HE SHOT FIRST
India Legal|December 27, 2021
The deadly shooting of six unarmed miners in Nagaland raises questions about the Act which protects the army if the law is broken by its officers in “aid of civil power”. But how does one pacify the families of the victims?
Kamaljit Singh

HE hit me first, so I hit him back. This is the common excuse the school bully trots out when caught hitting a classmate. It is, after all, an act of self defence. Law does not mean anyone should be a coward. If someone slaps you, you may retaliate with a slap and not turn the other cheek. The Gandhian adage is fine in theory, but in the big bad world, things work differently.

The police executioner says much the same thing when he carries out an extra-judicial killing, which is nowadays called an “encounter”. A horrible euphemism. The dead man fired the shot first, no one in the police party was hit, but the police returned the fire and the man died. Or the dead man tried to escape from custody, so had to be killed. Such killings have not stopped, perhaps never will, because the system allows them, even sanctions them, and the law never punishes the killers. The dead man is picked up from home, thrashed at some unknown detention centre to extract a confession and shot because he was of no further utility as an informer. Then an “encounter” is stage-managed. This is just an illustration, but sadly police encounters carry the sanction of law and sometimes the system actually rewards the executioners, depending upon the dead man’s category as an ultra, a militant or a terrorist or all of the three or the dead man’s underground military rank such as major, colonel or general.

To judicially execute anyone takes years. To do it extra-judicially and extra quickly takes a second. A well-aimed shot to the head or chest ends life in a flash. So why bother with arrest, interrogation, investigation, final report, charges, trial, death sentence, confirmation by high court, appeal, special appeal to the Supreme Court, mercy petitions to the president, loads of paper work and a huge expense. Be done with all this meaningless procedure. Just blind-fold the poor fellow and shoot him at point blank range. Finished, done and dusted in double-quick time. Let’s meet at the Mess at 7 pm and raise a glass or two to the health of the nation we saved from this ungrateful rogue.

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