All four accused in the rape and murder of a 26-year-old woman veterinarian doctor were shot dead by the Telangana Police on Friday during a pre-dawn exchange of fire near Hyderabad. The police action was largely greeted with support from leaders across political parties, but also sparked concerns over "extrajudicial executions".
The four men were arrested on 29 November for allegedly raping and killing the woman by smothering her and later burning her body. The incident led to widespread anger about the deteriorating state of women's safety in the country and brought back memories of the 16 December 2012 gangrape and murder of a woman physiotherapy intern in Delhi. They were remanded to seven-day judicial custody.
Police said the encounter took place between 5.45 am and 6.15 am when the accused, who were lorry workers aged between 20 and 24, were taken to the scene of the crime near Hyderabad from an undisclosed location for a reconstruction of events as part of the investigation. The four men were not handcuffed and in police custody when they were taken to the site, PTI quoted police officials as saying.
#HyderabadMurder | The police encounter took place at Chatanpally near Shadnagar, where the 26-year-old victim's charred body was found. While reconstructing the crime scene, the accused tried to escape the spot.
— Firstpost (@firstpost) December 6, 2019
According to police sources, the bodies of the four were taken to the Shadnagar government hospital after the encounter.
Cyberabad Police says officials resorted to 'retaliatory' fire
Cyberabad police commissioner CV Sajjanar told reporters that his men resorted to "retaliatory" firing after two of the accused opened fire at the police after snatching weapons from them. He said one of the accused, Mohammed Arif, was the first to open fire, even as the 10-member police team that took them to the crime scene were attacked with stones and sticks.
The police returned fire after initial "restraint" and asking the accused to surrender, he said in a press conference on Friday afternoon. The snatched weapons were in "unlocked" position, Sajjanar added.
He also said that a police sub-inspector and a constable suffered head injuries and were undergoing treatment.
Detailing the events leading to the exchange of fire, Sajjanar said the police team comprising ten police officials brought the accused to the location based on their 'confession' to recover a cellphone and 'other objects'.
"... all the four accused got together, they started attacking the police party with stones, sticks, and other material. And they also snatched away weapons from our two officers and started firing," he said.
"Even though our officers maintained restraint and asked them to surrender, without listening to us, they continued to fire and attack... our people started retaliation. And in that retaliation four accused got killed," he said adding that after an examination of the bodies, all were found with bullet injuries.
Ten teams were formed to crack the rape and murder of the veterinary doctor, Sajjanar said, pointing out that the police collected a lot of scientific evidence during the investigation. He said that based on human intelligence, the four accused were apprehended from Makthal mandal of Narayanpet district.
"In the last four days we have done DNA profiling of the victim and also the accused. We collected a lot of scientific evidence to prove the crime against the four accused," Sajjanar said.
The commissioner said the police suspected the four accused may be involved in similar such offences. About the criticism and also the NHRC notice, Sajjanar said, "Law has done its duty and that's what I can say. We will tell them about the investigation. We will answer and send the report to the government and the NHRC. They were killed in the exchange of fire."
Asked why the four accused were taken to the scene of offence (where the body was found burnt) in the early hours, the commissioner said they were facing a lot of threat and hence brought there early in the morning.
MHA seeks report on encounter, NHRC takes cognisance of incident
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took cognisance of the encounter killings of the four accused and ordered an inquiry on Friday. The apex human rights body in the country said the encounter was a matter of concern and needed to be probed carefully.
"The commission is of the opinion that this matter is required to be probed very carefully. Accordingly, it has asked its Director General (Investigation) to immediately send a team for a fact-finding, on-the-spot investigation into the matter," the NHRC said.
The team from the investigation division of the commission, headed by a senior superintendent of police (SSP), was expected to leave for Hyderabad on Friday itself and submit its report at the earliest, PTI reported.
The incident clearly indicated that the police personnel were not "properly alert" and "prepared for any untoward activity by the accused on the spot", which resulted in the death of all four, the commission noted. Pointing out that the deceased were arrested by the police during the investigation and a judgment was yet to be pronounced, the rights body said that even if the arrested persons were actually guilty, they were to be punished in accordance with the law.
Meanwhile, News18 reported that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) also sought a report from the Telangana state government on the encounter of the four accused. Since the police action is a case of a killing in custody, as per the existing guidelines, the state is now obligated to apprise the NHRC via the MHA.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) chairperson Rekha Sharma also weighed in on the debate and said that though the women rights body had wanted the death penalty for the accused, "it should have come through the proper judicial channel".
"We wanted the death penalty but it should have been through the judicial channel. I do not know under what circumstances they were shot and this has to come out after the inquiry. So, only the police can tell the truth or after the inquiry, it would come out," Sharma was quoted as saying by PTI.
Swati Maliwal, chief of the Delhi Commission For Women (DCW) also urged the administration to expedite the process of justice in other cases of rape. While noting that the Hyderabad encounter "will send out a strong message", she said, "But that there are still thousands of victims who are awaiting justice".
"What about thousands of Nirbhayas who are still waiting for justice. At the end of the day, there will be a strong message (after the encounter), and people will feel justice was done. But l want this country to run through a system," Maliwal said.
Leaders laud Hyderabad Police action, some demand details of the incident
Parents of the veterinarian raped and killed by the four men expressed gratitude to the Telangana government for its action. "My daughter's soul must be at peace now," he said. "This is not justice... our daughter is lost to us forever. But, this is a relief. Police had told us they will take immediate action. And they did," he added.
Additionally, the mother of the victim of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape and murder case, also said she was "extremely happy" with the police action. Her comments come as the culprits convicted in the crime against her daughter are yet to face punishment, seven years after the incident.
"Telangana Police has done a great job and I demand that no action should be taken against the police personnel," she said. She also appealed to the Centre and the Delhi government that her daughter should also be given justice, and demanded the culprits be hanged.
"I have been running from pillar to post for the last seven years. I appeal to the justice system of this country and the government, that Nirbhaya's culprits must be hanged to death, at the earliest," she said.
Asha Devi, Nirbhaya's mother on all four accused in rape&murder of woman veterinarian in Telangana killed in encounter: I am extremely happy with this punishment.Police has done a great job & I demand that no action should be taken against the police personnel. pic.twitter.com/frL3sRqcD6
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2019
Meanwhile, former DGP of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Shesh Paul Vaidya congratulated the Hyderabad Police for taking down all accused in an encounter. He said that had the accused escaped from police's custody, the cops would have faced severe flak.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said that the Uttar Pradesh and Delhi governments should "take inspiration" from the Hyderabad Police to fix the current situation of "jungle raj".
She said, "Crimes against women are on the rise in Uttar Pradesh, but the state government is sleeping. Police here and also in Delhi should take inspiration from Hyderabad Police, but unfortunately, here criminals are treated as state guests, there is jungle raj in Uttar Pradesh right now."
Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan said, "Better late than never."
#WATCH Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan on accused in the rape and murder of the woman veterinarian in Telangana killed in an encounter: Der aaye, durust aaye...der aaye, bohot der aaye.. pic.twitter.com/sWj43eNCud
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2019
Several BJP leaders like Meenakshi Lekhi, Gautam Gambhir, Kapil Mishra, Locket Chatterjee, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore also supported the police action. While most echoed the sentiment that the encounter was the appropriate way to deal with the perpetrators, Gambhir called for a reform in the country's judicial system. "If they (the accused) were trying to escape then, I stand with the police," he said.
BJP MP Gautam Gambhir: Judicial system needs to be reformed.Verdict of fast track court should be final & there should be no further appeals or mercy petitions for death penalty. If they (accused in veterinarian rape &murder case) were trying to escape then, I stand with police. pic.twitter.com/73wWT1wQnP
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2019
Lekhi rubbished the questions being raised on the alleged loopholes in the police's story and the timing and authenticity of the encounter.
Kanumuru Raghu Rama Krishna Raju of the ruling YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh reportedly said, "They deserved to be shot dead. God has been kind that they were shot dead, this is a good lesson. They tried to run away and they were killed. No NGO should oppose it and if they do so, they are anti-national."
Odisha state minister Pratap Jena was also quoted by News18 as saying that the Hyderabad Police had done "nothing wrong". He said, "I think, there is nothing wrong committed by the Hyderabad Police. The four persons accused in a heinous crime were killed while trying to escape. This is my personal view."
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee didn't make a specific comment on the encounter but said that she "wouldn't tolerate" any kind of violence against women.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee: I don't tolerate any kind of violence against women. My standing instruction to police is to arrest accused immediately & chargesheet them within 3-10 days. This is the law. pic.twitter.com/RXXfKcDs1d
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2019
However, along with human rights activists and some politicians who cautioned against praising the police action, some Opposition leaders seemed to hold back due to the lack of adequate information about the incident.
Supreme Court lawyer and rights' activist Karuna Nundy was one of the those who took a different take on the Hyderabad cops' action and the resulting euphoria on the death of four accused. Raising some pertinent questions on a long Twitter thread, Nundy pointed out that the men killed by the police were still accused of the crime and had not been held guilty by a court.
Now nobody will ever know if the four men killed by the police were innocent men, arrested fast to show action. And whether four of the most brutal rapists roam free, to rape and kill more women.#EncounterNight#Encounterhttps://t.co/LEXxSKWzre
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) December 6, 2019
Hyderabad MP and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi said, " I am against encounters. Even the National Human Rights Commission has taken cognizance of the encounter."
BJP leader and former Union minister Maneka Gandhi said that the encounter was a very "dangerous" thing to have happened. "Those people were, in any case, going to get hanging as punishment for the heinousness of their crime. But you cannot kill people because you want to," she said, even as most of her party members praised the effort.
#WATCH Maneka Gandhi:Jo hua hai bohot bhayanak hua hai desh ke liye. You can't take law in your hands,they(accused) would've been hanged by Court anyhow. If you're going to shoot them before due process of law has been followed, then what's the point of having courts,law&police? pic.twitter.com/w3Fe2whr31
— ANI (@ANI) December 6, 2019
Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and P Chidambaram expressed concerns over the "extra-judicial killing". Chidambaram said that an inquiry into the matter to ascertain the facts was needed.
"I don't know the facts of what happened in Hyderabad. As a responsible person, all I can say is, 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," he said.
Tharoor, replying to a Twitter user condemning the action, also said that extra judicial killings were "not acceptable".
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said that it is the anger in people against such incidents that is making them happy about the encounter killings. "Due to the rape cases that have come to light off late, people are angry, whether it is Unnao or Hyderabad, so people are expressing happiness over the encounter.
"It is also something to be worried about, the way people have lost their faith in the criminal justice system. Together all the governments will have to take action on how to strengthen the criminal justice system," he said.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2019 21:55:09 IST