Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Twilight of the Encounter Specialists?

July 6th, 2010 · 5 Comments

The man to the right is Pradeep Sharma, once renowned as one of Mumbai’s top “encounter specialists”—that is, a cop whose not-so-secret mission is to assassinate underworld figures. Though these killings are said to take place during chases or confrontations gone awry, the Indian public knows full well that they are usually the product of planned hits. And many people have long supported this extrajudicial approach to crimefighting, given their lack of faith in the justice system’s ability to control certain gangland factions.

But has the Indian establishment finally decided to rein in the encounter-specialist beast it created? Sharma was arrested in January and continues to languish in jail, and many of his former colleagues are faring no better. This has resulted in a surfeit of rage amongst encounter specialists, who are feeling abandoned by the very government that used to let them operate with impunity:

“I can’t remain alone for too long. The dead gangsters haunt me. I’m forced to ask myself, ‘Who did I do all the dirty work for?'” asks one encounter specialist. “We are used and discarded like condoms by our seniors. We outlived our utility once the underworld was wiped out. Now, the authorities don’t know what to do with us.”

It would seem to us that the architects of this system are just as culpable as the triggermen. But we won’t delude ourselves into thinking that higher-ups will face consequences for their actions here. They achieved their primary goal, to the delight of a supportive public—at least until the ratio of violence to security benefits tilted too heavily toward the former. Now that it’s time to clamp down, the encounter specialists are ripe for sacrifice. Those that approved of their actions, meanwhile, will probably be promoted.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • Brian Moore

    That’s really interesting; I had no idea this kind of uh, justice, existed in India. I was following some the “related links” on the Deccan Herald site and it’s obvious that I really don’t get their definition of “encounter” and when it’s in quotes and not.

    How did you write this whole post without a single Dirty Harry reference? I commend your discipline!

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Brian Moore: Yeah, they never come right out and define “encounter,” probably because it’s a bit hazy. As I understand it, the cover story is that these shootings take place during attempted apprehensions, and the suspects resist violently. But it’s pretty widely taken for granted that the cops are sent out with shoot-to-kill orders, regardless of the crooks’ compliance.

    And it was tough to resist the urge to cite Dirty Harry, believe me.

  • jackal

    Some belated comments on this, mostly on my memory of how the local media covered these hits — having spent a couple of years growing up in bombay during the early 90’s, I remember seeing articles about such encounters rather often.

    Though maybe because we only bought the quasi-respectable broadsheets, they were pretty boring, short and factual articles. Just like the 20 line articles on insane tragedies (’50 die as bus jumps off cliff’,’400 die in flooding’) that were written as unremarkable daily occurrences in the big city papers. It really was one of the stranger things in the (english-language) Indian media, in retrospect (and to some extent now, though the very large number of tv news channels seems to be changing this a bit); the country’s so damn big, and filled with so many horrible events on any given day that people (and the media) barely raised an eyebrow unless, you know, it affected 1000? 10000? people.

    These encounters were also similarly presented as somewhat unremarkable incidents, at least in my memory (I could be wrong).

    I was always curious how corrupt such killings were — ie: did one mob boss pay off the police guy to hit the other? Seems plausible..

  • billp

    Reading about this and recent honor killings in India makes me reconsider whether India is a civilized nation. When a people approve of government-ordered contract killings and murder to prevent a marriage…

  • memphis

    no matter what encounter is very much important in INDIA. as the saying goes – aggressive treatment for aggressive disease conditions………….

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