Anatomy of a police encounter in India

Columnist  | Sriram Karri

Opinion, Columnists

Policemen are nervously preparing to take the accused to the spot where the crime took place and recreate it.

Police at the site of the alleged encounter of the four accused in the rape and murder of a veterinary on the outskirts of Hyderabad on Friday morning. (Photo: PTI)

I empathise and feel the pain of public relations officers (PROs) working for police department, who are compelled to make a media statement every time a suspected criminal dies in an encounter, or a custodial death takes place. Media hounds the police. Human rights activists launch their practised tirades with vengeance. And the poor PROs... they have to right a detailed press release as what happened.

Why? I am writing this template press release for all police encounters of the past, and those ahead in time. Let them, poor fellows, just fill some columns with details like name, date, place and be done with it. Because all police encounters are essentially the same. Nothing ever changes. Here it goes.

Policemen are nervously preparing to take the accused to the spot where the crime took place and recreate it. Don’t ask me if they don’t see vernacular TV channels which do it almost immediately when a crime story breaks out. Inside the lockup, the accused, guilty obviously, are fast asleep after a heavy biryani meal (yes, it is always a mutton biryani, Hyderabad or not), in great comfort.

The inspector tries to wake them up, gently, almost tenderly. “Friends, will you please kindly wake up and consider coming with us to the crime scene?”

The accused wake up, angrily. Glaring, they yell expletives at the cops, their families and their department. “How dare you wake us up, you dunderheaded coconut, you... bilious barbecued blue blistering barnacle?” (Yes, all accused are Tintin fans, and all cops are followers of Mother Teresa.)

“Please, friends, as law abiding officers we are under professional obligation to take you for a recreation of the crime scene before sunrise. Sorry for the inconvenience, we are doing our jobs. Kindly cooperate.”

“Shut up, or I will destroy you, you police dog,” the numero uno accused shouts. Other accused are laughingly mocking, even as the cops continue to caringly request them to cooperate with the law. Love, kindness, reason and persuasion of the police wins.

Next scene, we are at the crime spot. Once there, cops request the accused to stand in certain positions, like a debutant movie director briefs a superstar. “Can you please stand there? Yes, perfect. You, brother...  will you kindly walk a few metres away, yes, there. Thanks so much for the understanding.”

All this while, the cops are doing their work, while the accused are abusing and even manhandling them. Now, half the cops are meticulously ensuring the cast is ready on the stage, while the other half is writing down details, making notes.

Suddenly, the accused (number seldom matters, one, two, four or six, they always act in the same way), like a Sunny Deol, break their handcuffs, and pounce on the cops, who are taken complete aback. How could they have expected uncivil behaviour from men accused of heinous crimes, especially when they were treated as guests, and fed with biryani and also given a long drive? BTW, the handcuffs are strong, just that the accused always get stronger after midnight. They break them and run. They snatch police guns. All of them? No, all but one or two guns are snatched from the cops (number of guns left with the cops is generally proportional to number of accused but that is an irrelevant equation) and they start — no, not running — but firing at the cops.

“You bloody policemen (some more expletives), we waited long enough to kill you. Be ready to die.”

“Please, friends, don’t break the law. You must not break handcuffs either. You must not use our guns. Will you be kind enough to return them...?”

Gunshots. The accused, under no pressure thus far, and doing everything correctly, suddenly can’t get their aim right. They aim for the cops, but miss. Like Bollywood villains in the final scene.

“As a law-abiding inspector, I am requesting you to kindly stop this shooting. Surrender, now.”

“Die now,” the accused hollers and fires again. It misses — by a whisker.

The cops recover and stage a comeback. They have just two revolvers and four accused.

“Friends, we are begging you to surrender. Don’t force us to fire at you. Our hearts are not consenting, but we swore to do duty... please surrender.”

Flying bullets are splayed in response... all missing the police. A brave constable, daring his life, steps forward and aims at the toenails of one accused he could finally sight. Of course, given his respect for human life, and law, he gives three clear warnings.

“Brother of mine, I can see your toes. I will shoot at them if you don’t surrender. Don’t force me to, please.”

The police department has terrible guns, they seldom work properly. A bullet aimed at someone’s toes pierces his heart. The accused falls down, dead.

The cops are shocked, crestfallen, sad and heartbroken. They fire at other accused, all below the knees. The disobedient bullets have a will of their own. They strike the wicked accused through their skulls, temples and neck. The cops rush to call for an ambulance. They rush to make every effort to rescue the accused, to save their lives. Alas, fate wills otherwise.

The cops start making calls; to their superiors, to media. What a bad day at office! End of encounter. Next, let us move on to the celebration of patriots and cynical questioning of traitors.