The Hyderabad Encounter

The encounter killing of four persons accused for the heinous crimes of rape and murder of a young 27 year old in Hyderabad has invited mixed response from across the nation. Since the crime was committed about ten days ago, there was a nationwide outrage to bring the culprits to justice in shortest possible time. The nation was not ready to let this incident linger on for years like the Nirbhaya case where the accused, who have been convicted, are still to face their ultimate punishment of death. The case in Unnao, Uttar Pradesh that came to light a few days later added to the outrage. Politicians, particularly women politicians, went on record in parliament to seek public lynching of such criminals. Without a doubt the police and other concerned authorities were under immense pressure to provide swift justice.

The news of encounter killing of the accused spread like wild fire. In many parts of the country there were Diwali like celebrations with crackers and sweets being distributed. Many politicians, male and female, publically claimed in interviews that due justice had been done and the victim’s soul could now rest in peace. The police put out a story of how the four accused had snatched two rifles from policemen on escort duty and therefore they were gunned down by other policemen in self-defence. The reason cited by police for taking the accused to the crime site for investigations in the dead of the night was that they wanted to avoid angry crowds who wanted to publically lynch the accused. It is quite likely that this story will pass muster and after a mandatory enquiry, the case will see closure. The real truth perhaps will be never known.

The question here is not whether these four accused deserved death punishment or not because there are no two opinions on this. Those who commit such heinous crimes have to be given the ultimate punishment. The more pertinent question here is whether encounters or extra judicial methods are the right ways to go to mete out such punishment. Does public outrage or political rhetoric provide sufficient justification for police to adopt such methods? While public expresses its frustration, the politicians are invariably exploiting the situation for votes by mouthing what the public wants to hear. In such a scenario it is obvious that rationality, good sense and sanity will be dumped in the dustbin by one and all. And that can never be a good sign for any society or its judicial system.

The site where the four rape accused were shot dead in police action

There is no doubt that our legal system, comprising of police and investigative agencies on one hand and judiciary on the other, has proven to be quite incompetent over the years. None of them enjoy the confidence of the public at large. They apply different yardsticks for a common man and those with clout – be it money or political. While a common man may struggle to get even a report registered for a serious crime like rape, authorities have no qualms in deploying the entire district police on priority to search a couple of missing buffaloes belonging to a politician. Court cases linger on for decades and no one is answerable. If this delay leads to tampering of evidence, volte face by witnesses or intimidation of witnesses into submission then so be it.  The severity of the case or the need for swift closure in some cases where there is national outrage does not make any difference. The Nirbhaya case, despite assurances at the highest level, took more than seven years to reach a closure. The current outrage and support for encounter killings was definitely a manifestation of this frustration.

In 2015 in Nagaland, a rape accused was forcibly taken out of a police lock up by a local mob, paraded nude in the town and then lynched in public with police unable to do anything. Add to it the recent encounter in Hyderabad. Is this the kind of justice that we want to prevail in our country? Should police act on its own in case of a mob frenzy or agitation by family of the victim and their supporters? Should the nation’s judicial system overlook such indiscretions on part of authorities? Is it right for parliamentarians to encourage such extra judicial killings on floor of the house? Will this not encourage public to either take law into their own hands or force the police to do so? If such acts are eulogised or encouraged, will Indian law system, as laid down in our constitution, not be compromised totally? Given the partisan ways of our police will this not lead to a whole lot of other problems in future?

Surely no sane Indian wants his country to reach a stage where vigilantism or mob rule prevails. Equally no Indian wants a nation where its female population is not safe. While crime against women is a universal problem, in Indian context it becomes more critical because of the apathy of our judicial and law enforcing agencies. It may not be wrong to assume that this apathy encourages some to venture into such despicable crimes. The need for efficient police and investigating agencies supported by a proactive judicial system are the basic requirements to tackle the issue of such crimes against women. The rapid resolution of such crimes with exemplary punishment cannot be overemphasised as it not only acts as a deterrent but also offers some sense of justice to victims who are scarred for life.

However, it is important to understand that sexual and other crimes against women in our country are part of a social problem of huge magnitude. Factors like lack of education, social and economic disparities, medieval mind sets on role and status of women play an important part in perpetuation of such crimes. Our political leaders have played no mean role in encouraging violence and crimes against women by their ill-conceived and ill-timed mutterings from time to time. It has to be understood that the male chauvinistic idea of a woman being confined within the walls of a home is passé. The nation as a whole must accept and practice the idea of gender equality in all possible ways. Unfortunately there is hardly any deliberate and sustained attempt by central or state governments to create this social awareness. All that one sees is mere lip service from political and social leaders for selfish motives from time to time. This change in the mind set of our society needs decades of effort. The pity is that we have not even made a credible beginning as yet.

Will 06 December 2019 will go down in our judicial history as a momentous day or as a black day that time alone will tell. However, its frightening implications certainly merit serious thought from the nation as a whole. It is time the nation’s leadership and authorities take corrective measures to measure up to the expectations of the people when it comes to dealing with such heinous and grave crimes against women. If this does not happen, then increasingly people will either take law into their own hands or force the authorities to do so. And that is a very worrisome thought for any sane citizen.

Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.

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