The killing of an executive who worked for Apple by the Uttar Pradesh Police in Lucknow on Friday is the kind of incident that reveals much about what the state has become under Chief Minister Adityanath – and how the media covers it. Vivek Tewari is certainly not the first person to be extra-judicially killed by the police under Adityanath, known to his supporters as Yogi. In fact, more than 60 people have been killed in what the state calls “encounters”, a euphemism for “extra-judicial killings”. But the executive’s killing is the rare occasion when both the media and the state have acknowledged that the death was wrong.
One minister in Adityanath’s government did not seem to get the memo, telling the media after Tewari’s death that “bullets are hitting only those who are criminals”. But most other leaders have condemned Tewari’s death, which was caused by a constable allegedly firing at the car of the 38-year-old at 2 am after he refused to stop. The accused police personnel have claimed that Tewari’s car hit them but have yet to explain why they had to resort to bullets to deal with the situation.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh asked the state government to ensure a proper inquiry. Adityanath himself said it was not an encounter and those found guilty would be punished. The media, meanwhile, is referring to Tewari’s death as a killing or even a murder. That those words rarely come up when the victim of police action is a Muslim, Dalit, or even, for that matter, a criminal – it remains illegal, after all, for the police to kill anyone – is hard not to notice.
The comments of Tewari’s family add even more focus to this perspective. “Is it Jammu and Kashmir that you can kill anyone on mere suspicion?” asked Tewari’s brother-in-law. Said the man’s wife, Kalpana Tewari, “With so much trust we chose the BJP government, we were so happy when Yogi was picked. And this is our plight?”
The circumstances of this case might be different, but it is impossible to ignore the atmosphere of impunity that Adityanath’s government has created around police action in his state. From the beginning he and his ministers were open about the fact that they intended to give the police a free hand.
The results were immediate: Reports from his first 10 months in power found that there had been 921 “encounters” in which 33 people had died, prompting a notice from the National Human Rights Commission. In the 10 months between April 2017 and February 2018, the Uttar Pradesh registered 365 cases of custodial deaths per the human rights authority, much more than double the number recorded in the next state on the list. That the bulk of those killed were not forward caste men working for international companies meant that these killings have not received much attention.
Allow an entire police force to operate with that much impunity, however, and the lack of respect for laws and due process will inevitably mean more incidents like Friday’s, even if Adityanath does not approve of the victim in this case. The fact is, by encouraging criminal behaviour – and it bears repeating that illegal encounters and extra-judicial killings are crimes – Adityanath has created the conditions for more incidents like this. If the government genuinely wanted to prevent such crimes, it ought to respond to every police killing the way it has to this one.