TN has seen 3 police encounters since Oct; is it justified?

Police emphasise that criminals get killed in encounters only in self-defence, when they try to hurt the cops on duty; activists term it unlawful and inhumane

Repeated police encounters may reflect the lawlessness in the police department and damage the trust people have in the government, say activists. (Representational image)

Tamil Nadu police last Friday killed two men accused in a double murder case in an encounter in a forest area near Thirupulivanam, in Chengalpattu district. This is the third such police encounter in the State since October and, in all the cases, the police claimed they acted in self-defence after the accused attacked them.

The series of events that culminated in the police encounter killing two history-sheeters — Moideen, 25, and Dinesh, 24, from Kancheepuram district — started on Thursday evening. Around 7:30 pm that day, the duo, who were part of a six-member gang, allegedly hurled a country bomb at a teashop near Chengalpattu bus stand. Further, they allegedly hacked M Karthik alias ‘Appu’ Karthik, 35, to death with machetes in public, while he was sipping tea along with his friends. The men then visited the house of S Mahesh, 22, who was Karthik’s relative, and killed him while he was watching TV, said the police. The duo then reportedly fled the spot before anyone could react to the crime.

Subsequently, a case was registered at Chengalpattu taluk police station and three special teams were formed to nab the accused. Preliminary investigation revealed gang rivalry to be the crime motive.

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Based on a tip-off on Friday morning that the accused were hiding at Thirupulivanam, a forest region near Uthiramerur, Kancheepuram police officials rushed to the spot and nabbed Madhavan and Jecintha, accomplices of the accused. Based on the information provided by them, one of the special teams visited the forest area, according to a police official.

“When we surrounded the duo, they hurled a bomb at the officials and attacked them with machetes. Two of the officials were injured in the attack. It is only after that that the police retaliated and shot the accused,” said the official, adding that the injured officials are undergoing treatment at Chengalpattu government hospital.

Two earlier encounters

This is the third such incident in Tamil Nadu over the past three months. The earlier incidents took place in Kancheepuram and Thoothukudi districts, in October 2021.

In the first incident, Murthasa, a native of Jharkhand who was accused of snatching a chain from a 55-year-old woman near the toll plaza in Sriperumbudur, was killed in an encounter near Mevalurkuppam lake. The police then claimed that the accused had opened fire at them and attempted to flee, following which they shot him.

In the second incident, 39-year-old history-sheeter V Durai Murugan, a resident of Thoothukudi, was killed by the police when they attempted to arrest him at his hideout. Addressing the media after the incident, Superintendent of Police S Jeyakumar said: “We were on the lookout for the accused in connection with a murder case. When the police went to arrest him, he resisted and attacked two of the officials with machetes. It was then that the police shot him.”

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While police claim the encounters were carried out in self-defence, human rights activists say shooting a person even if he/she is a hard-core criminal is against the law, and term it an inhumane act.

Police accountability and monitoring

“The police should be able to catch the accused alive irrespective of the crime they had committed. If they cannot nab them alive, does that mean that the police are incapable?” said Henri Tiphagne, an advocate and Executive Director of People’s Watch, a human rights organisation.

He said his team had gone to the spot in the latest case to collect facts and check if the police claims were true, or if the encounter was a staged one. “Only after the facts are made known the truth will be known in this particular incident. But, in general, encounter killings are not a good solution to curtail criminal activities,” he added.

Referring to multiple incidents where police officials connected with custodial deaths continued on service without even a suspension, Tiphagne said they should be made accountable for such encounters and the monitoring system should be strengthened.

“Encounter killings are completely against the law and the police have no right to take the life of a person,” said Thirumurugan Gandhi, coordinator of the May 17 Movement, a human rights movement. “If they can take the law into their own hands why do we have a judicial system, courts and prisons? It is against democracy.”

It shows nothing but the mentality of the police officials, he said. The encounters continue to happen irrespective of which party is ruling the State, he observed, adding that most of the encounter killings are staged ones even though police claim that they only acted in retaliation.

Quoting the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in 2014, S Balamurugan, National Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), said an FIR should ideally be registered against the policemen involved in encounter killings, an independent inquiry should be conducted and the policemen should not be given any promotion till the inquiry is completed. “But in most of the cases, even an FIR is not registered and none of the guidelines are followed properly,” he said.

The Chengalpattu incident reflects the lawlessness in the police department and it would damage the trust people have in the government, he added.

“Encounter killings should not be considered heroic acts and the problem lies there. Even though it is true that criminal activities and rowdyism are exceeding the limit in Chengalpattu district, the police should not have killed them. Instead, they should have opted for other methods like preventive arrests and intensifying intelligence-gathering,” noted another human rights activist.

In defence of the police

But, M Karunanidhi, a retired Superintendent of Police, said that when hard-core criminals attempt to escape from the police and attack them, the cops are left with no option but to retaliate. “No policeman wants to kill anyone even though they are criminals because of the judicial inquiry that follows and its consequences. But they are forced to react this way sometimes,” he said.

According to him, a policeman involved in an encounter killing has to explain and prove himself before the judicial magistrate during the inquiry. Failing to do so would result in disciplinary or criminal action taken against him.

“At a time when criminal activities are increasing and gangs are gaining popularity, such encounter killings are needed. Only then crimes will come down and criminals will lay low,” he added.