Thursday, February 16, 2006

Daya Nayak - Encounter killings & Ethical Chaos

A lot of recent comments have challenged the rationale behind encounter killings. First things first, this blog is not here to defend encounter killings or glorify encounter specialists; it's main purpose is to showcase the other side of the Daya Nayak story. Since encounters were such an integral part of this man’s career, let's take a look at them...

To understand the origin of these encounters, one needs to look at the crime scene in Mumbai over the past 25 years. By crime scene, I'm talking of the organised crime perpetrated by the mafia, not the isolated petty crimes that have vastly increased in number by now.

The first encounters in Mumbai date back to the early eighties [1980+] in the days when Karim Lala was the king of dons. Crime had reached unprecedented levels in those days, unprecedented for that time of course. Occasional encounters were targeted at bringing him down. His reign was at a seeming end when he refused to trade in dope, but Dawood Ibrahim from the same locale of Mohd. Ali Road was the new blood in their industry. He took on Karim Lala's mantle, very successfully too, and by 1990 his net was widely established. Hafta wasooli, mandwali all went on as before...they just had a new overseer. Then... Ayodhya happened. Anyone who lived in Bombay then can never forget what followed. The Hindu-Muslim factions went berserk; the riots were even given fuel by fundamentalist leaders looking at political gain. And then Mumbai shook, with the deafening bomb blasts [1993] that tore the city’s financial heart, Nariman Point...

The Mumbai Police came out in a pretty bad light after all this. Not only had they failed to stop the rioters, their intelligence systems had failed to prevent the blasts. Cases against the blast accused are still pending in our courts of law. To top it all, the mastermind - Dawood Ibrahim, disappeared from India soon after. He’s never been caught till date. Post-riots scenario: Dawood was out of the country; his businesses were in the hands of his now-warring aides, Chhota Rajan and Chhota Shakeel. In the next couple of years, these two strengthened their hold on Mumbai. Their gangs became larger, they acquired more powerful foreign-made weapons and the reign of terror went on spreading...To add to the mayhem you had other dons – Abu Salem, Ashwin Naik, Arun Gawli and some smaller operators.

Extortion killings became the norm in 1994 – 1997. The newspapers would have some builder’s murder splayed on the first page to go with the morning tea, most days of the week...

The extent of the mafia’s hold on the city was laid bare when on 12th August 1997, music baron Gulshan Kumar was shot dead in broad daylight by Abu Salem’s men, allegedly a contract killing due to business rivalry between TIPS owner Ramesh Taurani and Gulshan Kumar’s T-series. The case is still in our courts. The uproar that followed this killing of a very prominent businessman reached even the insides of the usually placid Rajya Sabha. Just before this murder, producer Rajiv Rai had received extortion calls and had been threatened by the mafia. He was attacked but got away with his life thanks to the timely intervention of the security given to him following his police complaint. Producer-director Subhash Ghai had also been attacked in April of the same year by Salem's men.

The Sena-BJP combine was in power in the period when the Mumbai police force was thus fast falling from grace. This extreme situation of crime that was now widely prevalent called for extreme measures, to quote a former joint CP of Mumbai. These measures were born as encounter killings... A special squad of the crime branch was given the responsibility of finishing the various gangs in the city; orders that came from the home ministry, which was then in the hands of Gopinath Munde of the BJP. By 1997, Maharashtra was a hub for crime and lawlessness [See In Lawless Maharashtra - P.Sainath]. But by now, the crime branch's network of informers had grown enough. The squad knew enough to do the job they had been given... and gradually they became the much feared encounter specialists. They were Pradeep Sawant, Praful Bhosle, Pradeep Sharma, Hemant Desai, Prakash Bhandari, Ashok Borkar, Vijay Salaskar, Arun Borude and Daya Nayak.

Were these men right in gunning down almost 600 men in a span of 6 years? As for right and wrong...whose ideas of right and wrong should we consider? Let's not forget the most important thing here – they were only following their superiors' orders. If blame is to be placed on anyone, place it on our erstwhile elected lawmakers and appointed officials, who gave these men the authority and the resources - more effective, modern weapons and money both; to act in a fashion that most consider inhuman. These policemen were doing their job. They were putting their lives at risk, their families at risk and making Mumbai a safer place. These are not my words; these are the words of former Joint CP of Mumbai, D. Shivanandan.

Now for some facts, regarding the legal issues involved in encounters among other things.

· In India, it is illegal for a policeman to fire his weapon before the criminal does; in sharp contrast to USA, where police officers can draw and fire in any crime scene.

· Every trap laid for a criminal which may possibly turn into an encounter requires the permission of a District Magistrate.

· If an encounter does take place, the involved policemen have to depose before a magistrate in a thorough enquiry. Every shot they have fired has to be justified. If it cannot be accounted for, it may lead to a memo or other more severe punishments.

· Daya Nayak has never been given a memo in his 10 years of service in the police force.

· None of Nayak’s encounters, in which he has shot down 84 criminals, has ever been considered unjustified in these magisterial enquiries.

· None of Nayak's encounters have come under the media scanner; for example - like the infamous encounter of Mumbai-based Ishrat Jahan alongwith 3 others in Gujarat [2002] did.

In 1998, people were afraid of having lavish marriages in Mumbai, for fear of catching the eye of the mafia. Now, that sort of thing is ancient history. Hardly anyone remembers those days, certainly not those who were never affected by the mafia's murders. In 2000, an attempt was made on Rakesh Roshan's life, just following the tremendous success of his directorial debut, Kaho Na Pyar Hai. But these incidents were slowly becoming infrequent. By 2002, Mumbai was back on its track. 1997 to 2002... 6 long years... and 600 encounter deaths. Now, extortion calls are rare, extortion killings even rarer. As we proudly say, we're not Bihar! But let's not forget that this city was dangerously close to being as lawless as Patna. The grim reality of living in daily fear for their life, faced by countless businessmen across the city in the hey day of the mafia, has now given way to a much more peaceful existence. Though the means may have been brutal encounters, it cannot be denied that Mumbai is a far safer place today.

How many of us have actually spoken to an encounter specialist? How do we know that they don’t suffer from guilt over all the men they’ve killed? How do we know that these deaths don’t haunt their nightmares? How can we pronounce these men as killers, playing games of mistaken identity to rack up their totals as someone put it? Daya Nayak did not choose to become a killer. He only joined the police force. If a senior officer saw his potential skills and chose to recruit him into the crime branch, does it become Nayak’s fault? If in the course of his job, he had to follow orders, was it his fault? The same goes for all our encounter specialists!

Any kind of killing, may it be in encounters or in a war; deserves to be condemned. The day a society condones the murder of a human being, that day will mark the beginning of a slow but sure disintegration of that society. History shows us that a peaceful rule enabled civilizations to survive while violence against innocence led to their downfall. Rome burned, not when Caesar’s armies vanquished its enemies, but when Nero’s gladiators killed in its arenas for sport...

We know that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Logic dictates that not all of these encounters were uncompromisingly real; some cases must have been of mistaken identity, some may have been with intent to deliberate murder. Questioning the logic behind encounters is completely within reason; but accusing our police of outright wanton killings is as unfair as a mistaken encounter. An ethical dilemma such as this certainly cannot be solved by sending all the encounter specialists to a literal guillotine.

Our Constitution is rather old... This land, this nation has undergone tremendous changes in these 58 years. Sadly, our laws have not changed at the same pace. Countless amendments to existing laws over the years have given rise to many more loopholes so that even if hardened criminals are ever captured, all they need for escape is a clever lawyer. Not forgetting of course, corrupt officials who get bribed to relegate cases into oblivion, witnesses who get threatened and turn hostile, witnesses who end up mysteriously dead, prosecutors who go easy for a few favors, policemen who don't file chargesheets...the ways and means for a criminal to get out of the path of justice is not very difficult. Granted, it is wrong to kill people without letting law make an attempt towards justice. But is the answer to let really dangerous criminals go scot-free?

When faced with a choice between two evils, it is in man's best interest to always choose the lesser evil. It's survival instinct. It is an ugly choice, but a necessary one. Our governments had to choose between useful, important and innocent people getting murdered – builders, businessmen, restaurateurs, producers, directors... and on the other hand were encounter killings. Is it surprising that they chose to protect the better part of our society by unleashing destruction against the mafia?