Most policemen do not want to participate in encounters. This has resulted in India producing a category of men called encounter specialists or sharpshooters. This second word is wrongly applied and we will see why.
First, let us see what an encounter is. It is the act of a government taking individuals into custody and then killing them. Usually, this happens in a secluded area and often at night. In Hyderabad, it happened at 3 am when the police said they were taking the four suspects to “recreate” the crime scene. The shooting happens at close quarters and this is what the post-mortem usually shows. Handguns, which is what police officers carry, are not good for distance shooting because their barrels are short and the aim is ineffective beyond about 30 feet or so. This is why the word ‘sharpshooter’ is wrong.
Usually, the policeman fires with the barrel pushed into the victim’s body or when the person has been beaten and is lying down. An aim is not needed at this distance, only the willingness to take a life.
The encounter specialist is the policeman who is willing to do the murder at close quarters of unarmed human beings. In Mumbai, where the encounter culture took root in the 1990s, there developed a small group of men who did the killing. Daya Nayak (on whom the film Ab Tak Chhappan was made) killed 80 people. Vijay Salaskar, who was himself killed in the 26/11 attacks also had a similar number of murders to his name. Pradeep Sharma had more than 150. All three men were accused of wrongdoing because once such activity by lawmen is condoned, then it becomes difficult to stop other activity.
The question is why most policemen do not do this if there is a reward available (see how the Hyderabad police have been treated like heroes). It is because most of us do not want to kill. Even soldiers. This may surprise readers but it is a fact. The American soldier SLA Marshall studied this phenomenon in a book called Men Against Fire. Marshall’s thesis was the soldiers usually fired into the air or into the ground because they were not natural killers and did not want to harm the ‘enemy’ even if he was being fired upon.
Marshall was writing about the second world war but this experience was similar in Vietnam, where American soldiers fired 50,000 bullets for each Vietnamese casualty. Studies by the Prussians during the Napoleonic wars were similar. When a line of riflemen were asked to shoot into a sheet of fabric at the same distance as the enemy line, their aim was more than 100 times better than when they were shooting at real people.