Hyderabad police’s version of the encounter killing of the four accused in the gang rape and murder of a veterinary doctor raises more questions than it answers.
It was too much of a coincidence that the accused were shot dead in the early hours of Friday (December 6) at exactly the same spot near Shadnagar on the Hyderabad-Bengaluru highway where the charred body of the victim was found eight days ago.
The accused, who were in police custody following a court order, were taken to the spot for “reconstruction of the crime scene and evidence collection” at 3 am. It was then the accused tried to flee into the nearby fields after snatching guns from the policemen and were shot dead in the ensuing encounter, Cyberabad Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar told the media.
However, the very move to take the accused to the crime scene at that time of the night appears highly unusual. The reason given by the police is that since the public has been baying for the blood of the accused, they had to be taken to the spot under the cover of darkness.
The question then arises is why the police did not bother to ensure a tight security cover for the accused in such a high-profile case.
In fact, sensing a threat of lynching by co-prisoners, the police had heightened security at the Cherlapally Central Jail in Hyderabad where the four accused — Mohammad Arif, Jollu Naveen, Jollu Shiva and Ch Chennakeshavulu — were lodged. Additional police personnel were deployed and orders banning the assembly of people near the jail premises were also issued.
There was no satisfactory answer from the police authorities on how did the accused try to flee when such precautions were in place. Moreover, the unarmed accused did not have any prior criminal history. The Shadnagar Police — under the purview of the Cyberabad Commissionerate’s jurisdiction — had taken the four accused into custody on Thursday (December 5) night following a court order.
A 10-member team from Shadnagar police station, located around 50 kms from Hyderabad, reportedly took the four accused to the crime scene as part of the investigation. They were taken to an under-bridge near Chatanpalli village where the charred remains of the rape-murder victim were found.
The visuals of the encounter site showed three of the accused lying on the ground in close proximity.
The police commissioner said an inspector and a few constables were injured in the attack by the accused. “Police opened fire in self-defence, leading to the death of all the four accused,” Sajjanar said. The encounter occurred between 5.45 am to 6.50 am, he said.
“We brought them to the spot early in the morning to recover the objects which the victim had left. We found a power bank, a watch and a cellphone belonging to the victim,” he said.
“The accused then attacked the police personnel with sticks, snatched their weapons and started firing on them. The officers warned them and asked them to surrender but they continued firing. Then, we returned fire, killing them on the spot,” Sajjannar said. The entire operation lasted 10-15 minutes, he said.
Never mind the gaping holes in the police version of the encounter, instant celebrations broke out on the streets of Hyderabad and nearby villages. Crackers were burst, sweets distributed and flowers showered on policemen as people gathered in large numbers, raising slogans in praise of the Telangana police and Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao. Women from nearby villages also tied “rakhis” on the hands of policemen for eliminating the accused.
Ironically, it was the same police that came under severe attack last week for failing to act in time and prevent the crime. When the parents of the victim approached the police last week, they refused to register a complaint citing jurisdictional issues or conduct a search around the toll plaza near Shamshabad from where the veterinarian was abducted.
However, they became heroes overnight and started trending on social media after the encounters. From politicians across party lines and celebrities to film stars and sportsperson, congratulatory messages flooded hailing the policemen for their brave action.
Also read | When will we go beyond drama to end rapes?
A few dissenting voices from human rights activists, intellectuals and some individual politicians, who questioned the extra-judicial killings and the vigilante justice, were drowned in the flood of praises for the policemen.
Reminiscent of Warangal encounter
The latest encounter is eerily similar to the one that occurred in Telangana’s Warangal town in 2008. Two engineering students were attacked with acid outside the gate of their college in December, 2008 in a suspected case of spurned love.
Amid outspread public outrage over the incident, the three suspects were swiftly gunned down by the police in what was widely believed as a fake encounter. However, the killings were largely welcomed by the people.
Incidentally, Sajjanar, a 1996 batch IPS officer, was the Warangal district superintendent of police when the incident occurred.
Victim’s parents welcome encounter killings
“My daughter’s soul must be at peace now. We are thankful to the Telangana government, the police and those who supported us,” the victim’s father told the media after the accused were killed in the encounter.
“There should be a change in law that ensures rapists are hanged to death immediately even if they just look at a woman,” the victim’s mother added.
NHRC takes suo motu cognisance
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognisance of the encounter killing on Friday and decided to a send a team to investigate the matter.
“The Commission has asked its Director General (Investigation) to immediately send a team for fact-finding on the spot for investigation into the matter. The team of the Investigation Division of the Commission, headed by an SSP, is expected to leave immediately and submit their report, at the earliest,” the NHRC said in a statement.