At least two police officials in India were accused this month of hiring hitmen to harass or murder their enemies, contributing to a troubling pattern of extrajudicial killings in the country.
Last week, Sheetal Pansare, a policewoman from the Indian state of Maharashtra, was accused of developing a relationship with a contract killer through Instagram, marrying him and then asking him to murder another cop she had accused of molestation and rape. The couple and a third alleged accomplice have been arrested and are awaiting trial for murder.
In a similar incident, in the city of Gurgaon near India’s capital New Delhi, two businessmen accused a policeman of putting a hit on them.
The men said they survived attacks last year carried out by a contract killer who confessed to being hired by the police officer, identified only by his first name, Praveen.
According to the police, a video of the alleged attacker bragging about the assault is circulating on social media, although the police had not found any evidence or motive for the attack, district commissioner Varun Singla told VICE World News.
Cops’ alleged hiring of hitmen is a relatively new phenomenon in India. But police brutality, torture and extrajudicial killings are common, with the country’s National Human Rights Commission documenting 1,782 cases of “fake encounter killings” – staged shootouts – by police between 2000 to 2017. The Status of Policing in India Report from 2019 by an independent think tank found that three in four police officers in India believe that violence is justified when dealing with criminals.
While the investigations into these alleged hits continue, proponents of police reforms have expressed concerns about the criminal justice system that enabled extrajudicial use of force or even killings.
“As police come into contact with all kinds of criminals, some of them fall prey to using their [position] to do the very things they are supposed to prevent,” VN Rai, a former police officer who is advocating for law enforcement reforms, told VICE World News.
Rai added that in the face of rising unemployment during the pandemic, it has become easier to find and hire contract killers. “If you offer some money to a person who is unemployed or a local ruffian and they just have to pull the trigger, they will do it.”