New Delhi: Nearly 37 per cent of the persons killed in “encounters” carried out by the Uttar Pradesh police in the past three years were Muslims, in a state where the minority community comprises just over 19% of the population, according to official data accessed by ET.
About 47 of the 125 persons killed in more than 6,476 encounters were Muslims, as per the data. These incidents of encounters also led to deaths of 13 policemen and left about 941 policemen injured.
Most of these encounters were related to cases in western UP, including Shamli, Aligarh, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur. Police records also revealed that 13,837 persons were arrested in these encounters which led to injuring 2,419 accused persons.
In 2020 alone, nearly 21 people have been killed in UP police related encounters. Apart from three cases related to gangster Vikas Dubey, the other accused who died were from Muzaffarnagar, Aligarh, Bahraich, Meerut, Bareilly, Varanasi and Basti.
In the first year of the Yogi Adityanath government, nearly 45 persons lost their lives in police encounters, of which 16 were Muslims, as per the data.
Since March 2017, the highest number of investigations that led to encounters have been from criminal cases registered in Meerut, Agra and Bareilly, followed by Kanpur, Noida, Varanasi and Prayagraj. Opposition claims Brahmins targetted, BJP rejects charges
While the opposition has accused the state government for targeting communities such as Brahmins, particularly since Dubey’s killing, and national parties such as CPI (M) have accused the UP police of “throwing constitutional propriety to the winds”, state BJP members told ET that the instructions from the top were to break the cycle of violence and bring all criminals to book.
Further, officials said, according to data collected by them, the number of Brahmins killed in the past three years in police encounters did not exceed 13.
BJP spokesman Chandramohan said the Adityanath government did not see caste or religion when it came to crackdown on criminals. “The mandate of the government is to make the state safe for common people and that is what it is doing,” he said.
UP’s additional director general (law and order) Prashant Kumar said encounters were not part of the policy of the government and they happened only in cases when the police felt it necessary to defend itself. “We are within our legal and constitutional right to defend ourselves when the need arises,” he said.
Kumar said that because of the “proactive role of the police” youngsters were no longer drawn to crime, and that there had been a 40 per cent decline in crime such as kidnapping for ransom and murders. “We wish the focus was more on how the lives of victims have been, or how many policemen have lost their lives too… Also, there has not been any adverse observation by the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission… we are following their guidelines,” he said.
Experts offered contrasting views on the issue
Anil Kumar Verma, director of Kanpur-based Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, said the encounters had largely evoked a sense of relief in the state. “Since 1979, the tradition followed by political parties to use criminals to rationalise their own operations and glamourise them because muscle power was seen as a must then for winning elections, has been going on in the state,” he said. “In the name of social and political representation, criminals have found patronage of multiple parties. Common men and women are tired of this and they are relieved, although everyone knows encounters are not democratically sanctioned… they would not even question the claims.”
Verma said while it could be true that some people of the Brahmin community could be upset with the killings of people of the community, largely “the members of the community would not associate any sympathy with the criminal and not make it an electoral issue”.
Mohammed Aslam, professor of political science at Allahabad University, however said that in the present environment of hysteria around nationalism and Hindutva, Muslims felt “more vulnerable and demonised” when members of the community are targeted by law and order agencies.
“My fear is this will highly demoralise them which will also affect their access to legal and judicial intervention. Even if they know they are not criminals, will their voices be heard?” said Aslam. “The Muslim community in UP has its internal conflicts and is very stratified. Besides, it lacks education and social empowerment… This adds to their problems as political voices speaking in their interest have also gone silent… This will also affect the way others see Muslims and increase the animosity against the community.”