The police under Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is going berserk. Probably the most inefficient in India, with an established record of partisan brutality, the cops are under instructions to ‘kill’ to supposedly ensure law and order. As a result headlines scream every other day” ‘4 encounters in 24 hours’; ‘420 encounters in six months’; ‘15 encounters in two days’; ‘900 encounters in ten months’ and now just today ‘18 encounters in 48 hours.’

‘Shoot to kill’ is clearly the state motto now, with at least 33 alleged criminals being killed, and over 200 injured in six to ten months. UP’s top cop OP Singh justified this with “encounters keep happening because we have to catch criminals. Encounters happen because we fire in self-defence.” A few details are released now and again, of supposed criminal gangs being busted, of a wanted criminal being hounded and killed, of cops being injured as they took out notorious criminals. However, the list of those killed, injured and the far higher numbers arrested remains with the police and the state government amidst whispers that a big majority of this are Dalits and Muslims.

The ‘encounter raj’ is creating havoc in targeted areas (CM’s home constituency Gorakhpur being one of these) with the minorities in particular reporting deep distress and fear. Except for the Samajwadi party that raised an uproar in Parliament on Monday, all other political parties are silent on what is fast turning into a huge human rights issue in the largest state of India. The police are acting without accountability, and judging from reports from within UP, running amok. And with the cover given by Adityanath himself last year when he said openly, “criminals will be jailed or killed in encounters.”

Terrified families barely whisper of these ruthless killings even to journalists, for fear of harassment and arrests, and more encounters targeting their men. But sometimes the screen of fear is dented, as it has just been over the weekend, with a family coming out to challenge the UP police and maintaining that their men were shot by the cops deliberately, without any provocation. Jitender Yadav and three other members were on their way home from a wedding when their car was stopped in Noida by the rogue cops, and two shots were fired. Yadav and one other are in hospital, the former with a leg wound. The cops have been arrested since because this family refused to be silenced, and the senior UP police officers now claim that this was ‘personal enmity.’

The point is that it was being passed off as an encounter, the most inhuman and illegal method of curbing crime. As it does not take into account rights and justice, and gives the police powers that are used to target citizens. The minorities in Adityanath’s UP today are clear fodder for the game, joining the Dalits who in this large state have been at the receiving end despite the decades of independence. It is common knowledge throughout UP that the police shots are being fired at those who cannot defend themselves. And in the process create terror in the districts.

It is not the first time that police in India has gone amok. And as contemporary political history tells us, whenever give extra powers by states, the terror created, and the rights violated, reach unacceptable levels. This was the case during the Punjab crisis, this was the case when the UP Police Armed Constabulary (the dreaded PAC) was used in communal violence where it openly fired at one community and protected the other; this was the case in Chhattisgarh where the police supported and weaponised caste senas to wreak havoc on the poorest of the poor on the pretext of countering Naxalism and so on and so forth.

This is, however, the first time that a Chief Minister of a state has openly supported encounters. And made it clear that ‘shoot to kill’ is a favoured policy. In of course areas with large Muslim, and Dalit populations---Muzaffarnagar, Azamgarh, Malihabad, Kakori, Meerut, Gorakhpur. The argument being pedalled out is that this is being done to bring down crime. And dacoities. And with each encounter a story of how a ‘notorious gang’ has been neutered is fed to the pliable media that has forgotten its job, and accepts the press hand out without question.

The National Human Rights Commission, under public pressure, has sent notices (reportedly several times) to the UP government that has claimed that “each” encounter is followed by a “magisterial enquiry” and the reports have been sent to the human rights body. A judicial enquiry of senior Supreme Court and High Court judges is mandatory, to probe the wanton exercise of law and order in a manner where it seems to be transgressing the law itself. As for ‘bullets for bullets’ , there are hundreds of incidents from all over the country to prove that the word of the police in such cases is certainly not the last. And when opened to scrutiny has often been found to be a travesty of truth.