Four main accused in the Hyderabad rape and murder case were shot dead by Telangana police in an encounter. While the police have said that the alleged rapists were shot because they tried to run from police custody, nation stands divided over the incident. One section is rejoicing, calling it retribution for the heinous act they stood accused for, while the other feels conflicted at the thought of police taking law into their own hands. The entire incident and our reaction to it has raised a lot of questions, which we as a nation need to pay heed to.

Where does our faith in the Indian judiciary stand?

It is being reported that women have tied rakhis to policemen, while people have showered flowers on them after the news of the encounter came to light. The social media is replete with posts praising the policemen in question for “avenging” a daughter of India. So, have Indian citizens completely lost faith in the Indian judiciary? Would we rather have every rape accused gunned down than presented in court, and given a sentence?

Lawyer Rebecca John has called this “trigger justice”, adding, “How easily we celebrate mob justice. A police force that no one ever trusts, kills four unarmed men in the dead of the night. Why? Because they didn’t matter. Unlikely that the Delhi police would have done this to men with connections who lived in Jor Bagh or Maharani Bagh. Did we even have enough evidence to suggest they committed the crime? Had any court seen that evidence? Had any court pronounced guilt?”

Could we be potentially taking things in our own hands in this desire to see conclusive evidence? How do we stop the citizens of this country now from becoming the jury, judge and carriers of justice?

How far are we from turning into a country of vigilantes?

Even before the encounter happened Rajya Sabha MP and film actor Jaya Bachchan said on camera that the perpetrators in this case “need to be brought out in public and lynched.” Which hints towards the mood of a frustrated and angry nation on the edge. So, if today we are celebrating police encounters as “swift justice”, won’t it also embolden the public to turn vigilantes and take matters in their own hands? Could we be potentially taking things in our own hands in this desire to see conclusive evidence? How do we stop the citizens of this country now from becoming the jury, judge and carriers of justice?

As BJP MP Maneka Gandhi wrote on Twitter, “You cannot kill people because you want to. You cannot take law in your hands, they (accused) would have been hanged by Court anyhow.”

Also Read: India In Shock As 26 Year Old Raped And Burnt In Hyderabad

Does this solve the issue of rape culture altogether?

A rape survivor in Unnao has been set ablaze by the man who was accused of raping her a few months back. A woman in Uttar Pradesh was shot in the face last week when she stopped dancing at a wedding. These are some of the “reported” crimes against women in the last 48 hours. There are thousands of others that are not reported.

Yes the perpetrators in this case deserved the strictest possible punishment, no doubt about that. But do lynching and encounter, or even capital punishment awarded by the courts actually solve the issue of rape culture in our country. Do we want men to not commit sexual crimes out of fear of death, or because it is simply immoral? While we discuss law and order and government’s role in ensuring safety of women, why are we not talking about the fault lines in our patriarchal society? Shouldn’t the question, “Why do Indian men rape?” be asked and debated more than how can we prevent rapes?

Which side of the debate are you on? Should there be a death penalty, or should we show patience and change the mindset? Or does the answer lie somewhere in the middle?

Why are we shaming those who are asking questions?

A lot of people have legitimate questions about the encounter, which they are raising, only to be shamed into silence. Should we go by the word of authorities and believe that these accused were trying to run away? The entire country has labelled these four men as rapists, even before their crime got proved in the court. No matter how repulsive and outrageous the crime, shouldn’t an accused be put on trial before we label him?

Just why is there so much outrage when these questions are being asked? Should people now feel ashamed and intimidated of their fellow citizens for merely seeking answers?

What now?

We got what we wanted, a brand of justice that we approved, but what now? Where is it that we seem to be as a country, taking some measurable steps in letting such an incident not happen again? Is it just the judiciary or the government of the country which is responsible to keep women safe? Even then, are we as a part of the system doing our bid? For instance when the Vishakha Guidelines were introduced, or when the new Anti Rape Bill came out in 2013, a lot of such amendments required people to put them up in their offices, as to educate the employees regarding what these Acts are about. Have we taken it to heart to ensure that women know how Indian legal system stands up for them?

What are we doing, as a society to ensure that we aren’t out in streets baying for blood again when we fail to ensure the safety of yet another daughter of this country? How do we stop someone from saying things like, women should carry condoms with them, or women shouldn’t step out at night and they should dress “sensibly”? We do need to change the general mindset, but it will take generations before our efforts begin to bear a result. How can we motivate people to tweet, or discuss female agency and sexual crimes with empathy towards womankind and sensibility, and not indulge in frivolousness?

The problem we have at hand is much larger than one or two incidents that are etched in the public memory. It is high time that we mulled over these questions and see what WE can do about it.

Also Read: Preventing Rape: It’s Time We Moved From Outrage To Action

Get the best of SheThePeople delivered to your inbox - subscribe to Our Power Breakfast Newsletter. Follow us on Twitter , Instagram , Facebook and on YouTube, and stay in the know of women who are standing up, speaking out, and leading change.