Home Politics Impunity & Lack of Accounability: Extrajudicial Killings in India

Impunity & Lack of Accounability: Extrajudicial Killings in India

Extrajudicial killings, also referred to as 'extrajudicial executions' or 'summary executions' are any killings not authorized by judicial proceedings or laws, including extrajudicial killings by armed forces, police or other security services. In India, extrajudicial killings have been a matter of grave concern because of their widespread prevalence and serious breaches of human rights, fundamental rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The article goes into the contemporary prevalence of such killings and their nexus with the Indian Constitution and the socio-political dynamics of the country.

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Introduction

Extrajudicial killings, also referred to as ‘extrajudicial executions’ or ‘summary executions’ are any killings not authorized by judicial proceedings or laws, including extrajudicial killings by armed forces, police or other security services. Extrajudicial killings have been a persistent concern all over the world, and have been particularly problematic in India. These forms of punitive justice have been in existence since time immortal and have been used throughout history to suppress social and political defiance. In India, extrajudicial killings have been a matter of grave concern because of their widespread prevalence and serious breaches of human rights, fundamental rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The article goes into the contemporary prevalence of such killings and their nexus with the Indian Constitution and the socio-political dynamics of the country.

History of extrajudicial killings in India

Extrajudicial killings have been prevalent in India since times immemorial with distorted versions of ‘eye for an eye’ justice being perpetuated in various parts of the country. Social rules and customs have led to unfettered application of retribution which has been immensely detrimental to the unbridled outgrowth of criminal activities. Moreover, the various armed conflicts which have historically been affecting the country have given rise to ‘Combat’ killings which are not subjected to any form of legal interference or judicial review. More recently, a large number of alleged activists, insurgents and gangsters have been subjected to extrajudicial killings by state and federal governmental agencies such as the police, security forces, and intelligence agencies.

According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), there were 1,782 cases of extra-judicial killings in India between 2000 and 2017. The report also stated that the majority of the victims were from marginalized communities, including Dalits, Adivasis, and Muslims. The NHRC has also criticized the lack of accountability and the culture of impunity that exists within the security forces. 

Violation of the Indian Constitution

The Constitution of India, being the supreme law of land, incorporate a myriad of freedoms including freedom of speech, expression, life, liberty and religion as enumerated in its fundamental rights. As per Article 21 of the Constitution, ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law’. Such deprivation should occur in exercitation of power granted to the state under the legal process enabled by civil and criminal codes. It is imperative that the state must take reasonable steps to protect life, not take it away. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that law makers outlines laws that protect the citizen from any kind of deprivations from their life or personal liberty. Thus, any form of extrajudicial killings in India violates the fundamental right to life enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

International Statutes

Various international laws govern extrajudicial executions and human rights violations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international human rights treaty formed in 1966 and ratified by 167 countries. Article 6 of the covenant protects the right to life which states “every human being has an inherent right to life”, while article 7 of the covenant protects against all forms of cruel, inhuman treatment or punishment immoral or demeaning. Similarly, Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that “No one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. This part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

 In addition, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002 to investigate and prosecute individuals for heinous crimes committed within a country’s jurisdiction, including extrajudicial executions. Courts are empowered to prosecute those suspected of war crimes, such as extrajudicial executions, to order a trial for the accused, and to provide necessary compensation to the victims. 

Islamic Approach to Extra-Judicial Killings

When it comes to the issue of extrajudicial killings, the Qur’an provides clear guidance.

The most important point made by the Qur’an is that taking away another’s life is a grave sin. In the Qur’an, Allah says: ‘Whoever kills a soul, except for murder or for mischief on the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind’ (5:32).

When it comes to the issue of extrajudicial killings, the Hadith is even more clearly against the practice.

In one Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “If a man kills another, it is as though he has killed all of humanity. And, if a man saves another’s life, it is as though he has saved the lives of all of humanity.”

In another Hadith, he said: “No one should be killed except in the pursuit of justice.”

From these two Hadiths, it is clear that extrajudicial killings are strictly against the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Islam places a strong emphasis on justice and upholding the law, and any form of extra-judicial killing is considered a serious violation of Islamic principles.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), there were a few incidents of extra-judicial killings that occurred, but each time the Prophet responded with condemnation and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. One well-known example is the assassination of a woman named Fatimah bint Marwan, who was known for her critical remarks about the Prophet. Some of the companions of the Prophet, without his knowledge or approval, decided to take matters into their own hands and killed her. When the Prophet learned of the killing, he condemned the act and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Similarly, during the caliphate of Abu Bakr, there were a few incidents of extra-judicial killings, but each time the caliphate responded with swift and severe punishment for the perpetrators. One example is the killing of a man named Malik ibn Nuwayrah, who was accused of apostasy and adultery. Some of the companions of the Prophet, without the caliph’s knowledge or approval, killed Malik and took his wife as a captive. When Abu Bakr learned of the killing, he was furious and immediately ordered the perpetrators to be arrested and punished.

Judicial Precedents

In PUCL v Maharashtra (2014), the Supreme Court dealt with written submissions questioning the credibility of 99 killings by Mumbai police in which 135 criminal suspects were shot between 1995 and 1997.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court established the following 16 guidelines as standard procedures to be followed for thorough, effective and independent investigations of policing fatalities.

The Court noted that these requirements/norms should be treated as proclaimed laws under Article 141 of the Indian Constitution and must be strictly adhered to in all cases of death and serious injury in police operations.

Conclusion

The use of extrajudicial killings in India is a widespread and alarming phenomena. It is an affront to justice, human rights, and the rule of law, and must be addressed. Although it is true that some cases have gone unsolved and some criminals have evaded prosecution due to extrajudicial killings, it is not an acceptable form of justice in any society, let alone one as supposedly democracy-minded as India. The unchecked use of this tactic has caused countless innocents to suffer and should not be allowed to continue.

It is clear that extrajudicial killings in India are a barbaric, unjust, and thoroughly reprehensible practice with terrible consequences. It is the duty of the Indian government and its citizens to ensure that all suspects are treated with fairness and in accordance with the law, and those responsible for extrajudicial killings must be held accountable. The regulations and guidelines of the Hon’ble SC have been egregiously defiled in India. Moreover, due to the dynamic times and technological interventions it has become imminent to aggressively pace with the time. Some amendments are needed to be accounted including installing cameras to armed forces or police personnels, use of live recordings to ensure giving amnesty if surrendered, installing cameras and trackers to the vehicles used in commuting accused or arrested criminals, mandating a SOP for handling with matters incidental to media, medical checkups, etc.

The writer is a student of Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University.

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