The time of despots in MP: 8 killed in SIMI encounter have little scope of justice

Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi | First published: 8 November 2016, 13:43 IST
The time of despots in MP: 8 killed in SIMI encounter have little scope of justice
Arya Sharma/Catch News
QUICK PILL
  • There are 3 probes into last week's SIMI encounter
  • All 3 are commissioned by Madhya Pradesh govt
  • These facts lead to niggling questions

  • Question 1: is the govt itself not a party into the controversy
  • Question 2: Can a cop impartially probe charges against the police
  • Question 3: Why is there no probe by any human rights panel into the encounter

The great multiculturalist Montesquieu was a born doubter of power, clever enough to know that the powerful never doubted. Around 300 years ago, through the story of Pompey he showed how, in some regimes, authority and self-doubt became inversely proportional, with, eventually tragic outcomes.

Look at Shivraj Singh. At his third term as the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, he must have little doubt about himself or his police. Why else would he reward those cops who participated in 'the encounter' of eight SIMI activists, especially with mounting evidence - photos, videos and audio clips - that it was a staged encounter.

So strongly did the BJP governments at the state and the Centre believe the MP Police's version that they tried to forbid even the press from casting a doubt.

Don't question, it isn't good

The Minister of State for Home Affairs, Kiren Rijiju, when asked about the mounting evidence pointing to police excesses in the SIMI encounter, responded by asking the media to "stop this habit of raising doubt, questioning the authorities and the police" and said it "is not a good culture".

The Madhya Pradesh CM actually came quite close to proudly owning up to the allegations against his police department - of killing the eight undertrials in a cold blooded fake encounter - when in a public meeting he wondered aloud, "How long can you keep them in jail? Some people even get chicken biryani in jail."

But as tokens of fairness, Chouhan decided, albeit grudgingly, to temporarily hold the cash awards and announce three probes into the incident.

One of these probes has to be carried out by police's own department - the CID - another is to be headed by former DGP of MP Police, and the third - a judicial probe - is to be headed by a retired MP High Court judge hand-picked by the MP CM.

Because the allegations against the police force were so serious, one expected the state and central human rights bodies to pitch in to conduct an impartial investigation into these accusations.

Curiously, neither of the human rights bodies are actively probing these allegations.

Wrong questions in the right places

Madhya Pradesh Human Rights Commission (MPHRC) has restricted itself only to probing the incident of the alleged jail-break and has limited itself to the issue of jail reforms at large.

LR Sisodia, the MPHRC spokesperson said that they have, several times earlier, raised the issue of jail reforms.

"A special team of MPHRC will try to find why these reforms were not implemented and will also investigate the case of jailbreak and of the murder of the constable."

Also read: Dead men walking: the SIMI encounter was about more than just a jailbreak

But aren't the allegations of human rights violations leveled outside the jail premises, 13 kms away in a village called Eintkhedi where the eight undertrials were killed? Why isn't the MPHRC looking into them?

"We don't know. But that's the decision that our commission took," Sisodia says.

When the spokesperson for National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) was asked whether it is probing the allegations of murder against the MP Police, its spokesperson said that the commission "does not react to daily developments". They added that they have "asked for reports from the police and the civil administration and assessing their response".

A senior CID officer, who did not wish to be quoted, when asked about the investigations being conducted by it, said that it was actively looking into the case and that reports were being sent to NHRC.

"NHRC asked us for a report immediately, which we have submitted. Now the next report is due six weeks after the incident. That is what we're working on right now. And we'll submit it in time."

When Catch asked this officer the time in which CID was looking to finish investigations, the officer replied that it will do so after the judicial probe into the case concludes.

Leave it to the judges

MP CM has formally tasked SK Pande, a retired MP High Court judge, on Monday to head the judicial probe. But Chouhan has not specified any time limit for this probe.

Catch called up SK Pande to find out when this probe was likely to conclude but was told that he did not wish to speak.

A senior journalist in Madhya Pradesh, who did not wish to be named, said he'd seen several such judicial probes being ordered by the state government, and none of them had found anything against the state.

"After Vyapam seemed to have been blown out of proportion, Chouhan government had appointed a similar high court judge, in an SIT, to get to the bottom of the case. The judge, outspoken against government publicly, did not actually find one shred of evidence in his year-long tenure. This is how these probes work here. Don't expect this judicial probe to end before the next five years at least."

Anomalies galore

Javed Chauhan, a Khandwa-based lawyer, who represented five out of the eight undertrials who were shot dead in the encounter on 31 October, spoke about the anomalies in police investigations so far.

"The post-mortem of the eight was conducted in the absence of a magistrate or a video camera, which is the norm for such cases. After the doctors finished the post-mortem, the bodies weren't handed over for an extra night, which raises questions about their intent. As a matter of fact, the investigations in the case are being conducted by the CID, people from the same department that has been accused of murdering the eight undertrials. How can there be a fair investigation into the case?"

An independent body, however, has just finished its inspection of the whole episode. National Confederation of Human Rights (NCHRO) has just returned from Bhopal and is preparing a report about the incident. An NCHRO member shared some details of their findings with Catch.

"There are some things we've found that just don't add up. Villagers we spoke to, said that the fugitives had only stones in their hands. This was apparently the official version but changed within three hours of the encounter. We haven't got any explanation of why the eight would cover only 13 kms in eight hours after escaping from jail."

Also read: SIMI encounter: Did MP police kill 8 undertrials armed with just utensils?

But "most importantly", the NCHRO member added, "We don't understand why would they stick together during the length of the encounter? Why wouldn't they even try and disperse?"

Covering up a sham

These doubts are being raised amid the initial post-mortem report of the eight undertrials, according to which all of them were shot above the waist.

And all this besides the photos, videos and audio clips from police wireless sets from the time of the encounter, all of which clearly show police's intent to kill, and not capture alive, any of the eight. Neither the state government nor the MP police has raised any questions over any of this evidence.

And time is clearly running out for a chance of a fair investigation into this probe. It has been over a week since the day of the encounter.

All the eight have been buried after a hurried post-mortem that was reportedly not conducted according to proper procedure. The site of the encounter, instead of being marked off by police, has been open to the public and is being visited in hordes every day.

The villagers, some of who may have been eyewitnesses to the 'encounter', have been promised lakhs of rupees by the MP government. Reports of them being tutored have been making rounds for days now

One of them - Surajbhai Meena - the brother of sarpanch of Eintkhedi village, claims he first spotted the eight, who were "concealed in the ravines" and shouting "Hindustan Murdabad, Pakistan Zindabad. Allah hu Akbar".

In a way, the whole case has been reduced to a farce by the state government, which, despite the huge evidence of human rights violations against its policemen, has stood firmly behind its forces.

"There is no crueler tyranny," said Montesquieu about despots, while discussing the life of Roman emperor Tiberius, "than the one exercised in the shadow of the law, and with the colours of justice."

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: SIMI encounter: How media wrongly labelled undertrials as 'terrorists'

First published: 8 November 2016, 13:43 IST
 
Suhas Munshi @suhasmunshi

He hasn't been to journalism school, as evident by his refusal to end articles with 'ENDS' or 'EOM'. Principal correspondent at Catch, Suhas studied engineering and wrote code for a living before moving to writing mystery-shrouded-pall-of-gloom cr...

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