The Disha case must be the only instance in modern India where a police force has been feted for the manner in which it handled a brutal rape and murder. Such has been the adulation for the Telangana cops since they killed the four men accused of committing the crime that any attempt to question the encounter is met with hostility from people of all hues. As if India has finally found a fool-proof way of fighting rapes and no one should come in the way.
Taking advantage of this mood, the Andhra Pradesh assembly recently passed a law which gives the death penalty to rape convicts and provides for the trial to be completed in 21 days. The general consensus is rapists must be killed as quickly as possible. If it means ignoring existing laws, so be it.
But do encounters and the death penalty deter rapists? December 26 marked one month of Disha’s brutal rape and murder. Between November 26 and December 18, TOI reported seven rapes in Telangana – one rape roughly every three days after Disha was raped and killed. Andhra Pradesh, on the other hand, reported 13 rapes between November 26 and December 20. In 12 of these cases, the survivor was a minor.
Around the same time, a rape survivor was set on fire and killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Unnao because she insisted on pursuing the case against her rapists; a law student was gang-raped by 12 men in Jharkhand; a girl in Bihar’s Buxar district was gang-raped, shot and her body set on fire; a girl was shot in Bihar’s Rohtas district for resisting rape and another woman in Uttar Pradesh was set on fire, again for resisting rape.
This only means that a police encounter, as a way of delivering justice and reducing crime, is as ineffective as our courts are perceived to be. One can understand the acceptance for encounters if the killing of the accused in one heinous crime leads to an immediate and noticeable drop in the crime graph of a particular region. But that hasn’t happened in this case. You can’t expect a gradual ebb in India’s rape graph many months after an encounter.
Amid the ‘kill all rapists’ cry, the newly appointed Chief Justice of India, S A Bobde, sent out a message of sanity just one day after the encounter in Hyderabad when he said that justice should never be instant. “Justice loses its character of justice if it becomes a revenge,” he also said.
He could have added that in this age of governments across India dishing out populist schemes, justice also cannot be a freebie that is doled out to keep the masses happy. It cannot be treated like a kilo of rice or a cheque of a few thousand rupees to a farmer struggling to make ends meet.
There was a strong demand, both among people and parliamentarians, for instant, retributive justice after Disha’s brutal rape. And, as if on cue, the accused reportedly attacked the police and tried to escape from custody on December 6, leading to all four of them being killed in an apparent shootout. Almost immediately, anger against the Telangana police for the initial lapses in registering the first FIR in Disha’s case subsided and people started showering them with petals.
But justice is justice when competing claims are resolved through a fair and impartial process and the accused, no matter how heinous the crimes, are heard and given a chance to present evidence before they punished. Even the Code of Hammurabi – the oldest surviving written down legal code in human history dating back 3,700 years – recommended that both the accused and the accuser get a chance to present evidence. This is what separates civilised society from barbarism and anarchy.
Then there is the question of what actually occurred, the facts of the case. There is every possibility that the police version is true and that the four were killed as a last resort. But there are also many questions in this alibi that need to be answered. For instance, why were the four men not handcuffed before being brought out of jail? How could cops accompanying them be so casual as to allow them to snatch loaded guns?
According to the police version, safety catches on the two firearms that were snatched were unlocked, allowing the accused to open fire despite never having fired a gun before. Were the four accused, who had angered the entire country with their brutality, being accompanied by novice cops?
There is no doubt that our courts move slowly. That by the time a final order comes, the very purpose of going to court is often defeated. But the answer cannot lie in an extrajudicial system where the rulebook does not apply. If you feel the wheels of justice are not turning, find ways of making them move, either with systemic changes or by building pressure on the institutions that deliver justice. You can’t say that you will sidestep the rule of law whenever it is convenient.
Also, you can’t commit a crime to punish criminals. If you do so, you defeat the very purpose of fighting crime. You become what you aim to eliminate.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.