“Yes, I shot him… I shot Sanjit Meitei… No, he was not armed… I felt no remorse, no sympathy after I killed Sanjit. I felt nothing. It was an order and I had to simply carry out.” This was Head Constable Thounaojam Herojit Singh of Manipur Police confessing that he killed 27-year-old Chongkham Sanjit Meitei, a suspected member of the insurgent group People’s Liberation Army.
Herojit Singh is under suspension since the CBI took over the case. On being asked by The Indian Express, which published the confession, the police officer said he had “lost faith in the system” and no longer feels safe and that is why he is admitting it now.
In its 8 August 2009 issue, Tehelka (‘Murder in Plain Sight’ by Teresa Rehman) had contradicted the police version in which they claimed that Sanjit was armed when he was killed in an encounter. The Tehelka report carried a series of photographs that left no room to believe the police and bolstered the cause of those who were fighting for justice. The turning tide of public opinion on the killing eventually forced the CBI to begin a probe.
So what exactly had the police claimed in the face of overwhelming visual evidence?
The police said they were conducting frisking operations near Samu Makhong when an unknown youth fired at them and ran into Maimu Pharmacy. There was another round of gunfire and the young man was found dead. That version, if there was anything left to defend it post the Tehelka photos, has now been conclusively demolished with Herojit’s confession. Herojit, who was once awarded with a gallantry award, has admitted that this story was cooked up by the police. He has even named the officer who ordered the killing.
The series of photographs, reprinted here, shows a stoic Sanjit, more or less reconciled to the fact that he was going to be killed, being led to the pharmacy. And then we see the policemen dragging his body out from the premises.
Our courts are not strangers to the phenomenon of “extrajudicial killings”. More than once have judges pointed out that democracy has no place for such actions by State agencies. Many, but not all, such illegal killings are done in the course of counterinsurgency operations, making them political in nature with the targets drawn mostly from among those who question State policies. There are also numerous cases of petty criminals and suspects from marginal sections of society being bumped off in the name of encounters, just to settle scores or other such reasons unrelated to policing duty.
Despite Supreme Court coming down heavily against this practice, it has not stopped and most of the culprits are never put on trial or punished. Regarding the rare exceptions, it can still be asked how only individuals can be held responsible for acts that seem to be part of a pattern involving law enforcement agencies in any situation of conflict. Can it be said with certainty that the guilty officers were acting on their own? If not, then why do the political masters, at whose behest they were acting, manage to go scot free?
DG Vanzara, former DIG of Gujarat Police, well-known as an “encounter specialist” (a popular phrase that shows how the illegal has become “normal” in public discourse), accused leaders of the Gujarat government of being involved in a host of cases for which he was put on trial and jailed. In his resignation letter, written in 2013, the disgraced cop stated that those investigating extrajudicial killings should arrest “the policy formulators, too, as we being field officers, have simply implemented the policy of the government, which was inspiring, guiding and monitoring our actions from very close quarters”.
Indeed, cold-blooded murders by police officers are usually sanctioned by their political masters. In 1998, retired crpf constable Ramachandran Nair revealed how his superior, the then deputy superintendent of police Lakshmana, forced him to shoot Kerala’s iconic Naxalite leader A Varghese in the forests of Wayanad in 1970. Nair’s confession led the court to hand down a life term to Lakshmana. But the political leaders who ordered the killing of the rebel Marxist leader were never questioned or brought to justice.
In Manipur, death comes easy. In this damning sequence of photos, a local photographer captures the death of a young man, killed in a false encounter by the police in broad daylight, 500 metres from the state assembly. How can a State justify such a war against its own people, asks TERESA REHMAN ( Originally published in 9 August 2009)
Recent revelations by Gurmeet Singh Pinky, a police officer in Punjab during the Khalistani insurgency, also throw light on how the political leadership connives with obliging police officers to carry out encounter killings, in a bid to settle political scores or silence opponents.
In fact, all encounter killings should be treated as political actions by the government rather than excesses committed by certain police officers. The photographs published by Tehelka in August 2009 exposed how the police cooked up a story to pass off the coldblooded murder of a political activist as an “encounter”. This could not have been possible without the connivance of those who were in power.
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Herojit’s chilling confession should lead the authorities to probe on whose behalf his superior officer ordered Sanjit’s killing. Unless the system uses the latest confession to nail the powerful ones behind the killing, the political class will continue to resort to extra-constitutional methods to quell political dissent.