Md Irshad Ayub
The four suspects accused of raping and burning alive a veterinarian in Hyderabad were killed by police in an encounter at Friday dawn.
According to the police, the accused were taken from Cherlapally Central Prison to Chatanpally, 50 km from Hyderabad, where they had burnt the woman’s body, for “crime reconstruction”. They then allegedly tried to attack the police and escape, at which point the police say the opened fire in self-defence.
The four suspects accused – Mohammed (26), Jollu Shiva (20), Jollu Naveen (20) and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu (20) – had been arrested on November 29, two days after the vet went missing from Shamshabad toll plaza. Her burnt corpse was recovered on November 28. They were in judicial custody in high-security cells at Cherlapally Central Prison. They were charged under IPC sections 302 (murder), 375 (rape) and 362 (abduction). The accused had not yet been tried or convicted. However, no law in India sanctions encounter of accused by police. Whether she was gangraped or not is yet to be proved in the court of law.
Questions, however, remain on why the police took the accused persons out to “reconstruct” the crime in the middle of the night. According to available information, the encounter happened at 3 am on Friday.
The case was still under investigation. The chargesheet had not been filed. Trial had not begun. The court was yet to hear the accused and the prosecution. It was not yet proven that the accused who were shot dead were the actual culprits of the gangrape and murder. And, even if they were the culprits, the police were not authorised to take their lives.
It is also not clear if the accused were capable – by means of being armed or something similar – to pose threat to life or lives of the policemen who took them for recreating the crime scene. For, only in the case of self-defence, causing death is not a crime under the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. As a benefit of doubt, it is also not yet clear whether the police used all means to capture the accused when they allegedly tried to escape.
India is known to be as rape capital of the world. Rape has been the fourth common crime in India, facing an endless vicious cycle of brutality on women. When the entire nation is gripped with incidents of women being raped, assaulted and murdered, celebrations broke out in many parts of the country. Several public figures supported the police action, seeing it as an exemplary instance of instant justice and others say what we are celebrating and cheering is the end of rule of law as well as law due process doctrine. Rights groups and social activists were outraged, termed it as Extrajudicial killing, Fake encounter, and Mob justice as well.
Most political parties and leaders responded to the encounter with different degrees of caution and celebration, while many civil society groups and prominent lawyers condemned the police action that came ahead of a trial for the four accused. While some said that the police made a mockery of the Indian criminal justice system by killing the four, many others viewed the encounter as legitimising mobocracy.