Anatomy Of Encounters 

'Encounter’ killings continue to enjoy legitimacy across India. Outlook revisits its August 2022 issue on extrajudicial killings and the politics of violent masculinity.

'Anatomy of Encounters', August 2022 Cover

Uttar Pradesh gangster-turned-politician Atiq Ahmad's son Asad and an accomplice, both wanted in the Umesh Pal murder case, were killed in an encounter with the Uttar Pradesh Police in Jhansi on Thursday. The encounter took place on a day Ahmad was presented before the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate in Prayagraj in the murder case and was sent to 14-day judicial custody.

Just after two days, Ahmad and his brother Ashraf were also killed while in custody. Videos of the incident show multiple persons shooting the duo at point-blank range. As the two interacted with media, the assailants entered the frame and began shooting the two. The killings were thus caught on live cameras and were broadcast by news agencies as well.

The two incidents have led to controversy and a political slugfest in Uttar Pradesh with former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav calling Asad's police encounter a “fake encounter”.  Visuals of that encounter viral on media showed two bodies lying beside a motorbike at the site of the alleged encounter. An ambulance later took them away.

Ahma is a former Samajwadi Party MLA. According to STF officials, the two deceased Asad and Ghulam were on the run since the murder of Umesh Pal on February 24. Several STF teams were pressed to track them down. The incident revived the debate around fake encounters and their role in political narratives.

Max Weber believed the State having a monopoly on violence was good, as it derived its legitimacy from the society it governed. But what happens when it uses illegitimate and disproportionate violence against its own? In its August 2022 magazine issue, Outlook looked at the anatomy of fake encounters in depth. 

Not only are fake ‘encounter’ killings by cops rampant across the country, but they are also wildly cheered by people who seem to have lost faith in the criminal justice system. The cover story looked at why fake encounters continue to enjoy popular support in India. 

The cover also looked at the impunity with which those in power justify and in fact support extrajudicial killings for political benefits. The highest levels of government keep encouraging police, paramilitary and army units to eliminate "undesirables" even as the public cheers the rogue elements from the sidelines. 

It looked at the sordid histories of several states including Punjab, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Kashmir and Maharashtra, and other states with high rates of extrajudicial killings. 

The cover also looked at police and the politics of masculinity by analysing the careers of top cops in Maharashtra who made a name for themselves as “encounter specialists”. 

The cover also looked at the legal aspect of extrajudicial killings. Since there is a thin line between exercising the right to self-defence, retaliation and using excessive force, police encounters must always be looked at with a critical eye, say experts.

In light of the recent debate around fake encounters, Outlook is replugging stories from its August 2022 cover titled 'Anatomy of Encounters'.