Hyderabad encounter: Politicians divided over police action, activists call for probe

National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of killings and ordered inquiry

India Gang Rape People gather near the site where four men suspected of raping and killing a woman were killed in Shadnagar some 50 kilometers or 31 miles from Hyderabad | AP

All four accused in the rape and murder of a young veterinarian were shot dead by police on Friday during a pre-dawn exchange of fire near Hyderabad, a top police official said, as the killings were largely greeted with praise but also sparked concerns over extra-judicial executions.

The four men were arrested on November 29 for allegedly raping and killing the 25-year-old woman by smothering her and later burning her body, an incident that led to widespread outrage and brought back memories of the December 16, 2012 gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy intern in Delhi. They were remanded to seven-day judicial custody.

Police said the killings took place between 5.45 am and 6.15 am when the accused, 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—who were not handcuffed— were in police custody, it said.

Cyberabad commissioner of police V.C. Sajjanar told reporters his men resorted to "retaliatory" firing after two of the accused opened fire at 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.

The snatched weapons were in "unlocked" position, he added.

The accused were not handcuffed when the firing took place and the incident happened between 5.45 am and 6.15 am this morning, he said.

A police sub-inspector and a constable suffered head injuries and were undergoing treatment, 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 added.

News of the 'encounter' killing led to celebrations in some quarters and concern in others.

The father and the sister of the woman veterinarian said they were very happy and thanked the Telangana government and police.

"We watched on TV that they were killed in an encounter. We are very happy. Even people are happy. I thank the Telangana government and police for the encounter. I thank everyone who stood by us," the father told the media.

The young woman's sister hoped the killings would be a deterrent for others.

"With this incident people should be scared to commit such crimes (against women)," she said.

While the woman veterinarian has come to be known as 'Disha' (direction), the Delhi girl was dubbed Nirbhaya (the fearless one).

People showered flower petals and paid homage to the veterinarian and raised slogans that justice had been done. Some shouted "Telangana Police zindabad"

Men and women distributed sweets to police personnel even as some celebrated the killing by bursting fire crackers near the encounter site and in other parts of Hyderabad.

"It has brought peace to the soul of Disha and her family has got justice. They (police) have done encounter we are really happy. It will act as a deterrent. Those want to do crime they should fear... the police have done a very good job," a city resident said.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took cognisance of the killings and ordered an inquiry.

In a statement, the apex human rights body said the encounter was a matter of concern and needed to be probed carefully.

Several rights activists spoke out to express their outrage and said the police cannot act like a lynch mob under any circumstance.

The encounter is an attempt by authorities to distract people from the government's failures to safeguard women's rights, the activists said, calling for an exhaustive inquiry.

According to Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, the killing of the four men is not justice but a "ploy" to shut down demands for accountability from the police, judiciary, governments, and justice and dignity for women.

Detailing the events leading to the exchange of fire, Sajjanar said the police team 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.

A medical team reached the spot and a doctor told reporters post-mortem will be conducted in nearby Mahabubnagar district.

Defending the police action, Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao termed it as "correct and timely" given the situation.

Many political leaders stepped into the growing debate on the circumstances that led to the killing.

Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan, who had recently advocated lynching of rapists in Parliament, said the killing of the four men was "long due".

"Better late than never," she said.

BSP president Mayawati also praised the police for its strong action against the accused.

But there were others who expressed their consternation.

Congress leader and Lok Sabha member Shashi Tharoor said extrajudicial killings were not acceptable.

"We need to know more... Until details emerge we should not rush to condemn. But extrajudicial killings are otherwise unacceptable in a society of laws," he tweeted.

BJP leader Maneka Gandhi slammed the police and said it set a "horrifying" precedent.

National Commission for Women chief Rekha Sharma said she was happy the perpetrators were dead, but justice should have been done through proper legal channels.