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Extra-Judicial Killings And The Role Of Media

Media as it has been said, considered as the fourth pillar of the democracy. It performs the vital role of ensuring democratic culture and the rule of law in a country which gets deeply engrained in the public consciousness over time. Media is ought to serve as the watchdog by uncovering wrongs of the people in power by reporting the injustices.

However in the recent past the role played by the media has been in the bad taste. Through the practice of media trials it has been seen that media is largely responsible for swaying the public opinion in sub judice matters by sensationalizing the stories. Gradually it creates a sense of distrust against the authorities based on the discourse create which tends to sabotage the investigation and the adjudication process

The terms extra- judicial killings and media trial have been into the limelight recently. Though both distinct in their approaches are interrelated and responsible for surge in human rights violations in the country. Extra-judicial killings or the custodial death pertains to the death of an accused person whether in a judicial or police custody attributed to physical or mental torture and other forms of violence.

These are done in order to extract the confession or to simply relieve the public sentiments. Whereas the term media trial connotes a parallel investigation done by the journalists and media houses mainly in the high profile cases with a sole purpose of increasing the viewer ship and the TRP.

Recent Trends
According to the data from the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) there has been 1,727 cases of custodial deaths recorded in India between year 2001 to 2018 while the conviction rate remains very low. Apart from custodial deaths, more than 2,000 human rights violation cases were also recorded against the police between 2000 and 2018.

And only 344 policemen were convicted in those cases. The lack of convictions can be attributed to the fact that most of the deaths occur due to the suicides or in the hospital during the treatment though possibility of foul play behind the deaths can't be ignored. Though the custodial death and police atrocity is itself a major issue to deal with, the role of media in certain cases has given rise to such incidents.

Case Study
Recently in the year 2019 four persons accused in raping and killing of a doctor were shot dead by the police in Hyderabad. Though the crime was heinous in nature, the accusations were yet not proved. The case was in the initial stage and charge-sheet was yet to be filled. The victims of the so called encounters were the locals of the area coming from the lower strata of the society.

Three of which were minor, as per the police reports the accused tried to sabotage the police and run away from the custody, however the report of the Supreme Court panel headed by retired Justice V S Sirpukar stated that it the police deliberately fired on the accused "with an intent to cause their death" - and recommended action against ten police officers and personnel under various charges, including murder. A similar encounter took place in Guwahati, Assam where the prime accused Biki Ali who was involved in the rape of 16 year old girl was killed in alleged encounter while the police were recreating the crime scene.

As observed in the above cases , these encounter killings were not carried out against wanted criminals, but rather against the weaker members of the society. It was observed that the majority of the police interactions in UP in the recent years were between Muslims or people from lower social level.

All these incidents took place when the public outcry was at its peak regarding the law and order situations in the state concerned, however the authorities resorted to short term public appeasement through by bringing them under instant justice instead on working on the real issue, disregarding the principles of natural justice and the provisions of the constitution which gives a right of fair hearing to every person accused of an offence. This term public appeasement has its root in the sensastionalization of the news by the media.

The reporting in such cases is done in a way that it polarizes the public opinion against the accused. As a result these acts are held in high regard amidst the public opinion, the ideology being of the bullet for bullet policy according to which the death of such an offender will allow the reduction of such crimes and therefore, such incidents show that even though India has become modern yet we have not been in that state to believe the fact that judiciary is a right place for the trial of criminals and an innocent is an innocent till proven guilty.

Further this has the potential of affecting the judicial decision making as well. In P C Sen (In Re), the SC has rightly pointed out that an action which influences the jury can also influence the judge.Moreover, this can be attributed to the classic case of K M Nanavati where the media had sensationalized the story and portrayed the accused as the victim instead. This narrative had a lot of influence on the jury which ultimately decided in the favor of the accused.

Legal Provisions
The rules laid down by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) require that any case of custodial death shall be reported to the commission within 24 hours. Further it mandates that such death shall be followed by postmortem and all the evidences concerning the incident shall be preserved untampered. Further, in the year 2010 the NHRC laid down certain guidelines according to which the such cases the magisterial enquiry must be held in all such cases as expeditiously as possible, preferably within the period of three months. There shall be prompt prosecution and departmental enquiry held against the officials found guilty in the magisterial inquiry or police investigation. Also such officers shall be denied the out of turn promotion or gallantry award soon after the incident, in order to dissuade such practices.

The fact that police was widely hailed by people for the 'instant justice' and celebrations were carried out after the incident seems to be a disturbing trend. We must secure the lives and dignity of each of our citizens, must be what civilized societies are about. Justice can never be retribution. No matter how heinous the crime, once we accept "encounter" as a solution, we give up the hope of rule of law.

The media shall refrain itself swaying away the public opinion through biased reporting of any issue. It shall aim to empower the people to hold their individual opinion by supplying the objective information. We must remember that injustice done somewhere is a threat to justice everywhere. The act of putting of a criminal to death by the protectors of law is something that threatens the very philosophy of justice delivery system in India, which is sin qua non for a healthy democracy.

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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Pranjal Kumar Sinha
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