Friday’s police encounter of four men accused of raping and murdering a veterinarian in Hyderabad last week evoked mixed reactions from Indian politicians and intellectuals. While several politicians praised the Telangana Police and the government for “delivering justice”, other political leaders and activists cautioned against extra-judicial killings and the police taking the law into their own hands.
In the early hours of Friday, the police alleged that the four men were killed in an encounter when they were trying to flee from custody. At the time of the incident, police were taking the accused to the murder site to reconstruct the sequence of events. The accused allegedly snatched a weapon and fired at the police, resulting in a cross-fire.
‘Such encounters must be made legal’
Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan, who, in Parliament earlier this week, had called for the public lynching of rape accused, welcomed the action. “Der aaye, durust aaye...der aaye, bahut der aaye [It is better late than never],” ANI quoted her as saying.
Bachchan’s party chief Akhilesh Yadav also seemed satisfied by the encounter. “Those running away from law...how far could they run from justice,” he asked in a tweet, without specifically mentioning the Hyderabad encounter. “I am happy that someone has got justice but real happiness will come when there will be effective preventive security arrangements and social atmosphere that such heinous crimes never happen with any sister or daughter.”
Bahujan Samaj Party President Mayawati praised the Telangana Police, and asked law enforcement agencies in Uttar Pradesh to take inspiration from them, PTI reported. “In UP, this is happening every day not just in one district but in every district,” she told reporters. “Be it young girls or aged women, nobody is being spared. There is jungle raj in Uttar Pradesh.”
BJP MP Locket Chatterjee claimed this was a good step for the country. “I felt really good when I read this news in the morning,” she told ANI. “The soul of the rape victim must be at peace now. Her family must be at peace. Such encounters should be made legal.”
YSR Congress Party leader Kanumuru Raghu Rama Krishna Raju said the four men “deserved to be shot dead”. He observed that this was a good lesson and said that NGOs that oppose the encounter are “anti-national”.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the happiness expressed by so many people was something to be worried about and indicated that people had lost faith in the criminal justice system. “Together all the governments will have to take action on how to strengthen criminal justice system,” ANI quoted him as saying.
Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra thanked the Telangana Police and said other state police must learn from them. He also took a potshot at fellow party leader Maneka Gandhi, who spoke against the encounter, by saying that she was fighting for “animal rights”.
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‘Encounter killings are a blot to our system’
However, a number of people warned about the dangers of “extra-judicial killings”. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said the police should not be condemned until details emerge, but added that extra-judicial killings were unacceptable “in a society of laws”.
Former Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi criticised the police and said a dangerous precedent had been set, ANI reported. “You can’t take law in your hands, they [accused] would have been hanged by court anyhow,” she added. “If you are going to shoot them before due process of law has been followed, then what’s the point of having courts, law and police?”
The state unit of the BJP asked the Telangana government and the police to address the media about the encounter, NDTV reported. “India is not a banana republic and is bound by legal and constitutional framework,” the party said. “Politics over crime cannot set a right precedence. As a responsible national party BJP will react only after official police statement.”
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee criticised the police action. “It is not law if it is taken into our hands,” Banerjee said, according to Ananda Bazar. “It is law only when the police does its job, and produces the accused in court. The judges will do their job. If something like this [a rape and murder] happens, immediate arrest and chargesheet has to be filed within three to 10 days. Evidence must be gathered.” Action will then be taken based on the investigation, she said. “I cannot tolerate crimes against women. The incidents in Hyderabad and Unnao shocked me.”
Congress leader P Chidambaram said that he did not have the facts about what happened. But as a “responsible person”, he said, “it must be thoroughly inquired into, to find out if it was a genuine encounter, whether they were trying to flee or it was anything else.”
His son Karti Chidambaram said crimes should be dealt as per provisions of law. “While I hold no brief for the alleged perpetrators of this dastardly act, ‘encounter’ killings are a blot to our system,” he added. “While I understand the urge for instant justice, this is not the way.”
Husain Dalwai, Congress MP in Rajya Sabha, said such actions cannot be supported. “Police taking law in their hands and making a mockery of it can’t be supported,” he said, adding that there should be an inquiry. “Just because some people are supporting the encounter doesn’t make it right,” he said. “Some even support lynching.”
Scindia, Singhvi support encounter, later backtrack
Some Congress leaders such as Jyotiraditya Scindia and Abhishek Manu Singhvi initially praised the police for the encounters. But later, following backlash they faced on social media, they deleted their statements.
Scindia wrote on Twitter earlier in the day that “the monsters of Hyderabad got the punishment they deserved”. He said “these sinners have no place in civil society” and said women’s safety was his party’s utmost priority. The tweet was later deleted.
Singhvi, who is also an advocate, expressed support for the encounter and said that “sometimes, in spite of all the debates and human rights logics, we shall understand the mood and sentiments of the people of the nation and stand with them”. He added that democracy was “afterall about ‘The People’”.
But the tweet was soon deleted and replaced with the statement: “In world’s largest democracy, there is nothing we cannot achieve through law.” He compared the current situation with that of the 2012 Delhi gangrape and said that case had faced some delays but has “crossed all judicial hierarchies pretty quickly and is likely to be implemented shortly”.
“We do not know true facts [regarding] encounter,” he added in another tweet. “If fake, clearly indefensible. If in self defense, inquiry would find out.” He added that there is no reason to have “knee jerk reactions or palm tree justice”.