Good Cop Bad Cop: A Top Cop And a Prof. Study the Anatomy of a Fake Encounter
THE CITIZEN BUREAU
NEW DELHI: Inspector General of the Central Reserve Police Officer Rajnish Rai created a stir recently with his report to the headquarters in Delhi where he alleged that an encounter in the early hours of March 30, 2017 near the Simlaguri village under the Amguri police station in Assam,was staged.
Posted in Shillong currently, the Gujarat cadre officer is reported to have said in his report that the death of two suspected members of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) faction was staged, and that they had been picked up from a house in D-Kaling village and killed in cold blood in a joint operation in Simlaguri. He had asked for a full fledeged investigation maintaining that weapons were planted on their bodies. The two killed had been identified as Lucas Narzary alias N Langfa and David Islary alias Dayud.
Significantly Rai has co-authored a paper for the prestigious Journal of Business Ethics with Srinath Jagannathan, both having done their PhD from IIM, Ahmedabad. The paper gives amazing insight into the psychology and politics of fake encounters titled, “Organisational Wrongs, Moral Anger and the Temporality of Crisis.”
As the authors note:
In India, there exist a set of police actions of questionable ethical and legal content, known as encounters, ‘‘portrayed as sponta neous shootouts between the police and hardened crimi- nals’’ (Belur 2009, p. 237). In India, police encounters become problematic on account of institutional cultures where police officers who stand up to wrongdoing are subjected to systematic administrative retaliation (Dhatti- wala and Biggs 2012).
Furthermore, whenever the State in India is under the control of right wing political parties, which espouse the cause of cultural majoritarianism, the problem is exacer- bated as religious minorities, particularly Muslims, are often the target of violent police brutalities such as encounters (Sarin 2011). Cultural majoritarianism embodied in the ideology of communalism in India has often been mobilized by the State apparatus to produce cultures of violence against religious minorities such as Muslims (Simpson 2006).
Police officers in India often lack independence and are unable to express dissent, which can prevent elites who control the State from engineering violence in society (Subramanian 2007).
Police officers who are engineered by right wing discourses are likely to feel a sense of moral reprehension to any calls for showing fairness, care and ethical concern for antagonistic subjects such as alleged terrorists (Jagan- nathan and Rai 2014). Thus, even if immediate supervisors make a call for ethical concern and fairness, subordinate officers may view such calls as being morally reprehensible and detrimental to right wing nationalist projects (Belur 2009).
On to a recorded case:
During a conversation with Ram, a police officer currently working in a police agency in India mentioned details of a police encounter he had been involved in. We have anonymised the details of the police officer who provided us access to primary data about the encounter and refer to him as Sanjay in this article. After Sanjay’s conversation with Ram, we approached Sanjay requesting him whether he could provide us with more details of the police encounter and whether we could use it as empirical material for research purposes.
The Home Minister wanted results. He wanted action at the border. Maybe a few police encounters that would turn the media spotlight on the competence of the government.
In the light of the Home Minister demanding results, it is interesting to consider the metaphorical figure who demands results from us. A figure implicated in the politics of demands is the Mafioso. Just like the Home Minister here, the Mafioso also demands results in terms of the Other being murdered.
A lawyer who is known for his human rights interven-tions outlines the transformation of the State into the Mafioso,
There are many ways to deal with smuggling, arms and ammunition, explosives, counterfeit currency, narcotic drugs and terrorism. Police encounters are the least helpful way. Police encounters do not enhance the majesty of law; they are an admission of defeat, they tell us that that the state apparatus is incompetent of upholding the due process of law.
The lawyer argues that the police encounter will lead to the collapse of law, and consequently the national security crisis will reiterate the rise of the Mafioso. Just like the State, the Mafioso is also driven by a logic of territories. Where the territory of one Mafioso ends, the territory of another Mafioso begins.
An opposition politician argues that just like the Mafioso, the State is complicit in eroding cultures of safety,
Muslims did not feel safe in the State. They felt that the government had sponsored riots, rape, looting, arson and massacre against them. They felt that the government had given complete freedom to Hindu fundamentalist organisations to carry out violence in the State to polarize the electorate in view of the forthcoming assembly elections.
Further, the opposition politician felt that the approach of the State was different with respect to majority and minority communities,
Also, there was a difference in the way in which the State dealt with alleged terrorists from the Hindu and Muslim communities. There was no hesitation in carrying out illegal police encounters of alleged Muslim terrorists. However, this was not even an option that could be considered against alleged Hindu terrorists.
When the State fails to protect religious minorities such as Muslims, it may not be able to address the sense of grievance and angst among them. A young police officer, Sanjay who was appointed as the Superintendent of Police of a district bordering the neighbouring country of Pakistan pointed out how riots against Muslims were feeding into a sense of angst,
The district where I was posted had become an operating ground for terrorist organisations from Pakistan. They were operating in nexus with local people and religious organisations. The recent riots in the State had not helped. On the contrary, it had fomented the situation; there was a strong sentiment of injustice and revenge.
Sanjay is concerned about linkages between riots and the politics of revenge. By themselves, riots signify a carelessness towards life. Life, which has been nurtured over a period of time, is destroyed within moments, in the enactment of a riot. A riot also signifies the breakdown of the grammar of the neighbourhood. In the enactment of a riot, every neighbour is suddenly transformed into a potential enemy.
Another police officer Abhimanyu, who worked under Sanjay was however oblivious of the destruction caused by the riot. Abhimanyu was plagued by the acts of destruction being sponsored by the neighbouring country,
Pakistan had opened a new front in the district. Infiltrators and terrorists were coming into the district with arms and explosives. Terrorist acts, assassina- tion and sabotage had already been planned. Sanjay had been appointed to create a special team to deal with these challenges and I worked in close cooper- ation with him.
Thus, Abhimanyu refers to Pakistan as being responsible for opening new terrorist fronts. Perhaps, in such a context, the activation of democracy becomes even more important. One imagination about the terrorist may be to destroy her. Another imagination about the terrorist may be to bring her to justice. When we bring a terrorist to justice, we engage in a social dialogue about what activated the possibility of terror in the first place.
A lawyer, who worked in the district indicated the lack of organizational capacities within the police for bringing terrorists to justice,
It was an unequal battle. The police force of the district was inexperienced and largely unprofessional. They did not have the skills, resources and man- power, while the enemy was powerful, trained and highly motivated.
Thus, the lawyer points out that there were several organizational challenges confronting the police. The inability to inspire confidence in the community meant that the objectives of the community and the police did not converge. An antagonistic relationship informed the rela- tionship of the police with the community creating a sense of distrust between the community and the police. Prasoon who was the Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIGP) of the range, and Sanjay’s immediate supervising officer said,
The terrorists were driven by religious fervour and highly indoctrinated. The terrain was hostile. The topography was difficult. We did not have enough manpower. We did not have enough equipment. Many times the morale of the police was low. Motivating them required effort. The community and the police also did not share a cordial relationship always. There was tension and doubt.
Prasoon deals with the imagination of the terrorist in militaristic terms. He speaks about the terrorist in terms of difficult terrains and topographies. He fails to appreciate that while the terrorist is trained to kill, the terrorist is not trained to hold a political conversation. When the terrorist is asked to speak, perhaps there is no coherent political message that the terrorist delivers. If several terrorists are made to stand trial, then the hollowness of terrorist vio- lence would perhaps be exposed. The inability of the police to apprehend terrorists and submit them to trials before courts of law is an opportunity that has been lost to expose the shallowness of terrorist discourses.
Abhimanyu spoke about the strategies that the police were beginning to adopt in the same militarist vein as Prasoon. He did not speak about the necessity to expose the discursive void of terrorism,
Sanjay’s success was in using local knowledge. Much of the district was marshy land without any vegeta- tion. It was easy to track the footprints of people who travelled through the area, and there were local people who had been trained to track footprints.
Thus, even Abhimanyu is able to recognize that the materiality of local knowledge is a protection against ter- ror. This indicates that rather than the militarization of border zones, perhaps it is deepening the social space of border zones that is important. When social spaces in border zones are culturally resilient, they have the capacity to resist terror. On the other hand, it is the emasculation of social spaces that leads to their inability to resist terror. The emasculation of social spaces then becomes a ruse for the militarization of border zones.
In the light of local knowledge enabled by resilient social spaces, Sanjay spoke about his interventions,
Till then footprint trackers had been used to track burglars. I decided to use them to track infiltrators. The number of reports of infiltration had increased steeply during the previous two years, and I decided that it was useless to simply pass on information to the lower police machinery who did not have the skills to deal with infiltration.
Thus, a sense of crisis informed the functioning of the police with respect to discharging its responsibilities. There were everyday dilemmas with respect to the professional expertise of the police and its relationship with the com- munity. Sanjay attempted to reconcile these dilemmas by building a partnership with the community and mobilizing the expertise of the community to supplement the expertise of the police. On the other hand, the diktat of the top echelons of the State was to retain executive control over the functioning of the police within a hierarchical framework.
The top echelons of the State believed that the image of the State and the police could be improved if a few extraordinary and exceptional successes could be demon- strated. This was different from Sanjay’s project of build- ing a sustainable partnership with the community. Ethical dilemmas could arise if the State did not provide space for actors to raise questions while pursuing the extraordinary and exceptional projects which had the implicit sanction of the top echelons of the State.
Such sanction of the State is evident in the Home Minister’s calls for results at the border zone. However, it will take us time to feel angry about the regimes of violence instituted by such sanctions. It will take us time to realize that when the State implicitly sanctions encounters in the name of dealing with a national security crisis, the State is being transformed into a Mafioso. The same State which permitted riots to be directed against Muslims now takes upon itself the contours of a Mafioso. Riots themselves are a production of rage that carelessly destroy life.
In this context, when a national security crisis focuses on the anxiety of terrorism, again it will take us time to feel angry that the police killed the terrorist not because this was in national interest, but because the police were incapable of bringing the terrorist to justice.
It will take us time to recognize that deepening and strengthening social spaces in border zones is a far more effective way of engaging with terror than militarizing border zones. But in the atmosphere of a national security crisis, all that is immediate is the rage of destroying the Other. And by the time we recognize that an alternative to this rage was possible, too much violence would have already been inflicted. The anger against wrongdoing takes time because recognizing alternatives takes deep forms of dialogue. And our capacity to engage in deep dialogue, particularly in organizational spaces such as the police, leaves much to be desired.
Organizational wrong is normalized when the organization can be constructed as a homogenous actor under threat from others outside it. Organizational wrong is also authorized by the fear of failure. With respect to the responsibilities of the police, Sanjay described that it was vital to not allow terrorists to succeed. Sanjay described what happened when the police had detained an infiltrator,
We had intelligence about him. We knew that he was a hard core terrorist. We had been making efforts for almost a month and finally we were able to catch him. It is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks at all costs. Terror increases conflicts. The sense of distrust and conflict between communities and nations increases due to terror. Fundamentalist forces benefit from terror. The common man suffers. Terror can bring about a vicious cycle of violence.
For an organizational wrong to occur, it may be necessary to build a constituency which will back the wrong. It is necessary to mobilize constituencies of nationalist anger in order to sustain the infrastructure of wrong. Abhimanyu’s views embody how the anger of citizens and police workers in the grassroots could be mobilized to endorse ethically problematic right wing agendas. Abhimanyu spoke about the dilemmas facing the police once the infiltrator had been arrested,
Many of us told Sanjay that we saw no point in keeping the terrorist alive. The only good terrorist was a dead terrorist. We wanted to kill him at that very moment. If he had succeeded, he would have killed several innocent people. Why should he be kept alive? A strong message was necessary from our side. We are seen as soft. Therefore they take advantage of us. There needs to be parity between our actions and theirs.
Abhimanyu is driven by the desire for revenge. But revenge is a far weaker discourse than justice. Revenge is about the politics of destruction as a response to injury. Jus- tice is about the politics of reparation as a response to injury.
Sanjay was interested in the discourse of justice and spoke about the pressures he was facing to give into the call for revenge,
I was receiving telephone calls from senior officers in the government. They wanted me to kill the terrorist in a purported police encounter. I was in a dilemma – as a chief of operations, do I authorise an unlawful killing, even if the killing was in public interest?
Sanjay is torn between the desire to uphold justice and the administrative pressures to give into the call of murder. He recognizes that giving into the call of murder is becoming immune to the call of the Other. When we become immune to the call of the Other, what is corroded is the possibility of engaging in conversation itself. The call of murder is eventually a call of hate which does not recognize the possibility of conversational transformations. A right wing politician familiar with the case, and who did not share Sanjay’s sense of ethical dilemma said, “What is wrong in killing a terrorist? Am I killing a political rival? A terrorist is not democratic, there is nothing undemocratic in killing him.”