Hanifa clearly remembers that day in August 2017 when she last saw her husband. Ikram, a 40-year-old fruit seller from Baraut in Uttar Pradesh’s Baghpat district, had rushed out of home without having lunch to meet a friend whose wife was admitted in a local hospital. Later in the evening, Hanifa and her four sons found out that Ikram had been killed by police in an encounter in Kairana, about 35 kms from his home. “They shot him five times in a forest. They said he was a dacoit who had stolen cash and a gold chain and was trying to escape,” Hanifa tells Outlook. Police say they chased Ikram from Shamli to Kairana before he was shot dead. He had no prior criminal records.
Since 2019, Hanifa and her sons have been fighting for justice in the courts. But the case has not moved beyond the sessions court where it remains pending due to repeated delays in hearings. Human rights lawyers working on getting justice for encounter victims say several cases manage to reach the lower judiciary but never go beyond that. Advocate Akhtar Chaudhry, who has been working with encounter cases since 2018 and has represented several families of victims in court, including Ikram’s, says, “Right from the FIR stage to the investigation of causes of encounter, the system is designed to criminalise the victim. Even when an FIR is filed in an encounter case, the accused is always the dead person, not the police.”