“Men often mistake killing and revenge for justice. They seldom have the stomach for justice.”
On 27th November 2019, a veterinarian was gang-raped, murdered and set ablaze in Hyderabad. This gruesome incident sparked outrage in everyone in the country, especially the women as their safety is still hanging on a very loose thread. It was certainly a call back to the horrifying ‘Nirbhaya Case’ or the Delhi gang-rape case of 12th December 2012. While it has been eight years that Nirbhaya hasn’t been avenged,’ an encounter’ makes the Indian population believe that justice has been done to the Hyderabad rape victim.
All the four suspects were killed in a police encounter on the 6th of December, 2019, while in custody. This act encapsulated all the hallmarks of a custodial murder, dressed up to look like an encounter. Evidently, the police were hiding something on their part since the accused were in custody and thus unarmed. Allegedly, they were attacked by the suspects when they were at the crime scene recreating the scenario, past midnight. The police claim that the encounter was an act of self-defense.
The encounter of the rapists spread happiness and a sense of achievement in the public. The nation was convinced that the wrongdoers had been punished for their deed and that justice had been done. People celebrated this encounter, for some it was the best news they heard that morning. Almost everyone thought that the police had proved their righteousness by killing the inhuman molesters. Was it really a righteous act? Is the victim avenged? Had justice been served? There was anger, frustration, and rage among the public, the safety of the women in this nation was (still is) in question, the humanity of this nation seemed to collapse – all of this chaos should’ve have been justified by the encounter done by the police but it does not. Like CJI SA Bobde said, “Justice should not be revenge. I believe justice loses its character as justice if it becomes revenge”. An extrajudicial killing raises doubt towards the police and the government in my head. I accuse the ‘justice’ of this kind to be counterfeit. A system that offers murder as justice is a system telling the women loud and clear that it cannot make the streets safe for them, that it cannot investigate crimes against victims but it can certainly act like a lynch mob.
‘A woman who was returning home from her job, a completely normal routine errand, was not only raped but also murdered and set on fire. An act as harrowing and disturbing as that deserves a punishment so severe that no one is even audacious enough to think of committing a crime on the similar lines’ – my brain was occupied with this thought until I read the news of this “(fake) encounter”. As much as it boils my blood to see humanity deteriorate, the lack of structure in our system that was witnessed in this killing disheartens me. The explanations given by the authorities are so hollow you could fit a river in it. They claim that the suspects tried to attack the police and hence were killed in an encounter. All of this happened at a very odd hour, around 3:30 in the morning. The police had the suspects in custody for a week, what could be a possible rational reason to take them to the place of crime at the aforementioned unusual time? It is almost debatable that four unarmed, possibly handcuffed men were able to attack the policemen who were surveilling them. This somewhat ambiguous situation gives two explanations- the police are either too incompetent or they were under a pressure of some sort. Now, the job of the police department ends at investigating and finding out the suspects but the coercion from the public and media might impel them to act in this way. The media usually provokes and coaxes the enforcement agency when it comes to highly publicized cases that it becomes difficult for the authorities to take a scrupulous decision. A trial by media like this one is detrimental to justice as it led to a custodial killing disguised as an “encounter”. It is justifiable for the public to demand an austere punishment for this extremely tormenting crime but celebrating the death of the accused makes us seem lustful for violence and blood. An encounter like this makes it even more unsafe for the women- the rapists will do anything to make sure their crime does not get reported and might most certainly resort to killing the victim- we saw an example of this kind- the Unnao case. And let’s talk about the apparent coronation of the Telangana Police, the ones who did not file a report timely. If they had taken the complaint of the victimized girl missing seriously and in time, there were slim but real chances of saving a life and avoiding a fatality. We are not even sure if the accused had really committed the crime. The senior editor of The Wire, Arfa Khanum Sherwani, rightly pointed out “Is there no difference between mujirim and mulzim?”
Besides, this entire sequence of events raises a question on machinery that monitors the disposal of these cases in order to preserve India’s stature as a proud nation governed by law. Currently, there are nearly 704 fast track courts for heinous offenses and setting of 1123 dedicated courts for Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) and rape offenses are in process. Howbeit, the women are under pain and distress, living fearfully. If we do not challenge this extrajudicial act, we are indirectly giving the investigating agency the authority to perform as the executing and the judicial agency. If a system does not find that problematic, we must suspect the system to be a problem. Despite the presence of severe regulations like capital punishments and completion of trial in two months, if the police were motivated to take such an unhoped-for action against the suspects who were yet to be convicted, there is certainly something wrong with the judiciary which must be done away by invoking self-correcting measures.
References- Image from https://images.app.goo.gl/C5jHdQwaKRsN1rRV6
Neelesh is a third year student at RGNUL, Patiala. He is an avid enthusiast for Indian History and holds sharp perspectives about the socio-legal happenstances across the world.
Co-authored by- Khushi Walani.