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.