here are several takeaways from the array of incidents (surrounding some sensational rape cases) that have taken place over the past week. These are bound to place any sentient being on the horns of a dilemma. Three highlights of the week were: The four men accused in the rape and murder of a 26-year woman veterinarian were killed in an ‘encounter’; the Unnao rape survivor was attacked and set ablaze by a gang, including two of the accused enlarged on bail, and she succumbed in hospital to the 90 per cent burns she sustained; and Vinay Sharma, one of the four convicts in the Nirbhaya rape and murder case, has sought to withdraw his mercy plea currently under consideration of the President’s office.
The ‘encounter’ that saw all four accused in the Hyderabad veterinarian rape-murder case — Mohammad Areef (main), Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen, and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu — being shot has opened several new questions, in addition to the unanswered ones the rape-murder itself had raised. The Hyderabad police gave a Wild Wild West like twist to a case that might have had fresh mysteries to unravel had law taken its due course instead of a short-cut. The first doubt that has arisen is whether the people who have died are the real perpetrators of the crime. More than establishing whether the four men shot dead by the police were victims of an extra-judicial action, it is important to know whether they were the actual rapists and murderers of the vet. In the absence of a full investigation it will be difficult for women of Hyderabad to rest assured that justice has been done. Till now, it appears, the police have taken action chiefly based on confessions made by the accused. It is not known whether the statements were made under duress. We will, perhaps, never know. Also, even as the police claim that the accused were taken to the crime scene early in the morning to avoid interruptions or violence on the part of people, one conspicuous fact is that the police do not seem to have a video of such an important crime scene investigation. Perhaps a crime that has hogged the headlines nationally required at least that much for the police to be in the safe zone. There are several such observable gaps in the police story that need to be filled. What is even more worrying is that the Hyderabad police have now been hailed as heroes, although lapses on their part in terms of providing adequate security to denizens has definitely had a decisive role to play in the way things went in the instant case. Not heroes, they may emerge as the worst kind of rogues in the near future.
If the Hyderabad police have indeed taken the easy way out of a challenging investigation, as is apparent, it is akin to an old joke that goes something like this: Three people, a sports coach, a scientist and a police constable are given a task. They are asked how they could make the tortoise of the fable perform better in the race with the hare. The sports coach details exercise and diet regimens for the tortoise, besides the works, to speed it up and ultimately to enable it to win the race. The scientist says he would study the weaknesses of the tortoise and build a special supportive exoskeleton made of state-of-the-art materials that will help it overcome inabilities and beat the hare hands down. Finally, the police constable is asked what he would do. And he says without batting an eyelid that he would get a jackass, torture him, make him confess he is the tortoise, run the race and also maintain the lead all the way through to the end. It is also a win. But the question is whether we want such a victory. Somewhere deep within, the answer might be ‘Yes’, but ground realities and social order seeks a bigger ‘No’. The strong ‘Yes’ could be the result of inner frustrations and terrible rage being experienced by every aware citizen of this nation about the inordinate delay in our justice system. The incident at Atappallam near Palakkad, Kerala is no surprise. Kutty Madhu, one of the accused, in the Walayar rape and subsequent death case of two siblings was spotted by people in a market where a mob attacked and beat him up mercilessly. He had been recently released by a POCSO court. This event clearly shows how the common citizen is exhilarated to take law unto his own hands and deal out instant justice. Even animals do not have such a system.
Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati seemed to praise the Hyderabad police for their action and sought the Uttar Pradesh police to emulate that force. The UP police needs no lessons in encounters. It is, for them, merely a reminder that someone else may be in the race for pole position. It is also suspect whether they could dare to take a similar action against a gang that is reported to have links to leaders from the ruling party.
In one way, the death of the rape survivor in Unnao itself is an encounter in another form. It was the legal system itself that let the accused loose to prey on the unfortunate woman who dared to stand up and complain. No safety was provided to her. Uttar Pradesh has announced that the case will be heard by a fast track court to ensure speedy justice. But the results will have to be seen to be believed. A conviction will rest on a free and fair investigation that leaves no room for error or bias. All loopholes will have to be plugged. Such an investigation will require the police to expend much of its energy and resources on one case. At a time when there is a docket explosion in the judiciary and rise in crimes, the question is whether the social forces are adequately equipped to handle the changing structures. Another public irritant arises with convicts going in appeal after appeal from the lower courts to the highest in succession whereby delivery of justice is frustratingly delayed. The worst part is that in this whole rigmarole, one of the biggest casualties is reform. While prisons and detention facilities are meant to reform people who have chosen paths inimical to the health of society, they have in reality been turned into recruitment centres or R&R facilities for greater criminal activities.
The case of Vinay Sharma appealing through his lawyer that his mercy petition be withdrawn, as it was submitted without his consent or knowledge, is interesting. The Lieutenant Governor of Delhi recently had recommended rejection of the petition in any case. It is unclear, though, whether Sharma’s decision will in any way delay the execution of the verdict. In the wake of the Nirbhaya case, several cases of brutal rape and murder have surfaced. Delay in justice being delivered in these instances is raising entropy around the country. What it is leading to is jungle justice where trial is short and punishment brutal. Interestingly, animals in jungles also do not practice the kind of ‘jungle law’ that we humans constantly refer to. While the appeal for vigilantes is a clear indication that the people’s faith in law is eroding at an unprecedented pace, it is the very social systems that we, the citizens, are creating which fosters this criminal mindset amongst many.
Some voices in the legislature have come out in support of public lynching of rapists. The situation nationally is turning volatile. If people start to take law into their own hands, it will only lead to the rise of greater injustices. Not only governments, but all of us have an unenviable situation to tackle. Status quo is unlikely to be tolerated anymore.