On the afternoon of September 30, a white Toyota Innova stopped near a tea stall outside the bus stand in Badhaut, a town in Baghpat district of western Uttar Pradesh. It was a busy day and the narrow road was crowded with buses, rickshaws and autos. Five men got down and walked towards the tea stall. Twenty-two year old Sumit Gurjar, a farmer, was having tea. Within seconds the five men were upon him. They caught him by his hands and legs, even as he screamed and kicked for help, and shoved him inside the Innova. Within minutes the van was gone.
Eyewitnesses at the tea stall said they thought Sumit was being kidnapped. Even Sumit thought he was being kidnapped as he cried for help when he was being dragged away. By October 4, the fourth evening after the abduction, news had spread that the Noida police had killed Sumit Gurjar, a wanted criminal and an absconder, in an encounter that took place about 60 kilometres from Baghpat.
They were professional-looking men, and I thought they had kidnapped the boy. One of them even had a gun.
According to the police press release, on the night of October 3 there was an encounter with four men who had robbed a bank cash van, and one of them, Sumit, was killed in the firing. One sub-inspector was injured in the shootout; a bullet had grazed his back. Three others with Sumit, who remain unidentified, got away. Five country-made pistols and one imported pistol were recovered from the car along with cartridges. No cash was found. If the police version is to be believed, the abduction of Sumit Gurjar at the tea stall never happened, and the eyewitnesses didn’t see what they claim to have seen. Importantly, the reward on Sumit was declared on October 2, when the family says he was still in the custody of the Noida police.
A shop owner, an eyewitness who did not want to be named, told Fountain Ink that he was shocked to see the picture of the man kidnapped the previous day in the local news. He said: “They were professional-looking men, and I thought they had kidnapped the boy. One of them even had a gun.” That photo was the one the family had been waving around in Baghpat and Noida till then to trace Sumit. It was the same photo the police later used to claim in a press release that Sumit Gurjar the wanted criminal with cases in multiple districts and a reward of ₹50,000 on his head had been killed.
There was one problem with the police story: the Sumit Gurjar at the tea stall in Badhaut—the man they shot dead—was not a wanted criminal. In fact, prior to the encounter his name did not figure in police records. The Sumit Gurjar police wanted was a man in his mid-thirties with multiple cases under the Goondas Act, which he is still fighting, a person who knows him said. Noida police shot dead his namesake, and in a press release provided an elaborate version of events—including a car chase—leading to the encounter. There was one striking similarity between the two men who shared the same name: both belonged to Chichretta village of Baghpat district.
The encounter is emblematic of the hard approach of the UP police under chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and the chest-thumping by top cops on encounter killings.
Sumit Gurjar’s killing has left his parents broken; his mother is in shock, his father in disbelief over the events. The family has approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the UP State Human Rights Commission for investigations into what they allege is a cold-blooded killing. A team of the NHRC visited the village on October 14 and met the family, after which they issued a notice to the UP police asking why a magisterial enquiry was not conducted and why the family had not even been given the postmortem report of the deceased.
The encounter is emblematic of the hard approach of the UP police under chief minister Yogi Adityanath, and the chest-thumping by tops cops on encounter killings. The chief minister in a recent speech recently said criminals who don’t surrender or mend their ways “will be killed (thok diye jaayenge)”. An inspector-general of police in UP bragged about his kill count. In these trigger-happy times, many UP policemen said that while the hammer approach to crime is good, some mistakes are bound to be made. But with the state government backing the police, they have nothing to fear, they said.
UP’s director-general of police Sulkhan Singh told Fountain Ink: “We have asked the Noida police to send a report on the matter (of the alleged fake encounter) and appropriate action will be taken if anyone is found guilty.” On allegations of intimidation and misuse of power by the police, he said, “The police force has worked very hard in the past few months to eliminate crime and uphold the rule of law in the state. Criminals have had a free run for long and shoot to kill when they are cornered, in which case the police have no option but to retaliate. However, if any foul play is found on the part of the policemen we will take action against the officer involved.”
In violation of many of the Supreme Court’s 16 guidelines for encounter killings, no magisterial inquiry was ordered, the post mortem was not videographed, NHRC was not informed, and even the family of the deceased was not informed. In fact, while the Noida police now videograph their encounters too, in this case they did not do so.
Fountain Ink spoke to police officers in four districts, eyewitnesses, friends and family, accessed police and postmortem records to get an accurate picture of events surrounding the encounter. This is the story of Sumit Gurjar, a man cursed by his name.
n October 4, news of Sumit’s killing reached Chichretta and his family through media reports. By then the family had been pressing the Baghpat police to try and trace him but to no avail. On October 2, a relative from Noida had reportedly found out that Sumit was in the custody of the Noida police. When the family approached the Noida police, they got no answers at first. According to one relative, after persistent questioning of the police, they were told that Sumit was involved in a robbery and that they were on the lookout for him. Two days later he was dead but his body was not handed over to the family for two more days.
The SHO found no case against the person killed. The cases filed since 2011 were against a man also named Sumit Gurjar from the same village.
“Nobody in this village can believe that the simple boy that he (Sumit) was, he could ever be involved in any illegal activity leave alone a heinous crime. There had to be something wrong,” says Amrish Gurjar, a cousin of Sumit. Family members went to the Singhavali Aheer police station, under which their village comes, to confirm the news. Arvind Kumar, the station house officer (SHO), told them the news was real and that Sumit Gurjar did carry a reward of ₹50,000. He confirmed that he had received information about the encounter from Noida police. However, sensing the tension from family members, he told them that he would dig through the records to tell them the exact nature of crimes that Sumit was accused of committing.
To his shock, however, the SHO found there was no case against the person killed in the encounter. Instead, the cases filed since 2011 were against a man who was also named Sumit Gurjar but belonged to a different family from the same village. “We could identify the anomaly when we cross-checked the father’s name—Sheeshpal—of the said gangster while the name of this man’s (the man killed) father was Karamvir. We also established that Sumit Gurjar (the gangster) has been absconding for a long time now and there have been no reports of him being sighted in the area in the recent past,” he told Fountain Ink.
However, locals claim that the man who the police say has been absconding for many years returned to his village some months back claiming that he had been acquitted in all the cases against him. Fountain Ink could not independently trace Sumit Gurjar, the man arrested by police.
When the family protested, Superintendent of Police (SP) Jai Prakash had to intervene but he too was taken aback when he learnt that the person killed in an encounter by Noida police had no criminal record. The family refused to cremate Sumit for three days, demanding that the government take action against the policemen involved.
For two days after the encounter, the family wasn’t allowed to claim the body. It was only when they protested outside the venue of the postmortem in Noida’s sector-94 and the media reported the case that police budged.
he 22-year old Sumit Gurjar used to take up odd jobs in Badhaut when he was not helping his father Karamvir at the family’s eight-acre farm in Chichretta. This year the family, with Sumit’s two elder brothers also helping out, had sown carrot and corn when the rains were pouring down. After the sowing season ended, Sumit had started looking for jobs to keep earning through the winter while his sister, youngest of the four siblings, looked after their parents at the village home.
“When we last met (on September 30), he (Sumit) was talking of the probability of a good crop this winter. He was also hopeful that the rates of the government (for buying corn) would go up next year which would benefit the family. How could a simple man like that who was only focusing on his farms be involved in looting of a cash van so far away from his town?” asked Vikas Kumar, a neighbour and friend of Sumit. Kumar said he “grew up with him”.
Many of Chichretta’s young men join the armed forces but locals say Sumit didn’t want to leave the village. “People jokingly called him a spoilt kid pampered by his mother,” said Kumar.
On October 16, a Gurjar mahapanchayat was called to protest Sumit’s killing. The turnout was huge, and leaders from various political parties including the BJP attended the panchayat. Hukum Singh, senior BJP leader, was specifically asked to raise the issue with the state authorities but he had no satisfactory replies to give, locals say. “Baatein bana gaye bas (It was just all talk),” says Ram Pyare Jatav, who attended the panchayat.
When he was only being questioned how could he have gone on to loot cash the same night? It is clear that he was killed in a fake encounter.
Jayant Chaudhary, head of the Rashtriya Lok Dal and son of former minister Ajit Singh, threatened that if no action was taken within a month of Sumit’s killing, the party and its workers would launch a state-wide campaign against the government.
“When the CM of the state is encouraging encounters and using language that only suits criminals, it is obvious that the police would behave in the manner that it has in this case. Innocents are being killed in the name of eliminating crime from the state and the government is happy just seeing the numbers stack up. This cannot go on,” Chaudhary said.
Sumit’s mother is inconsolable. “People have forced her to eat a little and at least drink milk every day but she just cannot fathom the reality. Sumit was a home boy and she just cannot accept the police’s version of events. Her son could not be a criminal,” says Laxman Das Gurjar, another neighbour. He had taken care that Sumit’s body, as received from police, was kept in a cold storage in Baghpat for three days when the family refused to cremate him without the arrest of policemen involved in the encounter.
“People at the local bus stand were told later by the same policemen (Septemer 30 when Sumit was picked up) that the boy had been called in only for questioning. When he was only being questioned how could he have gone on to loot cash the same night? It is clear that he was killed in a fake encounter and the whole village knows it,” he said.
The shop owner who saw Sumit’s abduction had gone later in the day to the local police station to file a report about his stolen mobile phone. He had asked the policemen there about the abduction, “But nobody knew of it, nobody had even informed the police about it,” he said.
n the police’s telling of the story, they received information that four men were getting away in a White Swift Dzire after looting a bank’s cash van. They set up a checkpoint at ATS crossing, one of the busy junctions in Noida. When they tried to intercept the car, it managed to break through the barricade. A hot pursuit followed, and in Noida’s Chi sector, the runaway car lost control and crashed into the gate of a residential society. The police surrounded the men. The police press release is vague about what happened next. Somehow a shootout ensued, during which three of the four men managed to break through the cordon and flee. Many rounds were fired—the exact number is not revealed—and Sumit Gurjar was hit in the abdomen. Sub-inspector Satish Kumar of Pari chowki was injured when a bullet grazed his back. Guns were recovered from the scene, but no cash was found. There is also no separate police record of a cash van being looted that day.
The police then took Sumit to the District Hospital, Noida, where he was declared brought dead. According to the postmortem report, Sumit was killed due to injuries sustained through a single bullet wound in the left abdomen. The bullet went through the body damaging the kidney and gall bladder. The family is yet to get the report.
The report says police chased a Suzuki Dzire. But the photograph of the “getaway” car shows a Suzuki Swift, a hatchback. How the one morphed into the other will probably always remain a mystery.
Sumit Gurjar the farmer was killed the day the IG Meerut Range increased the reward on Sumit Gurjar, the wanted criminal, to ₹50,000. On September 16, the state government had issued an order empowering SPs and range IGs to increase the rewards on wanted criminals.
When pressure mounted on Noida police after no records were found against the man they had killed, they insisted that records might exist in neighbouring districts. Fountain Ink contacted police officials from Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Ghaziabad, Bulandshahr and Saharanpur. None of the policemen spoken wanted to be named in connection with this matter. All of them, however, confirmed that no criminal record of Sumit Gurjar, s/o Karamvir, existed with them. But they had cases against Sumit Gurjar, s/o Sheeshpal. This man, they confirmed, was in his mid-thirties and mainly active in the Noida-Greater Noida region. His last whereabouts were unknown; villagers say he has gone away to some relative’s place fearing that he might be arrested again on some pretext.
It is worth noting the outstanding discrepancy in the police version of Sumit Gurjar’s killing. The report says police chased a Maruti Suzuki Dzire, which is a sedan. But the photograph of the “getaway” car released shows a Suzuki Swift, which is a hatchback. How the one morphed into the other will probably always remain a mystery.
Under the rule of the Yogi government the encounter culture has been promoted as a quick-fix solution to the crime rate. The chief minister himself told India TV in a recent interview, “Agar apradh karenge to thok diye jayenge” (If you commit a crime you’ll be killed). Due process has no place in this environment. The UP government on its social media platforms as well other media like posters on streets claims that there were 430 encounters in the first six months of the government’s term.
These resulted in 17 “dreaded criminals” being killed, 868 criminals carrying rewards on their heads arrested among the 1,106 arrested overall through after “encounters”. The figures say that 193 encounters were conducted in Meerut district alone (the figure has crossed 200 now), while 84 were conducted in Agra and 60 in Bareilly, respectively.
Sumit’s family, meanwhile, has been running from pillar to post to get justice but the response from Noida police and local police has been cold. “They have even been threatened that if they continue to protest they might be arrested in the future,” says Pratap Gurjar, a relative.
This story is from the November 2017 issue