India’s policing disorder

In the 1990s Mumbai's 'crime-busting' policing strategy included routine extra-judicial executions, known as 'encounter killings'. Here this state violence is examined as communalisation of the police, enforcing insecurity for the minority over security for all.

Abdul Shaban
22 April 2014

Police, as the coercive arm of the state, are thought to maintain law and order. But in many multicultural developing countries, the police have violated the law and heightened prosecution of citizens. In many of these countries corruption, ethnic biases, feudalistic attitudes within the police and ruling class, and poverty and unemployment among the masses, create an environment where deprived and discriminated groups increasingly involve themselves in survival economies, including criminal and semi-legal activities. In turn the police, supported by the ruling class and the ethnic majority, justify rampant violation of human rights with the cover of curbing ‘gangsterism’ and ‘terrorism’. Marginalised communities are resultantly at increased risk of police violence.

In India, policing is driven by sectarian and patriarchal leadership, training and mind-sets, with extrajudicial punishment of the marginalised an increasing phenomenon. Cases of extrajudicial killings in Mumbai, and overzealous incarceration, encounter killings and atrocities against Muslims elsewhere in the country, reveal the police at the centre of human rights violations.

Police, the underworld and shoot-outs

Following the serial bomb blasts in 1993, Mumbai police started counter terrorism operations against gangs and youth from marginalised communities in the city. In what were essentially extra-judicial executions, Mumbai police 'encounter specialists' killed hundreds of members of criminal gangs, as well as many innocent youth with no connection to the criminal underworld. From 1993 to November 2005, a total of 615 persons allegedly involved in crime were killed by Mumbai police in such 'encounters'. Many of these were 'false encounters' – where the suspect is killed by police whilst unarmed and in custody, but the police claim to have shot in self-defence outside of custody.

In the 1990s, these encounter specialist became ‘heroes’ for a section of the population, but under scrutiny by courts, media, and civil society groups, they are turning out to be the ‘villains’. “Nobody asked whether they were following legal procedures, neither did the team care to follow any standing order or manual,” said a retired Crime Branch officer, on condition of anonymity, about the Mumbai police team involved in encounters.

Specific social and economic conditions meant that, for a short period of time, certain sections of the middle and upper classes supported these violent actions by the police, granting impunity to the 'encounter specialists'. The closing of Mumbai's textile industry in the mid-1980s, the main source of employment in the city, made unemployment a generalised experience, with many unemployed youth subsequently turning to crime and violence. Many of Mumbai's criminal gangs emerged out of these unemployed youth or former textile mill workers. As these youth were generally involved in extorting money from businesses and the well off, or in theft, police actions against these groups provided a sense of relief to the businessmen and middle class of the city.

Second, the policing strategy intersected with heightened caste and religious tensions and inequalities. Social difference increased between lower caste and upper caste Hindus (due to provision of reservation for the lower castes by the Government of India in government services and educational institutions), and between Hindus and Muslims due to demolition of the Babri Mosque and the communal riots thereafter. Most of the gangs in the city belonged to the unemployed lower caste Hindus or Muslims, and killing of these youths by the police found support among the rival upper caste Hindus. Upper caste controlled media orchestrated even false encounters as killing of terrorists and those involved in the bomb-blasts in the city in 1993. The killings were considered and projected as patriotic activity and national duty.

The encounter killings also intersected with a broader upper class (and upper caste) project to re-shape Mumbai as the industrial and financial capital of India. Within the changing economic scenario of the 1990s, when liberalisation and globalisation became the strategy for economic development, criminal activities posed a major threat to the city’s economic growth and its re-fashioning as a destination for foreign capital. The policing strategy of ‘encounter killings’ thus emerged to 'clean' the city for foreign capital, and maintain the city’s status as Indian’s financial and industrial capital.

The police killed innocent civilians in fake encounters, and in the process also acted on behalf of one gang to eliminate members of other gangs. One of the most sordid killings by the encounter specialists in the city was that of Sayyed Khwaja Yunus, a Muslim youth. In January 2003 Sayyed Khwaja Yunus, a 27-year-old software engineer and a native of Parbhani district of Maharashtra, was falsely arrested by the police in connection with a bomb blast in a bus at Ghatkopar. Yunus was booked under the stringent Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) by the police. To hide the false arrest, he was murdered by the police investigation team and his body was burnt at a farm in Asangaon in Raigad district. The police team constructed a cemented platform at the place so that no one would find the bones and ashes. This false encounter came to light as Khwaja Yunus' father suspected a custodial killing of his son and filed a case in the Mumbai High Court. The High Court asked CID (Crime Investigation Department) to investigate the case. The CID found that 14 policemen were involved in this murder.

Many of Mumbai's policemen have become well known for their encounter killings. They misused the law of which they were protectors. It is alleged that Pradeep Sharma, an inspector in Mumbai Police, has shot dead 113 alleged criminals, while another police inspector Vijay Salaskar, an inspector in Mumbai Police, is claimed to have killed over 50 alleged criminals. Rabindranath Angare and Praful Bhosale, inspectors in Mumbai Police, are said to have killed about 51 and 90 alleged criminals, respectively. Arun Borude and Sachin Vaze, inspectors in Mumbai police, are linked with killing Khwaja Yunus in a false encounter, while inspector Rajaram Vhanmane, Hemant Desai and Ashok Khots were suspended from service for killing Khwaja Yunus.

'Achievements' in killings by Daya Nayak, an Inspector inthe Mumbai Police, have inspired four Bollywood films, Ab tak Chhappan (2004), Kagaar (2003), Aan (2004), and Encounter Dayanayak. It is claimed that he has killed more than 80 persons involved in crime. Daya Nayak was suspended from the service in 2006 and was in jail on allegations of extortion, being in cahoots with the underworld, and of having amassed disproportionate wealth. However, his suspension order was revoked in 2012.

Aslam Momin, an inspector in the Mumbai Police, was dismissed from service in 2005 for alleged links with Dawood’s brother, Iqbal Kaskar, while inspector Prakash Bhandari was transferred out of Mumbai for amassing wealth in illegal ways. Another police inspector, Nitin Vichare, was allegedly involved in stamp paper fraud and was suspended from the police service in 2005. Rajesh Dhanwade, an inspector in Mumbai Police, has allegedly amassed disproportionate wealth and become a builder. He was suspended from the service in 2012. Shiv Ram Kadam was an Inspector in the Mumbai Police. The Anti-Corruption Bureau of the Police found that the inspector with a monthly salary of Rs.12,000 (£117) had accumulated assets worth Rs.2.99 crore (£292,500). He was suspended from service in 2002.

Corruption in the Mumbai Police is rampant. The above names are some examples of the policemen who have been exposed. Like Bhais (underworld kingpins), many constables and officers from the Mumbai Police collect haftas (weekly extortion money) from shops and hawkers, and many of them can be seen on roads collecting illegal money by detaining and harassing vehicle owners and drivers.

Incarceration of Muslims

As a religious community in India, Muslims have faced increased violence from majority community extremists. Thousands have died and millions of rupees worth of property has been destroyed. But unlike in earlier cases where right wing Hindu groups were generally the perpetrators of violence, including during riots, in recent years it has been the state's coercive force, the police, which has overtly carried out these abuses.

The war on terrorism in India has transformed into a war on Muslims by the police, and that has resulted in blatant violation of their human and citizenship rights. The police as an institution have been significantly communalised. They have become overzealous in jailing Muslims or shooting them down in fake encounters. The rhetoric of ‘national security’ and anti-terrorism are deployed as cover to justify these violations.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the share of Muslims in the total prison population has remained very high in India, more than double or three times the share of the Muslim population.[1] The latest Prison Statistics, from 2011, show that as against their population of 13.43 per cent at an all India level, the share of Muslim convicts was 17.8 per cent. Out of the total number of undertrials and detenues in the country, 21.2 per cent and 26.5 per cent, respectively, belonged to the Muslim community. About 37.1 per cent of Muslims constituted ‘other’ prisoners in the country’s jails.[2]

The government of India classified 1,220 cases of killing as fake encounters in the country from October 1993 to October 2009, and the share of Muslims in that has been 17.4 per cent as against their share of 13.4 per cent of the national population. Although there have been a substantially higher proportion of fake encounters involving Muslims in the majority of the states in India, the proportion is significantly higher in the states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Delhi, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttrakhand. In 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13 (up to 15 February 2013) totals of 129, 197, and 126 fake encounters respectively have been reported in India.[3]

The national intelligence agencies have acted as equal partners in these crimes. The case of the Ishrat Jahan encounter, investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI),reveals collusion between Intelligence Bureau (IB) officials and Gujarat Police personnel. Ishrat Jahan Sheikh along with Javed Sheikh, Amjad Rana and Zeeshan Johar were gunned down by the Gujarat police on 15 June 2004 on the pretext that they were planning to kill the Gujarat State Chief Minister.[4] Later it was found that these Muslim youth were already in police custody when they were killed, and that their killing was at the hands of police and IB personnel. The killings of Muslims in false encounters have often been to reap rewards, promotions, and political patronage by the police and intelligence officials from right wing Hindu political groups.

Similarly, the case of Sadiq Jamal suggests a conspiracy between the Gujarat Police and IB officials. Sadiq Jamal, a 23 year old resident of Bhavnagar in the city of Gujarat, was killed by a team of Gujarat’s Police in an encounter on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on 13 January 2003. It was claimed by the police that Sadiq Jamal was a member of Dawood Ibrahim gang and had arrived to kill BJP leaders to avenge the 2002 post-Godhra riots in Gujarat. However, evidence suggest that Sadiq Jamal was already in Gujarat Police and IB Custody when he was killed, and was a petty criminal.[5]

Muslim youths have been overzealously arrested and prosecuted in many states by the police, with in Madhya Pradesh “nearly 200 Muslim youths charged and jailed in over 85 cases in the last 12 years in the state, showcasing a system of persecution on flimsy charges”. Many of the police officials have got award, promotion and patronage of political groups on killing and arrest of Muslim youth. For instance, Mr Ramchandran was Inspector of Central Zone Task Force in 2007 in Andhra Pradesh. He arrested 26 Muslim youth and targeted them with third degree torture whilst alleging they were waging war against the country. The youth were later acquitted by 7th Additional Metropolitan Sessions Judge with full honours. In 2007, the police officer was arrested for disproportionate asset and released on bail. However, he has since been appointed as Chief of Task Force of Central Zone, an important official position.

Some other cases in which Muslim youth were killed by the Police in fake encounters are as follows. Sohrabuddin Anwarhussain Sheikh was killed by the State Police on 26 November 2005, while he was in police custody. The police claimed Sheikh was an agent of Laskkar-e-Taiba and Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, planning to kill "an important political leader" in Gujarat. Kauser Bi, the wife of Sohrabuddin Anwarhussain Sheikh, was raped, poisoned, killed and burnt by the officers of the Gujarat Police because she threatened to expose the policeman, involved in her husband’s killing. Her ashes were thrown into Narmada River, near Bharuch, by the police.

Enforcing insecurity for the minority

In India, in recent years, the police have acted as a highly biased, communal and corrupt force. The police whose aim is to cultivate a sense of safety and security among citizens of the country and protect their constitutional rights have themselves been involved in violation of human and citizenship rights. The socially marginalised section of the population has been at the receiving end of this corrupt and biased policing in India. Increased communalisation of the police has been evident from rioting against Muslims, incarceration of Muslims, and killings of Muslim youth in false encounters. The police have often used the cover of nationalism and terrorism for highhandedness and violation of rights of the citizens. The Indian police requires significant retraining of its personal, sufficient checks and balances on its use of power, a watchdog to monitor its activities, and most importantly, appropriate representation of all sections of the population to ensure that the police are not turned into a criminal group targeting a section of the citizenry – but protecting and guarding the constitutional rights of all citizens. 


[1] Shaban, Abdul (2010). Mumbai: Political Economy of Crime and Space. Hyderabad, India: Orient Blackswan.

[2] NCRB (2012). Prison Statistics 2011, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi.

[3] Government of India (2013). “Reply to the Loksabha Unstarred Question No.1368”, Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi.

[4] Times of India (2013). “Killing Street of Kotapur: The CBI’s Summary Report on The Ishrat Encounter Gives a Chilling Account of Murders most Foul”, Mumbai, 5 July, p.14

[5] Times of India (2013). “Killing Street of Kotapur: The CBI’s Summary Report on The Ishrat Encounter Gives a Chilling Account of Murders most Foul”, Mumbai, 5 July, p.14

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