The lathi would usually be lethal enough in the hands of an ill-trained force.
It’s not lawlessness you need to fear in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. The law-enforcement force can send a chill down the spine. Encounter deaths are common, reportedly crossing the 1,900-mark in just over a year since Yogi Adityanath took over as CM in 2017, alarming human rights activists. Even then, an Apple executive’s death in a bizarre late-night shooting by a trigger-happy policeman, part of what the state’s DGP calls “rogues in uniform”, raises far too many questions. An armed constable seems to be getting only a smattering of training and sensitisation before he’s given live ammunition and a loaded weapon on his beat. The lathi would usually be lethal enough in the hands of an ill-trained force. Giving them guns and a licence to kill — more than just shoot to maim or incapacitate — is an open invitation to murder.
The state police chief’s agony is touching, but that can’t bring back a young executive of a multinational company who had a bright future in life ahead of him. It’s the culture of impunity built up in scores of deaths brought about in encounters over the past couple of years that may have shaped the constable’s reaction to the incident, where a driver may not have stopped the car on his command.
While not heeding a policeman’s signal to stop is not recommended, people might react differently if they see a threat like armed UP police bobbing up at night. Given the statistics of encounters and deaths, it’s clear Uttar Pradesh operates as a police raj. It is also highly likely that the attitudes that shape such a direct approach to dealing with criminal gangs may come from the very top, even if the police chief has profusely apologised in this particular case.
An ordinary citizen going about his/her work doesn’t have any assurance that he/she will return home in one piece in a country where indiscriminate shooting by the police adds another dimension to the threats posed by lynching mobs and others.
The challenge is one of building up a police force potent enough to take on onerous law and order duties but trained well enough to understand the difference between tough policing and going on a killing spree. An analysis of the caste and community of the many victims in UP also tells a tale of action directed more against people of the so-called lower castes and members of a certain religion.
The gunning down of the techie may seem like collateral damage to policemen on patrol duty who have been armed for the past five years. What we are seeing goes against the grain of an orderly society that should know better how to deal with criminal elements.