New Delhi, India – Activists are calling for police reforms following a shooting in which a police officer killed an Apple executive in the state of Uttar Pradesh on Saturday.
Vivek Tiwari, a sales manager at Apple, was travelling by car with a colleague on Saturday in the northern city of Lucknow when two police constables on a routine patrol tried to stop the vehicle and shot Tiwari dead.
The police officer has claimed innocence although a complaint filed by Tiwari’s wife has a detailed account of the “encounter”.
This was the latest in a series of extrajudicial killings by police in the state.
“I didn’t shoot at him. The bullet was shot by mistake,” Prashant Chaudhary, the policeman who shot Tiwari told reporters on Sunday.
However, the state’s top police officer, OP Singh, said on Saturday that the officer claimed to have fired in self-defence.
Both constables involved in the incident have now been arrested.
Days after the killing that sparked massive outrage about the state of law and order, the state government has promised cash compensation of 4 million rupees ($54,600) to his family and a job at the municipal corporation for his widow.
“I wanted strict action against the guilty, a job, accommodation, expenses for education of my daughters and my mother-in-law. My demands have been met,” Vivek’s wife Kalpana Tiwari told reporters on Monday at her residence after she met the state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
“The backbone of the family has been broken. He leaves behind two young daughters and a devastated wife. Vivek is gone and nothing can replace him but we hope those who shot him will be brought to justice,” Vishnu Kant Shukla, Tiwari’s brother-in-law told Al Jazeera.
The First Information Report (FIR) filed with the police by Kalpana on Sunday also claimed that police officials at the crime scene did not allow his colleague, Sana Khan, who was a witness to the murder, to receive or make calls.
“We are aware of reports that some officials were trying to cover up the matter. But our government will not spare any guilty official. If there’s a criminal in uniform we will weed them out. We are committed to providing justice to the family,” Brijesh Pathak, Uttar Pradesh’s minister for Law and Justice and a legislator from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, told Al Jazeera.
Human rights campaigners say frequent military-style police operations and extrajudicial police killings of alleged criminals and gang members are becoming common again since the installation of new right-wing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
“For those who believe in the way of the gun, they will be answered by the gun,” Adityanath had said at a public event in Gorakhpur earlier this year responding to criticism about these police killings.
According to official data released by UP state police, there have been 1,144 “encounters” (the term used to describe extrajudicial action) in the state, resulting in 34 deaths, between March 2017 and January 2018. The People’s Union of Civil Liberties says the number is much higher.
Uttar Pradesh is among the worst states in terms of law and order; the government claims it is cracking down on crime.
“The government has given a free license to kill people in the name of ‘encounters’. Most of these are fake encounters. When the police is given a free hand for extrajudicial killings, then the result is a trigger-happy police force,” retired police officer SR Darapuri told Al Jazeera from Lucknow.
“When the state shield officers, it becomes very difficult to prosecute them,” he adds.
India has long grappled with conflicting positions on extrajudicial killings by security forces across states.
Human rights groups have raised questions over police accounts of such killings, calling them “pre-meditated murder”.
India’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a public interest litigation on encounters by the police in the state.
Earlier this year, the country’s top human rights body, the National Human Rights Commission, had also directed the state government to set up a probe panel to investigate these “encounter” killings even as activists decry serious human rights violations.
“Over 30 percent of encounters in India happen in this state, but crimes have not gone down. The police are not allowed to hand down death penalties like this, where is the due process of law? Most human rights violations are being perpetrated by security officials but still, police reforms are not being implemented,” activist Suhas Chakma at Rights and Risk Analysis Group in New Delhi told Al Jazeera.
“Whether it’s Duterte in Philippines or Hasina in Bangladesh, they first target the drug lords and the criminals to lull the people into a false sense of security. That’s why we don’t see mass protests against these killings,” he added.
Many family members of the alleged criminals gunned down by police in recent months have said that these shoot-outs are a “set-up”. They allege the “armed exchanges” did not take place at all.
“There is a pattern to this – it’s as if the same police officials were present at all the encounters. You have the same narrative leading to the encounter, the police procedure during and after the killings. The uncanny similarity of these killings establish beyond reasonable doubt that these are staged,” said activist Chakma.
Independent media reports have also raised doubts over these killings, claimed as active shoot-outs by the police.
“Investigations in such cases are mostly done by a neighbouring police station, how can you expect an unbiased independent probe?” Darapuri says.
In some recent cases, including one earlier last month, the police invited journalists to “watch and film a real encounter” where they shot two Muslim men Naushad and Mustakhim in Machua village near Aligarh.
A high-caste Brahmin, Vivek Tiwari’s murder on Saturday and the promptness with which the administration acted was a departure from the apathy in similar cases where the victims were from less-privileged castes, poor or Muslims, activists point out.
“Most of the people killed in this manner by the police are Dalits, Muslims and the vulnerable poor people. The police terrorises them to such an extent that they are unable to push their complaints through the justice system. This is why guilty policemen go scot-free,” former police officer Darapuri points out.
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