Close encounters of the foul kind

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Dead in handcuffs One of the five undertrials killed in the Warangal ‘encounter’ on 7 April
Dead in handcuffs One of the five undertrials killed in the Warangal ‘encounter’ on 7 April

Even the slain have conscientious supporters. The blatant and unmistakable signs of cold-blooded murder of unarmed people in broad daylight in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana immediately led to vehement protests. Some activists have refuted the theories put forward by the police, and several leading voices of the legal fraternity have cried foul about the official version that has been trotted out.

On 7 April, 25 people were killed in two ‘encounters’ involving alleged terrorists and red sandalwood smugglers and the State apparatus. The lawyers and family members of those killed in Warangal district of Telangana have argued that there was already a threat to the lives of their children and they had written to the court about it, requesting for their transfer from Warangal jail to some other jail in Telangana. Viqar Ahmed, who was accused of killing two policemen, had made his request to the court just two days before he was killed. An encounter right after these pleas indeed raises some tough questions for the Telangana Police. In 2012, Viqar’s father Mohammad Ahmed had also written to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and sent a copy to the president of the Andhra Pradesh Human Rights Commission. Tehelka has a copy of that letter. Moreover, Mohammad asserts that his son’s name was Viqar Ahmed and not Viqaruddin — the name being flashed all over the media.

According to the police narrative, Viqar and four other ‘terrorists’ were being taken to a court in Hyderabad from Warangal, a distance of almost 150 km, when he requested his handcuffs to be removed so that he could attend to “nature’s call”. But the moment the handcuffs were taken off, he tried to snatch the arms of the policemen, and so did the other men in the police van, even though they still had their handcuffs on. Subsequently, the police had to open fire leading to their death. This narrative, however, is being widely challenged by those who are calling it “cold-blooded murder”.

Manisha Sethi of the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, who is also the author of Kafkaland: Prejudice, Law and Counterterrorism in India and published a report Framed, Damned and Acquitted: Dossiers of a ‘Very’ Special Cell, called the police narrative “laughable” and full of loopholes, which makes it little more realistic than a “a fairy tale”.

“The photographic and video evidence from the police van in which the killings took place strongly suggests that it is a case of cold-blooded execution of undertrials in custody. The weapons on the five bodies, with their hands chained to the seats, appear to have been clearly planted in order to dress the site up as if an exchange of fire had taken place there. Is it mere coincidence that the verdicts in the cases of the slain men were to be pronounced soon?” asks Sethi. “No sane person would believe that the 17 armed policemen who were present in the vehicle could not subdue five handcuffed men.”

The Hyderabad-based Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee (CLMC), which is demanding a judicial probe into the incident, has termed the killings as yet another attack on the liberal-democratic principles of the Indian Constitution. A statement released by the committee reads: “The story planted by the top brass of the police is nothing but a bundle of lies and it seems that high-level police officers had already planned the killing of the five youth to send a message to the Muslim community that their lives depend on the mercy of the police. It is a clear act of suppression. In this killing a particular mindset is at work and the Telangana Police are completely under the influence of a fascist mindset.”

An anguished Lateef Mohammad Khan, general secretary of the CLMC, tells Tehelka, “The recent custodial murders in the name of encounters in Nizamabad, Miryalaguda (Nalgonda district), Ranga Reddy and Sangareddy (Medak district), cordon-and-search operations and rampant illegal detentions clearly indicate that the formation of Telangana state has done little to rein in police atrocities. On the contrary, human rights violations have peaked. Telangana has become a police state, with Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Deputy Chief Minister T Rajaiah playing a subordinate role vis-à-vis the police. During the movement for statehood, Rao had assured the Muslims of safety and security, but now he seems to have gone back on his promises.”

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Damning Evidence On 25 April 2012, the Chief Justice of the AP High Court received a letter from Viqar’s father alleging that his son’s life was under threat in Warangal jail. Click to read

Viqar’s father recalls meeting him a few weeks ago in jail. “I had never seen my son so anxious,” he says. “The expression on his face revealed something unusual. As if he knew what lay ahead. But he hesitated to share anything with me. The fear in his eyes, though, was clearly visible. I had been apprehensive ever since that meeting and my fears turned out to be true on the morning of 7 April.”

The others who were killed along with Viqar were Md Hanif Khan, Syed Amjad Ali, Md Zakir and Md Izhar Khan. All of them were undertrials.

Viqar’s lawyer MA Azeem says his client would have been freed soon had he not been killed. The prosecution had examined most of the witnesses in his case and the only ones left to be examined were the investigating officers. The court had already quashed one of the four cases of robbery slapped on him.

Viqar was arrested in 2010 and charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for suspected involvement in the murder of two police constables. Later, he was implicated in several other cases, including one under Section 307 (attempt to murder) and four under Section 390 (robbery).

Hanif’s advocate Muzaffarullah Khan tells Tehelka, “Hanif would have been a free man had he not been killed. The court had already examined 30 witnesses in the case and nothing substantial came out of it. Only the investigating officers were yet to be examined. The case was under Section 120-B, for being a part of the conspiracy to kill the police constables. He was also accused of helping Viqar rent a flat in Ahmedabad.”

Meanwhile, the Telangana government has decided to constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into the matter.

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