LUCKNOW/NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The deadly shooting of an Apple manager by police in India’s most-populous state prompted human rights activists and opposition parties to demand reform, saying it was only the latest in a series of extrajudicial killings by local police.
The government of Uttar Pradesh, run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attempted to quickly defuse the attacks by offering the dead manager’s widow a state government job and compensation for the death of her husband.
Police in the northern state also issued a public apology and assured it would act against the two officers involved.
Two police constables on motor-bike patrol early on Saturday morning stopped the car of mid-level Apple sales manager, Vivek Tiwari, who was returning from an iPhone store launch with another Apple employee.
There have been conflicting accounts of what happened next.
The patrolman who shot Tiwari told reporters on Saturday: “I didn’t shoot at him. The bullet was shot by mistake.” But the state’s top police officer, O.P. Singh, said on Saturday that the officer claimed to have fired in self-defense.
One of Tiwari’s friends said he had been told by his family that when Tiwari declined to step out of the car, he was shot.
A photograph from the site of the incident, which occurred about 13 km (8 miles) from state capital Lucknow, showed Tiwari’s damaged sports utility vehicle with a cracked windshield.
On Monday, state chief minister Yogi Adityanath met Tiwari’s wife, assured her a job and at least 2.5 million rupees ($34,326) in compensation. The two officers have been arrested and the Uttar Pradesh state police officer Singh said he was determined to “punish & wean out such rogues in uniform”.
Though such killings are frequently reported across India, swift police action is rare. But Tiwari’s case has resonated as he worked for one of the best-known companies in the world and belonged to the upper caste Brahmin community.
Apple on Sunday said it was shocked and heartbroken by Tiwari’s death, and extended deepest sympathies to his family.
Human rights activists said the state, which has a high crime rate and a reputation for gangsterism, needed to do more to stop police killings of civilians.
State police in September invited journalists to film a confrontation between police and two armed men in Aligarh city in which the two men were shot dead, according to media reports. The clash began when the two opened fire on police, police said.
India’s National Human Rights Commission said 19 alleged criminals were killed and 89 injured in 433 police encounters in Uttar Pradesh in six months to August 2017.
In February, the commission said the state’s police officers were “feeling free, misusing their power in the light of an undeclared endorsement given by the higher ups”.
“It is unfortunate that there is an uproar only about this case and not questions raised about Uttar Pradesh police operating procedures,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Suspects have to be arrested, prosecuted, not killed on the streets by police,” she said.
The case has also drawn political attention. Pawan Khera, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, blamed the state government for the killing and called for “stringent action” against the police officers involved in the shootout.
The incident is a stark reminder of how police brutality is widely prevalent in India.
Earlier this year, police in the port city of Thoothukudi in southern state of Tamil Nadu gave no warning before firing with live ammunition on protesters seeking the closure of a copper smelter, killing at least ten people.
“Police in Uttar Pradesh have become trigger happy, we have to see that minimum use of force is done,” said Vappala Balachandran, a former deputy police commissioner in Mumbai.
“The central government should ensure that the police, their training methods are reformed”.
Tiwari is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Ajay Kumar, one of Tiwari’s friends, described him as a hard working, jovial person who was fond of singing folk songs.
He had faced financial hardship but then his life changed after 2014 when he landed a job as an Apple manager responsible for managing sales and working with the company’s partners in the state.
“It was only now that he had started enjoying his life, we still can’t believe he’s dead,” Kumar told Reuters, adding that he was also involved in a poster campaign after the incident.
“Police uncle, if you stop the car, dad will stop. Please don’t shoot,” read the poster, which was pasted on some cars in the city of Lucknow.
Additional reporting by Blassy Boben and Nigam Prusty, Edited by Martin Howell, William Maclean