Even as new Chief Justice of India SA Bobde, in a veiled reference to encounter killing of rapists in Hyderabad late last week, remarked that ‘justice loses its character as it becomes revenge’, several public representatives including ministers in Telangana justified the encounter by saying that the Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao ‘was determined to do justice to Disha.’ Some also contended that the Telangana chief minister was one up on the prime minister because the Hyderabad rapists were killed in record time while the accused of the Nirbhaya case were still in jail.
Celebrations erupted in Telangana after the encounter killing of Disha case alleged rapists with sizeable sections of citizenry hailing the police action. This not only included the family members and relatives of Disha but a section of women some who offered flowers to police at many public intersections to congratulate them. “I am a bit confused,’ said Telangana high court criminal lawyer Rachna Reddy and added: ‘On the one hand I am happy that just desserts have been meted out to the alleged rapists but on the other hand I am upset because the due process of law has not been followed.”
But Seetha Murthy, director of Silver Oak group of schools is happy.” This was the best way to deal with rapists.” Facebook is also replete with congratulatory messages for Cyberabad police commissioner VC Sajjanar (under whose jurisdiction both the rape and the encounter killing of the alleged rapists took place). “My hero” read multiple FB posts about Sajjanar, an IPS officer of the 1996 batch who had been involved in encounter cases even before.
Many women activists were unhappy about the encounter – but faced with public fury – many could not muster enough courage to express themselves openly. However, recently retired special chief secretary of Telangana, Vinod Agarwal wrote on FB: “The cold-blooded murder of unarmed persons in your custody is shameful. The job of police is to prevent crime and once it happens to investigate it and bring the culprit to justice. Police has abdicated its responsibility and abrogated both the role of judiciary and hangman,” he wrote.
Lawless acts of police
“Police encounters are not uncommon in Telangana and were quite common when the Maoist movement was strong. At that time there was silent public approval for encounters and this has strengthened the police to often resort to lawless acts and this has continued,” says Sudha Rani (name changed), a women professional in Hyderabad. She pointed out that the creation of Telangana was aimed at breaking down forces of feudalism but this has not happened. There have been efforts to rapidly increase urbanisation in Hyderabad and expand the size of the city and this has led to prices of land rapidly escalating. There has been a commensurate increase in land disputes all of which may not be settled in courts. In a month-old matter, the women Tahsildar in Greater Hyderabad was set ablaze in her office by an angry land litigant who threw petrol on her and put a lighted match stick. The litigant who had sold away a piece of land which had little value wanted it back now because the prices have now escalated. Those in the know of things say that many unscrupulous police and revenue officers are involved in taking sides in land deals and might use coercion to achieve favourable results.
“The rule of law is paramount and should be prevalent at all times,” says Ashar Farhan, who runs Lamakan, an open cultural centre in Hyderabad which hosted a talk on the rape and its aftermath. “Met many people and watched panel discussions on TV and no one has bought the police encounter story that the culprits were killed when they tried to snatch riles from policemen and tried to run away. But everyone is saying that police have done the right thing by willing them,” says Vinay Kumar, a surgeon and vice president of the intellectual cell of the Congress party. BJP’s official spokesperson in Telangana Krishnasagar Rao pointed out that “one minister of KCR’s government had remarked on TV that the chief minister had the 4 accused killed in a staged encounter. He has brazenly tried to take political advantage of the encounter incident and leverage the heinous crime and surge of people’s emotion for petty political expediency”, Rao added.
Now the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is investigating the encounter killing, but while the report is being awaited it is clear that while Telangana is trying to get in investments and has already signed up deals with top-grade companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and DuPont among a few, the social fabric remains feudal and the response of the government to problems is also similar. The issue is whether you can have a feudal social set up in a capitalist environment which can flourish only when there is rule of law. That’s the million-dollar question.
Kingshuk Nag is an author and a journalist.