Kanpur Diary (II) : The “Half Encounter”- Half Done Is Well Begun

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I find that whenever I visit Kanpur, my hometown, I am able to think more clearly and penetrate to the heart of any matter, as it were. In days of yore I would go to the Himalayas but they are now crawling with tourists and people following the Prime Minister’s advice of spending five days every year in a forest to develop leadership skills. So Kanpur it is, but I am still not able to fathom why the place opens my third eye quicker than a Rakhi Sawant video : it may be the lifting of the toxic shroud of malevolence that is Delhi, it may be the spiritualism of the Ram Mandir that pervades all of UP these days along with the stench from the tanneries, it may be the Yogi’s rousing exhortations to send a large percentage of the state’s population to Pakistan, or it may simply be the divine taste of the kachauris and jalebis of Double Hathras, unchanged for the last hundred years. Whatever it is, it works, and on my last visit in December it provided me with a singular revelation. 

It  relates to UP’s finest, the cops of Uttar Pradesh: I know these last four words do not rhyme with the gangs of Wasseypur, but believe me the similarities are mind blowing. Languidly observing six prize specimens of the force trying to round up an uncooperative cow near the district courts, it suddenly occurred to me that these guys are not as dumb as they look. Nor do they lack creative skills, for recently one police station explained the disappearance of 1000 litres of seized liquor by insisting that it had been imbibed by rats. Their writing and drafting skills are admittedly not of the Sashi Tharoor level for they are likely to make the victim the accused in an FIR, confuse buggery for burglary and believe that NIA and NDA are the same organisation. They are also wont to think that an FIR is essentially a work of fiction, to be accompanied with the statutory disclaimer: “Any resemblance to any person, dead or alive, is purely coincidental.” But- and this is my discovery- they read Chetan Bhagat novels! And have picked up from him the revelation that the part can be greater than the whole, and are applying this new found knowledge with a vigour that has surprised their colleagues, the real gangs of Wasseypur.   

You folks no doubt remember Mr. Bhagat’s last bestseller, Half Girlfriend : it sold like rolls of toilet paper, in the millions, because readers realised that a half GF is better than a full one: it provides deniability in case one is questioned (“What! A girl-friend? I swear I don’t have even one!”), makes it easier to jettison the baggage when things get too hot or demanding, and the paper work is less too- no pre-nups, no marriage license, no divorce papers. Another big plus is that a half GF is less likely to file a rape complaint if the guy refuses to marry her because any such promise would, by definition, be only half hearted, see ! It doesn’t take too many brains to read a Chetan Bhagat novel, but cottoning on to the significance of this fraction did; that’s what makes the UP cops smart in my book. They took the idea ( it’s a pity Mr. Bhagat didn’t patent it) , relocated it in their police stations and voila!- we have the “half-encounter!” 

The “encounter”, of course, is UP’s signal contribution to the science of policing and the art of cinematography, since occasionally the press is also”invited” to record the actual coup d’ grace bestowed on a criminal. Since the present govt. came to power in the state there have been more than 1000 encounters in which about 60 people have been killed and 300 injured. This abattoir like efficiency by a force more accustomed to rounding up cows and buffaloes had always invited the ire of human rights organisations, but now the Supreme Court has also expressed its concern at this assembly line style of liquidation, and has admitted a PIL on the matter. Suddenly alarmed at the prospect of the girl friend being unmasked, and without the fig leaf of deniability, the police have now ditched the encounter and embraced the “half encounter.” 

According to a very readable report in the Hindustan Times of Jan.20 this year, the half encounter consists of shooting below the abdomen, between the knees and ankles. This  ensures that the “criminal” is incapacitated, not killed ( though he will probably die of the treatment in one of the state’s hospitals, which also suits the cops fine). It’s a brilliant idea, a win-win for everyone: the cops have got their man and he’ll probably never be able to walk again, the victim is happy to be alive at least, the NGOs have nothing to complain about since no one has been killed, and the judges can go on their vacation in the confident belief that God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world, except for that little hiccup about the Collegium. And so the UP cops have been half-encountering criminals with a gusto: according to the same HT report, in the last four months there have been 120 cases in Gautam Budh Nagar, 255 in Meerut, 66 in Ghaziabad, Allahabad, Lucknow, Gorakhpur, Varanasi and Agra; 29 chaps have been shot in Kanpur. This is what the govt. probably means when it claims that UP is ” limping” back to normalcy after five years of Samajwadi rule. 

But here’s the catch which these creative policemen had not bargained for- the Chief Minister of UP also reads books, though of a more venerable type compared to Mr. Bhagat’s mathematical formulations. It appears he has just finished reading Animal Farm because now the cops have been given the task of rounding up thousands of cows, buffaloes and bulls and locking them up! Reading books in UP is now fraught with all kinds of danger. I dread to think of what would happen if the DG Police chanced to happen upon The Godfather

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains.....he has made them his home. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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