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Encounter killings is a euphemism used in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to describe extrajudicial killings in which police shoot down alleged gangsters and terrorists in gun battles.

These killings are also called police encounters. Encounter killings were common in Mumbai, India, from the 1990s through the mid 2000s and some of the police officers involved came to be known as 'Encounter Specialists'. The Mumbai police resorted to encounter killings as they believed that these killings delivered speedy justice. Encounter killings severely crippled the Underworld in Mumbai and busted the extortion racket which was rampant at that time. Human rights activists consider these encounter killings, together with torture by police in lock-ups and custodial deaths to be "gross human rights violations".[1]

Police encounter is the term used by the Indian Police Service or Indian military/paramilitary forces when explaining the death of an individual at their hands who was deemed by them to be a militant or "subject of interest". It refers to extra judicial killings or executions not authorized by a court or by the law. Such encounters also go by the name of "staged encounters", where weapons are planted on or near the dead body to provide a justification for killing the individual. Common reasons given for the discrepancy between records showing that the individual was in custody at the time of his encounter, is that he/she had escaped.

In India

The police in Indian metro cities such as Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata have a very high rate when it comes to encounter killings. Many of them have been quite controversial in nature. So far however no human rights group lawyer has been successfully able to prove that the encounters were staged. The fact that the dead person had a criminal background was proven beyond doubt, and the court never gave a verdict that the dead person was in illegal custody. Though highly controversial from an official point of view, there hasn't been much action taken against such activities by the police. This is attributed to the common understanding that "staged encounters" are primarily carried out by police to kill high profile and extremely dangerous criminals whom the Indian Police Service have been unable to prosecute legally (due to lack of evidence or powerful political connections). The most notorious case has been the encounter killing of Veerappan, Sada Pawle and Vijay Tandel, and the court acquitted the police officer Sub Inspector VR Dhobale. See also Daya Nayak, Pradeep Sharma, Sachin Waze.

In recent times a number of Hindi films have been based on the theme of police encounters. The most noted of them include Ab Tak Chappan, Encounter: The Killing,Kaagar, Risk, Shootout at Lokhandwala. Vikram Chandra's new novel Sacred Games is also based on the police force in Mumbai and provides a rivetting account of police encounters.


On January 11, 1982, gangster Manya Surve was shot dead by police officers Raja Tambat and Isaque Bagwan at the Wadala area, in what turned out to be the city's first encounter killing.[2]

Former Police Inspector Pradeep Sharma is India's most notorious encounter specialist, who has killed 113 alleged gangsters and dacoits. He once said, "Criminals are filth and I'm the cleaner". He was fired in August 2008 for extortion of money from the underworld but was cleared of all charges and reinstated in May 2009.[3][4]

Some of the well known encounter specialists (with encounter killing count in brackets):

All of the above listed Officers served with Mumbai Police and Delhi Police.


Police encounter is a term used by Indian security forces to explain and excuse the death of an individual at their hands. The term was often used during the Punjab insurgency between 1984 and 1995. During this time, Punjab police officials would often report “encounters” to local newspapers and to the family members of those killed. The victim was typically a person the police deemed to be a militant, or to be involved in the militant separatist movement, though proof of alleged militant involvement was rarely given. Such encounters have also been referred to as “staged encounters” or “fake encounters,” as these deaths were often believed to be the result of torture or outright execution. Ultimately, the practice became so common that “encounter” became synonymous with extrajudicial execution.[8]

The Punjab police specifically targeted the families of suspected militants in encounter killings to punish them.[9]

It is alleged that police would typically take a suspected militant into custody without filing an arrest report. If the suspect died during interrogation, security forces would deny ever taking the person into custody and instead claim that they were killed during an armed encounter.[10] Many Indians believe police would add weapons to the dead body to demonstrate cause for killing the individual, stage managing the encounter, leading to the popular phrase “fake encounter killing.”[11] They would also concoct a story about militants staging an attack, or the suspect attempting to escape while being escorted to recover militant arms.[12] At times, the Punjab police applied for and received production warrants that allowed them to remove individuals accused in terrorism cases from jail, and whereupon they often killed the detainees in fake encounters.[13] Sukhwinder Singh Bhatti, a criminal defense attorney in Punjab who defended such suspects, himself disappeared in May 1994.

In popular culture

Many Indian films have been made depicting police encounters in Bollywood, Kollywood and in other Indian Films. The most recent are Risk and Shootout at Lokhandwala. Other films include Kaakha Kaakha a Tamil film starring Surya, Ab Tak Chhappan starring Nana Patekar, Encounter: The Killing starring Naseeruddin Shah and the 2003 Khakee starring Amitabh Bachchan and Ajay Devgan. After Satya, Company, Risk, Ab Tak 56 Ram Gopal Varma will be making the new film based on these encounter specialists in which Sanjay Dutt will play Pradeep Sharma. While Sachin Waze's role will be played by Abhishek Bachchan, Daya Nayak's role will be played by Ajay Devgan. [14]

See also


  1. C R Sridhar. Sunshine India: Encounter Killings, Torture and Custodial Deaths. October 11, 2006.
  2. City’s first encounter ended two years of urban dacoity – June 22, 2002, Express India
  3. Alex Perry. Urban Cowboys. TIME Magazine. Jan. 06, 2003.
  4. "Mumbai: Cop Pradeep Sharma reinstated". The Times Of India. 2009-05-07.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Encounter man Pradip Sharma completes 'century'
  6. Fallen Heroes. India Today.
  8. Dead Silence: The Legacy of Abuses in Punjab. Human Rights Watch/Asia and Physicians for Human Rights. 1994.
  9. Campbell, Bruce B.; Brenner, Arthur David (2002-10-01). Death Squads in Global Perspective: Murder with Deniability. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 265–. ISBN 9781403960948. Retrieved 19 June 2010.
  10. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (India). U.S. State Department. 1993.
  11. Pepper, Daniel (2009-02-28). "India Makes A Place for Dirty Harry". NY Times. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  12. "India-Who Killed the Sikhs". Dateline. 4/3/2002. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  13. "Communication to Special Representative on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders". Ensaaf. 05/12/2006. Retrieved 2009-05-08.

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