The Uttar Pradesh police’s own data shows 183 police killings allegedly in response to being fired at in the state since 2017. Photo: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Some called him Robin Hood. Members of India’s ruling government have called him a gangster. But regardless of how one felt about the former lawmaker Atiq Ahmed, his televised killing was brazen and shocking.Ahmed, a Muslim who was elected from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh six times, was fatally shot on Saturday night while he and his brother, a local politician, were escorted by police outside a hospital in front of TV crews. They had been accused of kidnapping and were handcuffed together when gunmen opened fire. Both died from gunshot wounds.
Three men at the scene surrendered almost immediately and were later accused by the state police of carrying out the attack for fame. But Ahmed’s supporters speculate that police had a hand in their deaths, citing what human rights groups in India have condemned as frequent extrajudicial killings.A week before Ahmed was shot, his 19-year-old son was killed in an alleged gunfight with the local police, which many opposition leaders say amounted to extrajudicial killing. Last month, Ahmed, who was in police custody for the kidnapping case, petitioned the Indian Supreme Court for protection for him and his family, saying his life was under threat from Uttar Pradesh police.
In the footage of his murder, which has since gone viral, Ahmed was being asked whether he attended his son’s funeral. His last words before he was shot were, “[The police] did not take us, so we didn’t go.”Ahmed was known for his political influence as well as wealth, a big chunk of which the government says came from illicit activities. He was also accused of a litany of crimes from land grab to murder to extortion, but was convicted for the first time last month for kidnapping a witness in a murder case against him.
His brother, Ashraf, was also accused of committing gang crimes, though he was never found guilty and was acquitted in the kidnapping case.The charges against the brothers aren’t unique. An analysis by voting rights body Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) found that nearly half of the Uttar Pradesh’s new ministers have criminal records. Another ADR survey shows that out of the 558 members of state assemblies across India, 43 percent have criminal records ranging from murder to sexual assault. Just days before Ahmed was shot, some prominent BJP leaders publicly wished for him to be killed by the police or in an “accident.” And after his death, some people associated with the BJP were seen celebrating the killing on the streets, some lighting firecrackers to cheer what they saw as justice in a country with an ineffectual judicial system. The Uttar Pradesh police’s own data shows 183 police killings allegedly in response to being fired at in the state since 2017, the year Hindu hard-liner Yogi Adityanath of the BJP became the chief minister. Adityanath has vowed “zero tolerance” against criminals and said in an 2017 interview that he would counter crime with bullets. Most of the victims of these encounters are from caste and religious minorities.Follow Pallavi Pundir on Twitter.