Bundelkhand on the Hyderabad Rape Case Encounter.
“I think this was in some way to appease the strong public reaction.”, says Uma Kushwaha. The Regional Vice President of Jan Adhikar Party does not mince her words when it comes to seeing the glaring difference in meting out justice for a similar crime. “If you take the case of the Unnao rape case, there was a delay in registering the case. She was fighting the case all on her own. And yet, they managed to burn her alive. What about that?”. Referring to the Delhi gangrape case from 2012, she points out the difference in treatment of each case. “There are three different cases, for a similar crime. One where you think an encounter Is a fitting punishment, in the other the perpetrators have been languishing in jail for seven years and in the third one no action is being taken.”
The Hyderabad rape and killing by burning alive the victim sent shockwaves across the country. It was the footage captured from a CCTV camera located near the toll plaza where the doctor would park her two-wheeler that helped the police identify and arrest the men who were accused of committing the crime. But it is their alleged encounter soon after their capture that has evoked an equally strong reaction. Rapes and especially gruesome ones like the Hyderabad rape case get loud demands for swift and final justice. Through protests, public discourse and petitions the citizens have been demanding concrete actions that will help reduce such crimes. But political will has not been able to catch up with public fervour.
One measure that the government had taken to ensure the public of a fair and swift legal recourse was to mandate a fast track court in every district of the country. Till July of 2019 only 664 such courts were operational in the country. With the Hyderabad rape, the killing and then the encounter of the accused, there is now a sharp focus on how badly our justice and police system have failed us.
Gulabi Gang’s Commander Sampat Pal is of the viewpoint that no matter how severe the crime, it does not warrant the law being broken. “How did the encounter happen so fast? It takes at least 90 days to finish due process to prove the crime. This (the rape) was definitely a very painful incident, but it does not mean you can take the law in your hands. When the law-enforcers themselves start taking the law in their hands, then you can forget about the general public following the law of the land.”
But not all are disgruntled with how justice has been served. Sadhana Dwivedi, a lawyer in Banda, feels that rapes and sexual violence against women and minors is on the rise with not much being done about it. “So, this action of the police is probably the best thing they could do. I appreciate this action.” Some citizens that we spoke to, see this as a pre-mediated action to circumvent the legal system. Ram Pravesh Yadav, a social worker, finds it hard to believe that the accused could wrest guns away from seasoned policemen, as has been claimed. “They took them to the scene of the crime at around 5:30 in the morning, when no one would be around. This means that everyone would have no option but to believe whatever story they put out. Who knows whether the accused are actually the perpetrators? I am not in favour of the rapists but what if it turned out that these were not the right men?”
With the public hue and cry against the encounter, the state government was questioned by the SC. Now, the Supreme Court has set up a three-member enquiry commission to investigate the killing of the rape and murder suspects. The SC has further issued that no separate authority or court can investigate the matter further. The case maybe underway, but the Telangana government and police department have the support of their counterparts across the country. Upper SP of Banda, Lal Bharat Kumar Pal, is convinced that the encounter happened due to extenuating circumstances and was probably unavoidable. “There is no way that police would otherwise use excessive violence.”
Across Bundelkhand, the acceptance of this sort of vigilante justice is divided. As a journalist, Anand, condemns this action because of the very possible repercussions in the near future where the general public will think it is ok to take the law in their hands, with a high probability that innocent people can fall prey to mob frenzy.
“What stands out is how this case in particular was handled in such a rushed manner.”, says Shabina Mumtaz, who is part of the leadership of Vanangana, a feminist group based in Bundelkhand. “Compare this to the Unnao case, the Delhi gangrape case and many other cases of violence against women, where one is trying to get justice in a lawful manner. But in this one, you are doing an encounter. This is a violation of human rights. What is the point of just creating commissions if they are of no use?”
Clearly the need of the hour is the correct and quick implementation of justice through fast track courts. Like Section 28(1) of the POSCO Act of 2012, which stipulates a fast track court in every district for cases of sexual violence against children. But as the government machinery slowly cranks into action, the backlog keeps increasing. As per the NCRB data, there are 33,658 reported cases of rape and sexual assault in India in 2017. And 88% of all rape cases in Indian courts were pending in 2017. What we need is a re-haul of the judiciary and police that does not delay justice. So that we no never have to resort to vigilantism as our only recourse.