In a dramatic sequence of events, a notorious Indian gangster based in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) was shot dead by the police in the early hours of Friday. Vikas Dubey was killed in what the police claim was an encounter caused by his attempt to escape from custody. Dubey was arrested on Thursday from the premises of a famous Hindu temple in Ujjain, in the neighbouring state of Madhya Pradesh.

According to the police, while being transported back to his hometown of Kanpur, the police vehicle carrying Dubey got overturned and the gangster tried to use this opportunity to flee. He snatched a revolver from one of the policemen and in the encounter that ensued, shots were fired from both sides and Dubey lost his life.

Vikas Dubey
Vikas Dubey was a notorious gangster in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh Video screen grab

The Plot Thickens

However, the larger story is much more complex. On July 3, eight personnel of UP police were killed after members of Dubey's gang surrounded them during an operation and opened fire. After this, a large manhunt for the infamous criminal began. Several members of this gang were killed in the last few days by the UP police.

Since 2017, when a new government, led by the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, took charge in the state of UP, a string of encounters between police and criminals have taken place where many of the latter have been killed. There is a strong suspicion among sections of the media that these encounters have been staged to liquidate the criminals rather than put them through a long and arduous legal process where they can get acquitted.

Vikas Dubey encounter
The overturned vehicle that was carrying Vikas Dubey near the city of Kanpur ANI

Certain human rights bodies have questioned the bonafides of the UP police pertaining to these encounters. Similar questions are being raised about the latest incident. In fact, many believe that Dubey deliberately got himself caught in Ujjain as he feared being killed by the UP police in an extra-judicial manner if he was caught within their domain.

Cameras captured the notorious don shouting "I am Vikas Dubey of Kanpur" while being apprehended in Ujjain. This was construed as an attempt by him to let everyone know that he is in police custody and therefore, avoid being put away by the UP police in a staged shootout.

UP police is currently investigating the spot where this shootout took place. According to media reports, two policemen have also sustained bullet injuries in the encounter. A detailed explanation of the events will be presented by the authorities in a press conference expected to take place later today.

Complex Moral Issues

India has a long history of police putting away criminals in encounters. The main reason for this has been the slow process of judicial conviction and punishment. There is a widespread feeling among the people that criminals use the lax pace of legal processes to avoid punishment and sometimes, even go scot-free.

This has led to a silent social sanction for encounters, even if they are staged. Last year, four men who had brutally gangraped and killed a young woman in the southern state of Telangana, were also killed in an encounter. There was widespread praise for the police for this action and people even showered flowers on the officials involved in the incident.

Human rights bodies have long campaigned against alleged extra-judicial killings. A debate on the morality of 'fake encounters' has raged in civil society. There have even been movies glorifying policemen famous for a large number of encounters. This latest episode will add further fuel to that debate.