Murder of Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf allegedly two notorious gangsters involved in many crimes, were in police custody for quite sometimes. On 15 April last, they were escorted by the police in a handcuffed position to Colvin Hospital in Prayagraj at eerie hours of night for routine medical checkup under full media glare. As soon as they reached the hospital premises and faced the waiting media persons, three assailants camouflaged as journalists fired on them from a point blank range. Both of them died on the spot. How could a melee of journalists be allowed to be very close to the duo? How come the police personnel on duty were no better than passive spectators, remaining inert as the cold-blooded act was going on? The policemen were rather seen to retreat as if to give the assailants a better view of the convicts and ‘provide a more secure circle’ from which the ‘targets’ could not by any means escape the fusillade. Surprisingly, the three killers, instead of trying to flee, meekly surrendered to the police claiming that they had killed Atiq and his brother to make a name for themselves in the world of crime. Is it not something highly suspicious? Moreover, the entire killing was telecast live. People watched the episode of the chilling murders on television. Real time. A rare treat! TV newsreaders kept showing this murder again and again and in a frenzied voice, kept analyzing each frame. TV channels were very careful about their duty to ensure that all the viewers did not miss the excitement of the murders. The fun of showing ‘live murder’ is something else! And notably, such a horrendous killing was instantly celebrated by the Hindutva brigade by bursting crackers and chanting ‘‘Jai Shri Ram’’ slogan —a common feature after a Muslim is killed or lynched in UP. It is not a coincidence. The exhortation to Ram has become a shield for criminals these days. Especially if the victim of the murder is a Muslim. Atiq and his brother had petitioned at the Supreme Court for their security even as there were calls, from the highest quarters, for grinding them into dust. No less than a bench of the highest court had told Atiq Ahmed that the ‘‘state machinery will take care of you’’. And this was how the state machinery had ‘honoured’ the assurance of the highest court.
The whole episode is enshrouded in mystery. It is known to all that routine medical check-ups of convicts are conducted before court production, which was not the case on the fatal day, nor was there any medical emergency either. Why again, were the two of them shackled together, which is never a practice during transportation of accused persons in custody? Moreover, as per procedure, laid down in Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, as soon as a person is apprehended, his medical examination is compulsory. Secondly, the police is supposed to take the arrested person in their custody for a medical check only before a court production and not in between their custody period. In this case, the chief judicial magistrate of Prayagraj sent both Atiq and Ashraf to police custody until April 17 in a murder case. Then why were they taken for a medical check-up on 15 April and that too so late at night and with full information to the media. The timing of their movement to the hospital was naturally highly questionable. Questions are raised as to how could such a ghastly murder take place when the victims were in police custody?
Incidentally, Atiq’s son was killed in a police encounter only a few days back. Both Atiq and Ashraf had, on multiple occasions, claimed that their lives were in danger. When Atiq was moved from Sabarmati jail in Gujarat to Prayagraj on 11 April, he expressed his fear of getting killed on the way. ‘‘It is not right. They want to kill me,’’ Atiq could be heard saying to the journalists gathered outside the jail. Pertinent to mention that former BJP MP Harinarayan Rajbhar said on 9 March last that Atiq should be killed in an ‘‘encounter’’, the euphemism for extra-judicial killings by the police. ‘‘An encounter of Atiq Ahmed should be carried out after bringing him out of jail,’’ he said. ‘‘The doors of heaven will open in future for the officer who carries out Atiq’s encounter.’’ Similarly, state minister JPS Rathore said in March that the vehicle transporting Ahmed ‘‘might overturn’’. It was a reference to the death in July 2020 of gangster Vikas Dubey, who was killed in an alleged gunfight with the Uttar Pradesh Police. The authorities claimed that Dubey had tried to escape after the vehicle transporting him had ‘‘overturned’’. Rathore later sought to clarify his remark, saying: ‘‘A criminal after being arrested by police should sit calmly in the car, so that he reaches the jail safely. If he tries to run away, the car may lose balance and overturn.’’ Another state minister had called the assassination as result of ‘‘karma’’! Another minister termed it as divine justice. One UP minister, Swatantra Dev Singh, tweeted soon after Atiq’s killing that ‘‘paap aur punya ka hisaab isi janam mein hota hai’’ (sin and virtue are accounted for in this lifetime). Another has called it ‘‘a cosmic decision’’. That heavens have moved, stars have aligned to deliver justice, instant and brutal. This is what happens when the culture of impunity and the celebration of vigilantism feed on each other, when the state nurtures and incentivizes both, assured of a rich political harvest. Yogi Adityanath, the BJP chief minister of UP had also promised to ‘‘kill the mafias’’ (‘‘Mafia ko mitti mein mila doonga.’’). Was the killing pre-planned and executed in connivance with the administration with the ruling dispensation acquiescing in the move? Was it then an encounter? The apprehension cannot be ruled out. Extrajudicial executions have risen since the BJP government came to power in Uttar Pradesh in 2017. Official records say that there were nearly 8,500 of these encounters from March 2017, when Adityanath came to power, to August 2021. Nearly 150 people were killed in encounters during this period.
Was then this killing pre-planned and executed in connivance with the administration with the ruling dispensation acquiescing in the move? This apprehension cannot be ruled out in view of what has been stated above. It is reported that the same chief minister has ordered an inquiry into the killings. But even after what has been stated above, if someone believes that there is something left to be investigated, one can only say that formalism is good for our conscience. The judiciary does have direct responsibility for the people under its custody and hence it cannot leave it to the state government to come out with the truth behind the murders of people in judicial remand. The constitutional courts in the country must either wake up to this ‘new India’ before it is too late or watch more governments short-circuit the law.
Very pertinent also becomes the question, do the judicial commitments exempt the state of UP? Otherwise, how are extra-judicial killings by way of retaliation or ‘meting out justice’ allowed to be effected there? While the Chief Minister’s assurances of law and order on the assembly floor still rings loud and clear, will it be presumed that justice, democratic proceedings, rule of law are being manipulated conveniently at the advantage of the ruling dispensation in its proclaimed promotion of Hindutva agenda and anti-Muslim tirade? The celebration of the murders witnessed in some quarters is a symptom of a deep disease that has taken root within a section of society. A disease of bloodlust. What is extremely alarming is that the state-administration instead of acting as the protective organ, is turning into a criminal apparatus for sponsoring reckless state terrorism. We have seen in it in Gujarat pogrom, in Kashmir, in Punjab, in North-Eastern states and also in other parts of the country. Since so long as cases like the killings mentioned above keep on surfacing, discrimination and injustice towards particular communities would continue to pose serious threat to whatever little of democracy is still in vogue in India. Murder-for-murder frames disturbing questions: Has the state’s message to the police been that they can get away with murder, forget due process, reached the aam aadmi, too? When the alleged assailants say they killed because they were sure ‘‘this would benefit us in the future’’, did it show that the Encounter Raj has come home? In UP, does anyone with a gun claim a license to kill? This is just the opposite of what the Yogi Adityanath government’s message has been, that its promise of development is contingent on the way it is committed to law and order. It is difficult to say whether their religious sloganeering and the ‘boldness’ shown in the act of surrender of the killers was intended to earn apathy from a particular religious community or even from the state, which is ostensibly inclined towards Hindutva. Reports suggest that the Uttar Pradesh government has submitted a report to the Union Home Ministry, stating that the situation is under control in the state and that commissions have been formed to probe the matter. But the rising crime incidents have left Uttar Pradesh in a state of boil,
Finally, when viewed through the lens of prevailing bourgeois vote politics, such a killing comes handy for the ruling RSS-BJP to intensify communal polarization, incite Hindutva sentiment, divert people’s attention from the burning problems of life wreaking havoc in their life and thus have a smooth sailing in the election riding on the precipitated divisiveness and religious fanaticism. If one had looked carefully at electioneering in Karnataka which went to polls last week, one would find that this communal agenda was the only prank that the BJP leaders including PM Modi had to fall back upon. Should the toiling masses be carried by communal fanaticism and anti-Muslim hatred that the RSS-BJP-Sangh Parivar have been fanning up to drive a wedge into the fighting unity of the suffering people and thereby secure the seat of power. Should we then not let these killings slip into the inner recesses of the mind of the thinking people? Such brutal custodial murder—no matter whether the victims were mafias or otherwise—must be condemned vehemently. There ought to be a thorough independent probe into the whole incident and exemplary punishment should be meted out to the culprits.
(Source- scroll.in 07-03-23, 17-04-23, ABP 16-03-23, 16-04-23, 17-04-23, millennium post 16-04-23, The Wire 16-04-23, 17-04-23, Indian Express 17-04-23, Times of India 17-04-23, The Hindu 17-04-23, Asian Age-17-04-23)