The killing of the four men accused of the rape and murder of a woman in Hyderabad, by the Telangana police, is a disturbing development. While the police claim they were killed in retaliatory firing, there are several unanswered questions. Why were the accused taken to a public place without handcuffs? Why were they taken to the site of the crime at night? If they had attacked the police, could they not have been shot below the waist, as standard operating procedures dictate, rather than killed? The officer-in-command seems to have a track record in encounter killings. Telangana also has a notorious history in this regard.
But, what is more worrying is the reaction by politicians and the public, who lauded the killing and heaped accolades on the police on the grounds that justice had been served. This comes after several lawmakers called for the lynching and hanging of the accused.
Whether it pleases the public or not, a transparent and free investigation is essential in all cases. The accused are, by law, entitled to it. Now, whether the four were the real culprits, or if the police acted under pressure due to public outrage, will never be known. The justice system has often delayed rape trials despite provisions to fast-track them. But, this, by no means, justifies the state machinery taking the law into its own hands. This will not protect women, but instead only normalise arbitrary violence. If the “encounter” was indeed fake, it means that the justice system has ceded ground to base public sentiment. The guilty must be punished, but through due process. Rule of law makes India a civilised democracy. It must live up to it.
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