The day I saw an 'encounter' in Noida on my way to work

YasheeApr 23, 2018 | 19:27

The day I saw an 'encounter' in Noida on my way to work

Gansgter Balraj Bhati was shot dead by police in Noida on April 23.

On April 23, I witnessed an “encounter” on my way to work.

Around 11.30am at home, I was staring at my phone and grumbling – the cab was taking far longer than the promised four minutes to come. When it did arrive, the driver delivered a long sermon before I could give him the OTP (Ola cabs require it): “There is a lot of police, madam, at that Baraula batti. An encounter is about to happen. Do you still want to go that way?”

I was confused, I was also getting late. I assumed the police might have gathered for another reason. I told the driver there couldn’t be an “encounter” on a busy street, and that we could go. As we sped off, he warned me about heavy police presence. He had heard a “big gangster” had come to the area in a large cavalcade, and the police were going to apprehend him and bump him off.

The Baraula batti (traffic signal) is in Sector 49, Noida. It is a busy two-lane road, with shops and dhabas on one side and houses on the other. I was still not taking the driver (he didn't wish to be named in the story) seriously, but by now, we had reached the main road, and there was indeed a police vehicle going the same way as us.

A crowd had gathered at the signal. On the other side of the road, where my cab was stuck, is a Bikaner Sweets store. Upon seeing the heavy police presence and two police vehicles parked at the spot, my main worry was that I was getting late for work. The shop was the centre of everyone’s attention. Suddenly, there was commotion, someone ran, three shots rang out and someone fell down.

I did not see who fired or who fell down. But I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. The Ola driver, a genteel person, didn’t say “I told you so”. He asked me if I was okay. “But they can’t kill someone like that,” I mumbled. “Does anyone know who was shot? Shouldn’t we call an ambulance?”

They were criminals, he said. The police are doing their job. Someone in the crowd said, “Mar gaya, mar gaya (he’s dead)”. I looked around frantically and was struck by how unfazed everyone else around me looked. On one side of the road, people had emerged on the verandahs of their houses.

I overheard a man telling his neighbour: “The policeman did not use the service revolver. It is a different gun, the kind security guards carry.”

Another declared, “There are 15 gangsters here, two have been killed. They are going to kill 13 more.”

I craned my neck to see if the person who had fallen down had been hauled up. But through the road divider railings and the huddled bodies, I could not make out much. There was remarkably little activity at the site of the “encounter”.

My cab driver had, meanwhile, been trying to slowly manoeuvre his way out of the crowd. As soon as we took a right turn, life looked rather normal again on the tree-lined, not very crowded road I take to work every day.

The driver kept asking me if I was okay. I asked him if he was. "Murders are unpleasant business," he said. "Encounters are necessary." As he dropped me off at work, he mused how the government only goes after the small fish. “Not big goons who can get ministers assassinated from inside the jail.”

My office has TV screens on almost every wall. The first thing I saw was the ticker: “Gangster with Rs 2 lakh reward on his head shot."

Twitter was abuzz, too. The person I had just witnessed being killed was none other than dreaded gangster” Balraj Bhati. He had rewards announced on his head by the UP police, the Delhi Police and the Gurugram Police. Both UP Police and Gurugram police were involved in the encounter.

Bhati was accused of kidnappings, murders, gang-wars. He was allegedly a contract killer, the right-hand man of gangster Sundar Bhati, whose operations he ran when the latter was in jail.

Originally a Bulandshahr resident, Balraj Bhati reportedly served in the police force once. After he lost his job over his involvement in a murder case, he took to crime and was reportedly trained by Sundar, whom he met in jail.

I now also know that the person I saw fall was not Bhati, but a bystander. Bhati had purportedly run inside the restaurant’s kitchen, where he was shot on sight. According to Gurugram Police, two constables, a seven-year-old child, and a civilian were injured in the “firing by the criminals”.

The police have hailed his killing as a major success.

There has been a lot of news about the “encounters” by the police in Uttar Pradesh recently. According to official data, 1,144 encounters took place in the state between March 20, 2017, and January 31, 2018, in which 34 criminals have been killed and 2,744 arrested.

A few days ago, a police officer was dismissed from service after an audio clip in which he is purportedly tipping off a gangster about an encounter and asking him to “manage” two BJP leaders came to light. The leaders named are Rajeev Singh Parichha, BJP MLA from Jhansi, and Sanjay Dubey, BJP district president.

The Ola driver phrased the irony in perhaps the best possible way when he said: “Bataiye madam, murder rokne ke liye murder karna padta hai (must say, murders are needed to stop murders).”   

Last updated: April 24, 2018 | 21:56
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