A week after a young veterinarian was gang-raped and burnt to death in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, all the four arrested suspects were killed in a rare shootout while attempting to flee police after attacking them early on Friday.
That night, another young rape victim, who was stabbed and set on fire by five men on Thursday, died in a Delhi hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest. The woman was attacked while she was on her way to testify in a court in Rae Bareilly against those who raped her in Unnao in Uttar Pradesh last December.
The two horrific attacks on women happening within a span of eight days shook the conscience of the nation and revived debate on women’s safety and the need for fast-track courts to ensure speedy justice to rape victims and survivors.
The father of the slain veterinarian, who cannot be named under Indian law, hailed the action by Telangana state police. He said he never expected justice would be delivered so fast to his daughter. This would make her soul rest in peace, he added.
Friday’s shootout happened between 5.45am and 6 am in a desolate field dotted with trees and bushes at Chatanapally, some 30 kilometres from Hyderabad and 100 yards away from the underpass where the suspects allegedly raped and burned the 26-year-old vet to destroy evidence as she was returning home after work on Nov 27.
The incident sparked nationwide protests with one MP even saying in Parliament that the four accused should be lynched since, according to her, the judicial process is painfully slow in dealing with such cases.
Sensing rising public anger against the accused, a ten-member police team took them to the crime scene before daybreak to help them recover the cell phone of the victim.
Cops come under attack
Addressing a press conference later in the day, the Commissioner of Cyberabad Police, Vishwanath Sajjanar, said a lot of time was wasted in finding the victim’s phone as the suspects kept misleading the officers on where they had hidden it in the underpass.
Suddenly, they attacked the officers with rocks and sticks lying on the ground. Two of them snatched the guns from the officers and started firing before making a desperate dash into the nearby field ignoring police warnings to surrender.
The fleeing suspects kept firing at the officers and police retaliated in self-defence killing all the four. Two police personnel injured in the shootout were taken to a hospital.
Police later recovered the victim’s cell phone.
Sajjanar said the accused confessed to raping and burning the veterinarian adding that they may be involved in several unsolved rape-murder cases in Karnataka and Telangana.
Suspect visits petrol pumps
Besides the confession, police got crucial CCTV footage of one of the suspects, Jolla Siva, approaching a petrol pump attendant with a bottle around 1am on Nov 28 to buy loose fuel.
The assistant refuses to sell loose petrol as Siva’s looks and response to questions arouse suspicion.
Holding the bottle at the neck, Siva says something and walks away.
The filling station attendant told media that Siva then walked some distance to the spot where he had parked the victim’s scooter and rode off.
The vet was raped after 9.45pm when her younger sister found the victim’s cell phone switched off. Three hours later, Siva was visiting various petrol pumps for loose fuel to burn her body.
Cops turn heroes overnight
As soon as the news of the shootout spread on Friday, locals made a beeline to the bridge above Chatanapally underpass to get a clear view of the field where the bodies of the four suspects lay.
Police taped off the area and raised a makeshift tent for forensic experts to carry out their examination.
Officers who were lampooned by everyone for their failure to prevent the vet’s rape and murder became heroes overnight. Several people showered flower petals on them from the bridge. Women met them to distribute sweets.
People across cities in India celebrated the killing of the suspects by bursting crackers in the streets.
A large section of the public justified police action, telling media that the situation demanded it. Had the four suspects escaped police custody, it would have drawn intense criticism, they argued.
Some said justice has been delivered to the rape victim. However, they expressed frustration over the slow criminal justice system. Others acknowledged that the police action was not strictly legal but this was the best they could do to stop the accused from fleeing.
‘Extra-judicial killings’ condemned
Human rights groups, lawyers and left-leaning politicians denounced the “extra-judicial killings” by police.
The deadly ‘encounter’ near the underpass was “stage-managed” by police to ease the pressure on them by public, media and politicians, they alleged.
Such short-cuts by police to redeem themselves
was a clear violation of the rule of law and the shootout has to be
investigated, they said.
Activists questioned the odd hour chosen by police for evidence collection. They wondered why the suspects were not handcuffed.
Many of them said it was hard to believe two of the suspects snatched the guns from the holster, unlocked them and started firing at the officers.
Sajjannar told media the guns were in unlocked position when they were snatched from the officers.
The suspects were taken to the crime scene around 4.30m to 5am to escape public notice and collect crucial evidence without any hindrance.
Police may not have handcuffed the suspects respecting a Supreme Court order which says prisoners cannot be handcuffed without judicial consent.
Many felt rights activists and others were wrong to conclude that cops were lying on the encounter.
‘Hang rapists at the earliest’
Asha Devi, mother of another rape victim Nirbhaya, hailed the action by Telangana police. Devi said those who had sexually assaulted and killed her daughter seven years ago in Delhi must be hanged at the earliest.
Speaking at two different functions, President of India Ram Nath Kovind said there should be no provision of mercy pleas for rapists of children adding that a lot needs to be done to ensure the safety of women.
He also said the judicial process has gone beyond the reach of the common man.
Politicians of mainstream and regional parties tried to capitalise on Chatanapally and Unnao incidents on Saturday.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called India the “rape capital of the world” prompting the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to ask him to come up with valid facts to prove his claims.
Rahul’s comment is an insult to India and its prime minister, Narendra Modi, a party spokesman said.
Blaming the BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh government for the death of the Unnao rape victim, former state chief minister Akhilesh Yadav of Samajwadi Party (SP) staged a sit-in before the governor’s office in Lucknow.
Yadav seemed to have forgotten the comment made by his father and SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav in 2014 while opposing capital punishment for rape.
He then trivialised rape by saying: “Boys will be boys… they commit mistakes.”
Unao rape victim’s last words
The Unnao rape victim, who was set on fire on Thursday by five men, died in Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital at 11.40pm on Friday.
In her statement to police, the woman said five people, including two of her rapists released on bail, stopped her at a crossing as she was going to attend a court hearing related to her case.
The men set her on fire when she rejected their request to withdraw the case against those who assaulted her in December last year.
According to the victim’s brother, her last words from hospital bed were: “I want to live to see that the rapists are hanged”.