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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 17, April 22, 2023

Does ‘Justice’ Come from the Barrel of a Gun? | Arup Kumar Sen

Saturday 22 April 2023, by Arup Kumar Sen


On April 15, 2023, former Samajwadi Party MP and alleged gangster Atiq Ahmad (65) and his brother Ashraf (52) were shot dead by gunmen at close range in Allahabad (now Prayagraj), as the Uttar Pradesh police was escorting them to a hospital for a medical check-up. The whole shootout was captured live on television with the two brothers answering questions being posed by reporters. Reportedly, the shooting took place in front of at least two dozen armed policemen, and the police allowed the media to film the crime scene for 20 minutes before cordoning off the area and taking away the bodies. Incidentally, Atiq’s son Asad Khan and alleged henchman Ghulam Hassan were killed in a police encounter in Jhansi on April 13, 2023. Hours before Atiq Ahmad was killed, his son Asad was buried in a village in Prayagraj. (See The Telegraph and The Indian Express, April 16, 2023)

Atiq had earlier approached the Supreme Court (SC), saying that he feared he would be killed in a fake encounter. The SC had turned down his plea. Being lodged in the Sabarmati Central Jail in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Atiq Ahmad was taken into custody by Uttar Pradesh police on April 11, 2023, in the Umesh Pal murder case. (See The Wire, April 16, 2023)

The above episodes look like a crime thriller. However, they happened in Uttar Pradesh ruled by the Yogi Adityanath government. The ON-CAMERA killings of Atiq Ahmad and his brother Ashraf evoked sharp reactions from leaders of many opposition parties. The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and Samajwadi Party President, Akhilesh Yadav tweeted: “Crime has reached its peak in Uttar Pradesh and the morale of the criminals is high. When someone can be killed by firing openly amid the security cordon of the police, then what about the safety of the general public. An atmosphere of fear is being created among the public and it seems some people are doing it deliberately”. BSP Lok Sabha MP, Danish Ali, tweeted: “cold-blooded murder” of the two is the “height of anarchy in UP.”. “This can’t happen without a go ahead from the top.” (Quoted in TheIndian Express, ibid.)

The ethical question that comes to our mind in the context of the bizarre killings is: Does ‘Justice’ Come from the Barrel of a Gun?

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