India woke up to shocking news of Cyberabad Police commissioner VC Sajjanar conducting an encounter of the four persons accused in the brutal gang rape and murder case of a 26-year-old veterinarian. After a week of protests and outrage from the public across the country, the police team shot down all the four accused at around 3 a.m. on Friday in a crossfire as they had taken them back to the crime scene to reconstruct it. The police say that the rape accused tried to run, snatch the gun from the policemen and opened fire on them which is when they shot them all.
While this is being celebrated widely as the only swift and one-stop solution for the rape accused, is this really going to impact the state of affairs in the country around the raging rape epidemic of India? If we celebrate the killings of the four accused, then why not demand the killings of all rape suspects? Is custodial killing possible in cases of rape and sexual harassment when the perpetrator is known to the victim/survivor? Are the parliamentarians accepting their failure by lauding the encounters as the laws they brought up have failed women?
Why encounters are proof of lawlessness in a civil society?
Women’s rights activist, Kalyani Menon Sen spoke to SheThePeople.TV about the encounter and said, “The encounter is absolutely appalling. It is evident of the fact that the mob lynching mentality is being normalised. With the way, the parliamentarians are hailing it in the parliament us something that is so obviously concocted. There has been no legal process and evidence that the accused persons were the actual rapists. There has been no charge sheet filed in the case and this shows that apparently the public knows better than any system and that this has satisfied the public conscience.
To see it being celebrated in parliament and otherwise is shocking. I am against this sort of police raj. It is just unimaginable.”
Another activist and CPI leader, Annie Raja believes that the celebration of the custodial killing comes from the failure of the system. “The delay in justice forced people to celebrate this kind of illegal act. Four people who were suspects have been killed, they weren’t even convicted. The celebration indicates how deeply the system is in trouble. The police and the judiciary have failed the people so when people see such a thing happen, they feel a sort of relief and they rejoice. It is a very serious situation and we must see it like it.”
Years pass by when the justice in such heinous crimes is served, case in point the Nirbhaya Gangrape case, and when justice is delivered in such cases, so many other horrifying crimes already happen against women that our memory of the crime for which conviction is happening gets faded.
“But the second most concerning thing is that the parliamentarians are giving suggestions of repetition of such encounters in North India and that would have wide repercussions and impact. Why are these leaders not talking about the laws that already exist in our country to prevent crimes? Why government after governments are failing to ensure women’s safety? Incident after incident, people are asking for more stringent laws but what is the use of it if it cannot deter crimes?” she added.
While the National Human Rights Commission has taken cognizance of it and will now investigate the encounter circumstances, several lawyers are also asking for a trial against the police team involved in conducting the encounter in a case of murder. Kalpana Kannabiran, Director of Council for Social Development, Hyderabad also condemns the encounter and says, “I am aghast that this could even happen. I think it is unlawful and I feel that the police personnel involved in this should be tried for murder. Self-defence is a plea that only comes up at the evidentiary stage of the trial so we have four dead bodies now plus the dead body of the woman who was murdered. Now everybody believes that that case has been abated because the suspects have been killed but since they were suspects we are not even sure if justice has truly been served to the young lady.”
One of the main arguments being called out in this scenario of custodial killing is the way these rape accused could be killed because they were nobodies, the ones who are members of political parties continue to enjoy privileges. “Chinmayanand, Sengar are all in exactly the same position as the murdered accused so are you going to shoot them all? I don’t think as women we need to have trigger-happy policemen as our protectors. It doesn’t do any justice to women at all,” Kannabiran added.
Bilkis Bano, who was raped during one of the most brutal communal carnage in India’s modern history of Gujarat riots 2002, has always chosen against revenge in her various interactions with the media. Her husband, Yakoob Rasul spoke with us and condemned the encounter too. He says, “Violence is not the solution for any crime and the encounter does not serve any justice. The government should bring in a law that the rapists fear the law so much that they don’t end up committing such a crime.”
Voices in favour of the encounter
While these were the voices of those who choose to condemn this but there is a large section of the society which is celebrating the encounter and justifying it too. Dr Tripurarna, who is the former chairperson of the Hyderabad State Commission for Women, laughed at the narration of the police about the encounter.
But in a serious tone, she said, “As a civil person, one would think that law is there then why was the encounter done. But the woman who has been murdered also had her rights violated and what happened to her? Even today as only a week has passed that the rape case was reported, there are so many other cases that have come up. Even the rape survivor of Unnao was set ablaze when the rape accused was out on bail. So where are we going with the justice system? I am also an advocate but rapes in the country have now become an epidemic. How long will the rapists of Nirbhaya gang-rape be alive for? I have been in the system and dealt with so many crimes like these that I know that the justice system stands faulty and it causes no deterrence among the perpetrators. We are at a point where we need such kind of interventions by the police.”
Advocate Abha Singh also hails the encounter and says, “The brutal manner in which the crime was committed and the delay in the justice system elicits the frustration among people that while the crimes are being committed, no action is being taken as a solution to it and we cannot blame people for celebrating such an encounter. The custodial killings have been successful in posing as a deterrent in Punjab and in controlling gang wars in Bombay. So the gang-rape culture can only be controlled by encounters as it will increase the fear of law among people.”
A prominent lawyer, who did not want to be named, also presented a well-articulated response to this debate as she said, “I don’t think the police has committed such a terrible wrong. They have corrected the wrong already happened with the brutal rape and murder by committing a small wrong through the encounter. Rape has become such a huge epidemic in the country that every day we are reading newspapers that are filled with rape crimes happening in various parts of the country and it is true that justice delayed is justice denied.
“But the second most concerning thing is that the parliamentarians are giving suggestions of repetition of such encounters in North India and that would have wide repercussions and impact. Why are these leaders not talking about the laws that already exist in our country to prevent crimes? Why government after governments are failing to ensure women’s safety?”
Years pass by when the justice in such heinous crimes is served, case in point the Nirbhaya gangrape case, and when justice is delivered in such cases, so many other horrifying crimes already happen against women that our memory of the crime for which conviction is happening gets faded. I feel that these encounters bring immediate relief and if one has the CCTV footage that shows the accused with the woman then what more evidence does one need? At least 15-20 more such encounters and cases of mob lynchings will prove as clear cut deterrent and instil fear in the potential perpetrators.”