few policemen again went to Sabir’s house and allegedly vandalised the premises. They allegedly even took his wife Zulfana into custody, without women constables being present.
“They insisted that we were hiding ammunition. A team came and broke the furniture, window panes and even abused the women in the house. We told them we have nothing and that they can carry out a search, but they did not listen,” Sabir’s father Asim said.
While in custody, Zulfana was asked to give information about Sabir’s associates and was physically assaulted.
“I asked them why were they taking me along but they did not answer. They kept me in the police station for nine days. They slapped me, pushed me when I told them that I do not know much about his work and associates. They did not even let me mourn my husband’s death,” she said.
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