THE four suspects in the Hyderabad rape and murder case have been killed by the police in an early morning “encounter”. This “encounter” has all the hallmarks of a custodial murder, dressed up to look like an “encounter”. Since the suspects were in police custody, and thus unarmed, it is clear that the police is lying when it claims they were killed when “attacking the police” at the crime scene where they had been taken to “recreate” the events of the night the rape-murder occurred.
We, as a country, will now be told that “justice” has been done, the victim avenged. And now we can all go back to business as usual, reassured that our police, our government, our society are righteous, and the evil rapists are no more.But this justice is counterfeit. A system that offers murder as “justice” is a system that is telling women – we can’t ensure the streets are safe, can’t investigate crimes against women to ensure there’s enough evidence to prove guilt, can’t protect rape survivors (one was burnt alive yesterday in UP), can’t ensure that survivors get dignity in Court. All they can do is act like a lynch mob and ask us, the people, to accept lynching as the only possible justice.
We must also remember that these four men were suspects. We do not know if there was a shred of evidence proving their guilt, beyond the custodial confessions which police in India routinely obtain through torture. Torture does not reveal truth. Tortured men will say anything the torturers want to hear. So we do not even know whether the four men killed are really the ones who raped and killed the doctor in Hyderabad.
The same Hyderabad police which mocked the desperate attempts of the victim’s parents to find their daughter, which is issuing “Dos and Donts for women”, i.e telling women to stay home after 8 pm because the police can’t/won’t do their job of keeping streets safe, is now telling us to believe they caught and “punished” the rapists, and acted as Judge, jury and executioner. This is a cruel joke.
Women’s movement groups will be the first to say – this is not justice. This is a ploy to shut down our demand for accountability from the police, judiciary, governments, and justice and dignity for women. Instead of being accountable to his job and answering our questions about his Government’s failures to safeguard women’s rights, the Telangana CM and his police have acted as leaders of a lynch mob.
For those arguing this kind of custodial killing is a “deterrent”, think again. The Hyderabad and Telangana police are notorious for this kind of custodial murder. In 2008, the Hyderabad police committed the custodial murder of three men accused in an acid attack case. That murder didn’t deter crimes against women in Hyderabad, Telangana, or India. Acid attacks, rapes, murders of women continue to happen with impunity.
We demand a thorough investigation into the alleged “encounter”. The police personnel responsible must be arrested and prosecuted, and must be asked to prove in court that all four men were killed in self defence. Why is this important, not only for human rights but for women’s rights? Because a police force that can kill with impunity, no questions asked, can also rape and kill women with impunity, confident that no questions will be asked. Remember the case of teenage Meena Khalkho in Chhattisgarh, gang raped and killed by Chhattisgarh police who then dressed up the killing as an encounter, branding Meena a Maoist. A judicial enquiry found that the encounter was staged to cover up a gang rape and murder by the police. That gang of rapists and killers are yet to face trial, yet to face any kind of justice.
Many TV channels and right wing social media armies will tell you that we, the women’s movement activists, are the enemy because we do not accept custodial murder and lynching as justice. These channels and armies are the same who defended the rallies held to protect the accused in the Kathua case, the same who defend the Kathua rapists even after they were convicted in a court of law! They are the same who brand the complainant in the CJI Gogoi sexual harassment case as a liar, the same who slut-shame JNU and Jadavpur women students who complain of sexual harassment, the same who defend the gang rape accused MLA Kuldeep Sengar.
We, activists of the women’s movement, continue to demand substantive justice for women. We want the police to do its job, and protect women’s rights, not act as Judge and executioner. We do not want a mythical “collective conscience” appeased by the murder of men the police declare to be rapists. We want society’s conscience to change and be more respectful and supportive of women complainants in rape and sexual harassment cases, and more alert and active in rejecting victim blaming and rape culture.