Why the Hyderabad rape accused encounter sets a dangerous precedent

Sayan Ganguly
Why the Hyderabad rape accused encounter sets a dangerous precedent

“Equality maybe a fiction but nonetheless one must accept it as a governing principle “- Dr BR Ambedkar

On Dr BR Ambedkar’s death anniversary, the fundamental rights of our constitution were flouted and done away with. The four accused in the rape and killing of a Hyderabad veterinary doctor were shot dead in a police encounter in the early hours of December 6. The police said that it was an act of self defence as the accused grabbed their weapons, tried to fire upon the cops and run away while the crime scene was being re-constructed. While there are many questions that arise — whether it was deliberate or need of the hour — what cannot be argued is that such extra judicial killings cannot be the order of the day.

As the country breaks into jubilation and calls for more such actions for rapists, we need to ask ourselves whether this would be healthy for our society. Agreed, our judiciary has not lived up to the expectations of the commoners. The Nirbhaya case dragging on for over seven years is the biggest example. In fact, a fast track court was set up for the Hyderabad rape case so that justice could be delivered in a relatively shorter time span. Well, that won’t be necessary, now!

While we are aware of the failings of our judiciary, we should also look at two cases of importance from the recent past in which the judiciary acquitted the rape accused and justice was delivered. In 2017, the nation was shocked when a 7-year-old boy’s body was discovered in one of the washrooms of Ryan International school in Gurgaon. Under public pressure to deliver swift justice, the police arrested the bus conductor Ashok Kumar and said he had tried to sexually abuse the boy before killing him. The conductor even confessed to it. The matter, then, moved to court. After the CBI gave Ashok Kumar a clean chit, the court upheld the CBI investigation, maintaining that there were no traces of sexual assault and there were no blood stains on Ashok Kumar’s shirt, either. A 16-year-old senior of the same school was the real culprit here.

Next, the high-profile Kathua rape and murder case. The only person to have been acquitted in the case was the son of mastermind Sanjhi Ram, Vishal Jangotra. As many as three eye witnesses had said that Vishal was present at the scene of crime. The court gave more importance to Vishal’s landlady who said he was in Meerut where he was studying at the time of incident. Vishal also presented his signature on the college attendance register on the fateful day. This was another instance where the accused was acquitted.

Consider this, a man, with the right connections, commits an act of rape. With help of the state, he gets away and some poor man is framed. Under coercion, the man may agree to the crime. However, if it is believed that the case may not hold any water in the court of law, the man can be done away with while in custody — either shot under the pretext of ‘self defence’ or a vague accident. There is no conceivable way to know of such cover-ups.

The former Chief Justice of India Justice Venkatachaliah had stated that “under our laws the police have not been conferred any right to take away the life of another person”, and “if, by his act, the policeman kills a person, he commits the offence of culpable homicide whether amounting to the offence of murder or not unless it is proved that such killing was not an offence under the law”. Under Section 46 of the Crpc, there are two exceptions to this — one done in an act of self defence or when at the time of arrest if the accused is being resistant, a cop “may use all means necessary to effect the arrest”.

This happens to be the second such encounter of a similar nature in Telangana. One name that rings out loud from both instances is that of Cyberabad Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar. Back in 2008, when Sajjanar was the superintendent, three men accused of an acid attack were shot down in Warrangal as they allegedly tried to attack the cops and flee.

Was he under any sort of pressure? Or, were these two incidents mere coincidences? These are only answers which we hope time will provide us with.

If the rape accused encounter was indeed a murder, then the most essential fundamental right to life and liberty under Article 21 and equality before law under Article 14 were murdered in broad daylight while the whole nation rejoiced. For now, the encounter has taken the whole narrative away from the inefficacy of our police and judicial system when it comes to dealing with rape victims.