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Exclusive India National Opinion

To “encounter”or not to!

Last month, five youngsters from Bihar suspected to be involved in bank robberies in two banks in Chennai were quietly killed in their apartment by Tamil Nadu Police. The police claimed that they had to kill the young men in Self-Defense, an action popularly called as “Encounter”. It is a term used as a surrogate to describe planned murders by the Police. Media covering the incident point several strong evidences which indicate the story of self-defense may not be true. The neighbors have claimed the Police entered the apartment community at 6PM in the evening while the youngsters were killed in the wee hours of next day. The bullet marks found in the apartment does not indicate a gun fight as claimed by the police. Also the latches of the apartment have not been broken although the Police claim they broke into the apartment to shoot the “robbers”.

Popular perception seems to be that the police killed the gangsters after interrogating them, although the Chennai Police commissioner Mr. Tripathi has refuted the claim. Public opinion seems divided between supporting the “encounter”, and protesting against it. The motive of the encounter seems to be a message to the gangsters of Bihar, to discourage “Dacoit Tourism” to Chennai.

It is suspected the gangsters in Bihar regularly took trips to Chennai, robbed and returned back home. The disparity in wealth, education and lifestyles between regions of the country contribute to such clash of lifestyles. That is a dangerous trend indeed threatening the life and savings of the common man. And the reports indicate the youngsters were professional gangsters who may not be easily discouraged by the ineffective trial and punishment process in our court system.

How do we deal with such a sensitive situation? Killing an young man who has so much potential, and who could have parents, wife and children to support is generally considered an unforgivable act. At the other end, a few criminals going through few years of prison is not going to discourage their colleagues. And more such crimes can be expected in future, if they find the police action ineffective. We have an educated electorate, intelligentsia, experienced bureaucracy and skilled political leaders, and the wisdom of Indian culture to help us deal with such difficult social problems. I believe the Tamil Nadu state and government is adequately equipped to solve this difficult problem. But are they applying their wisdom, vision and equanimity to effectively deal with the situation? Or is “Encounters” a fastfood solution to serve a busy and impatient electorate?

I ‘ve been reading about the incident and truly have had mixed feelings about the incident. So I set out to explore my thought process loudly. We have a hierarchical society and it takes many years of honest work for one to break from one economic plane to a higher economic plane. Meanwhile, on-the-face media and society present how well a small but significant section of India thrives. And the youngsters coming from rural, poor and crime prone societies have a perception that they cant break the shackles of poverty that easily and quickly through honest means. They also see the young men in crime gangs lead a life of abundance even at an young age. Therefore, are their crimes their mistake or the laws of survival in their society or the government’s failure in keeping the culture in sync with law?

I once heard a man from an American inner-city ghetto say that the social shackles/peer pressure tying them down (to gangs, drug abuse, dropping out etc) in their neighborhood are stronger than the economic woes tying down people from growth in developing countries, and you can only understand the strength of the shackles only if you live through it. To a certain extent, I can imagine or understand that. Although we regularly see the rare individual with strong human will and intelligence who breaks out beyond his close limitations.

Another issue is the question about capital punishment-Death as a form of punishment or removing the person from earth to prevent such crimes. I have heard arguments that some people can’t be reformed and need to be removed. Reformation is a form of behavioral change. I have serious concerns about this argument. Most religions, schools and colleges are also involved in the process of behavioral change directly or indirectly. If behavioral change of a common man is not possible, such institutions would have failed long time ago. I don’t believe most young men or students are not re-educatable. In this case, the young men were most probably following the norms of their immediate society. We can’t deny that different set of moral acceptance yardstick exists in different parts of the country. What if the criminal is an “outlier” or an exception who can’t reformed? Even then I believe earth has some space in it to accommodate such a person. May be a prison or an institution where the young men can earn their living.

So how does police effectively deal with criminals who do this as a profession, and how do we desist them from ramping up the crimes in Chennai or any other metro they feel as ripe and “easy” targets in India. Many criminals find loop holes in the system or postpone punishment using our court system. In that case, is n’t the problem with our court system than the individual who is about to be murdered. Practically the reform of the Judicial system would take time and solution is not nearby. Then how do we send a strong message to the criminals from signing up for more such misadventures? But still killing five young men to communicate a message is hard to digest. I assume the police department has various other modes of punishment which would have sent a message. For those who strongly believe in killing as a mode of communication, even one lost life would have conveyed the message rather than devastating five families.

According to the laws of the nation which we subscribe to, Indian Penal law 46 states that killing of criminals is justified only for crimes worthy of capital punishment or life imprisonment. According to police, the five men who were killed are only suspected of crimes (not proven in court) when they died. It is hard to believe the gangsters would risk their lives  by clashing with armed police, for stealing Rs. 17 lakhs from a bank. If the killing was not a result of a clash with the police, it is a serious crime answerable to the courts and Indian constitution. Many who argue for extra-judicial killing do not think of the ramification of this incident. It is possible that tomorrow that they or their family member could be deemed to be removed for disagreeing with the government tomorrow, if a corrupt political body or official gets used to this option. What if one of our family member was one of the innocents who was visiting those to be killed or what if this was a case of youth gone astray due to drugs. If we took an eye-for-an-eye (or in this case way more) in a nation of a billion for crimes, why do we need courts? We would not have Ramayana, if Valmiki was not a given a chance to grow beyond his crimes!