At the outset it must be reiterated, in no uncertain terms, that the rape and brutal murder of the veterinary doctor in Hyderabad was a heinous and barbaric crime, and the perpetrators needed to be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. However, what has been done to the accused by the Telangana Police cannot be condoned. The police had only just started the investigation, and the four men were, at the time of their death in a police ‘encounter’ only accused and not convicts.
For all that we know about the functioning of the police in India, the accused may have been picked up randomly by them to avoid public criticism of the law and order situation, and to cover up for the inefficiency displayed by them in responding to the distress calls of the family of deceased victim of rape.
Hyderabad Police Encounter: An Unbelievable Tale
Some very pertinent questions arise about the veracity of the police version of the encounter.
Firstly, why were the accused taken for the reconstruction of the scene of crime in the wee hours, after being in judicial custody for 10 days? Secondly, the police tend to parade criminals involved even in simple crimes with handcuffs, so how is it that these criminals — who were accused of such a heinous crime — were not secured properly to prevent them from escaping?
It is appalling to find Cyberabad Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar trying to tell the media that the accused had attempted to ‘attack’ the police with sticks and stones, and had attempted to ‘snatch’ their weapons.
From where did they find these stones and sticks and how did they manage to collect these? What were the policemen — all ten of them who accompanied the four accused — doing at this time?
How is it that no policeman received any bullet injury when two of the accused had allegedly managed to snatch their weapons and were firing at them? How is that the police did not fire at their lower limbs to prevent them from running away, as per the drills they are taught to cause minimum injury? Even soldiers, trained under the philosophy of “shoot to kill”, find it difficult to score hundred percent success in night firing. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine how the police managed to kill all four criminals in darkness and in a situation where the police were chasing criminals who were supposedly firing at them with snatched weapons.
Cries of ‘Lynch the Rapists’: India’s Disdain for Rule of Law
It is extremely difficult to believe the police version of the encounter. They have, in my view, chosen to adopt a ‘shortcut’ to diffuse public pressure. By doing this they have closed all avenues of finding the truth about who the actual culprits were. Nobody will now ever know whether those killed by the police were the ones who committed the crime, or whether the real culprits are roaming free. Remember bus conductor Ashok Kumar, who was accused in the murder of Pradyuman Thakur at the Ryan International School, Gurgaon? He even supposedly ‘confessed’ to his ‘crime’ but the investigations later showed that he did not do it. Can one imagine the implications if the police had bumped him off in this manner?
It would be in the fitness of things to remember that IG Sajjanar was also involved in a similar ‘encounter’ in 2008 in Warangal, when three people accused of an acid attack, met a similar fate, and in almost exactly similar circumstances and sequence of events.
The family of the victim and many public personalities have praised the Telangana Police for this encounter killing. People have taken out processions in support of the police. Most of the TV channels and social media are full of statements in support of this act by the police. However, positive public response cannot be a measure of the legality of an action. It is a testimony to our disdain for the rule of law that our lawmakers, openly in the Parliament, advocate the ‘lynching’ of the accused. Are they lawmakers or law-breakers?
One Crime Can’t Avenge Another
That rape is a heinous crime, is beyond doubt. That the perpetrators of this heinous crime should be dealt with swiftly and strictly, is beyond doubt. That this doesn’t happen is a sad reflection on our policing and judiciary. For early conclusion of such cases, the police has to investigate effectively and promptly, the judiciary has to adjudicate on such cases through the fast track hearing of the cases, and finally, punishment must be delivered quickly. It is unfortunate to find that the Nirbhaya committee recommendations have not been implemented even after seven years since the incident. It is only today that the Cabinet has approved an expenditure of Rs 100 crores for spending, out of a large corpus collected in the name of ‘Nirbhaya Fund’.
As much as we blame the inertia in the system for delays in justice, we can’t permit a crime to avenge another. The rule of law must prevail.
The killing of the accused in these types of ‘encounters’ cannot be justified in any manner. Encounters cannot and should not be normalised. After all, we have courts and an entire legal system for a reason.
Vigilante Justice Used Against the Disempowered
There is a widespread perception that such vigilante justice and extra judicial killings are tools used by the police and the elite of society against the disempowered. No wonder that the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case were not arrested till the public made a hue and cry, because they had the backing of a majority population which had given it a communal colour. Similar leniency was shown to the Uttar Pradesh lawmaker, accused of rape and attempt to murder.
It is incidents like these that raise doubts about our collective ability to behave as a civilised society, where the rule of law prevails, and is respected.
Those who can justify killings in this manner to deliver justice can justify murder too. If an example had to be set, it should have been set through speedy trial.
The celebrations held on ‘Constitution Day’ on 26 November day are meaningless if we do not follow the tenets of the Constitution. Where is the need for the Constitution of India if the justice is delivered on the streets?
(The writer retired from the BSF as additional director-general. He tweets @sood_2. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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