New Delhi: The 'encounter' killing of the four men accused in the rape and murder of a woman veterinarian in Hyderabad touched a deep chord on Friday with 4,00,000 tweets and counting in just a few hours, some cheering and others concerned at what they saw as one more instance of vigilantism.
The deep schisms on the incident were reflected on Twitter and other social media sites as thousands of people aired their views, many recalling that Cyberabad Commissioner V C Sajjanar, who carried out the "encounter" was involved in a similar incident in 2008.
Hashtags like #justicefor_, #encounter, and #Hyderabadhorror started trending on Twitter from early on Friday.
Many people took to the microblogging site to thank and celebrate the police officer for "delivering justice" for a second time.
In 2008, when Sajjanar was the superintendent of police in Warangal, he had shot dead three young men a day after their arrest in an acid attack case.
"2008: Warangal Acid attack perpetrators killed in an #Encounter. 2019: Hyderabad #_Case perpetrators killed in an #Encounter. Name: VC Sajjanar. Job: Delivering Justice, one bullet at a time. #JusticeFor_," tweeted one user.
"Remembering the encounter of Warangal Acid case accused in this context. Now after 4 accused in #Justicefordisha have been shot dead , salute to the man behind this prevention of escape IPS VC sajjanar. #Thankyousajjanar," wrote another.
Friday's "encounter" took place in the early hours of Friday when the four men were taken to the scene of the crime near Hyderabad for a reconstruction of events as part of the investigation.
According to a senior police official, the accused snatched weapons from police and fired on them and then tried to flee. The police fired back in retaliation, resulting in their deaths, he said.
The four men were arrested on November 29 for allegedly raping and killing the woman by smothering her and later burning her body.
The hashtag #humanrights also started catching on with as more than 20,000 tweets till late afternoon, as more and more people argued that human rights are not meant for rapists.
"When terrorists and Maoists were encountered without any court trial then why rapists be left ..#EncounterNirbhaya rapists who were fed like pigs in Tihar jail since 7 years should also be encountered like mad dogs in the streets of Delhi.#humanrights only for humans not brutes," one user wrote.
Another tweeted, "#HumanRights are only for humans not Monsters. Rapiest = Monsters They only deserve #Encounter."
In the chorus, there were some who made themselves heard with their criticism of the police action.
Lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover called the killing of the accused "absolutely unacceptable", and added that the act only added to the state's "arsenal of unlimited arbitrary violence!" in the name of equality for women.
"SAY NO TO TRIGGER TRACK INJUSTICE! This is absolutely unacceptable. So all that the state will do in the name of ensuring that women live as equal and free citizens is to add to its arsenal of unlimited arbitrary violence!
"Supreme Court of India has directed that in every encounter case - There must be an FIR registered against the police and an investigation; and an independent judicial enquiry into this 'encounter'. No Investigation, no Prosecution, these killings distract the public and save the police and state from any accountability. NO POLICE 'ENCOUNTER' IN THE NAME OF WOMEN," she wrote on Facebook.
Women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan shared All India Progressive Women's Association's (AIPWA) statement on "Hyderabad Fake Encounter: No Custodial Killing In Our Name" on both Twitter and Facebook.
According to the statement, the "encounter" had "all the hallmarks of a custodial murder, dressed up to look like an encounter".
"We, as a country, will now be told that "justice" has been done, the victim avenged... But this justice is counterfeit.
"A system that offers murder as "justice" is a system that is telling women - we can't ensure the streets are safe, can't investigate crimes against women to ensure there's enough evidence to prove guilt, can't protect rape survivors (one was burnt alive yesterday in UP), can't ensure that survivors get dignity in Court," it read.
Supreme Court lawyer Karuna Nundy asked if the four men were innocent and if so what happens to the actual culprits.
"Now nobody will ever know if the four men killed by the police were innocent men, arrested fast to show action. And whether four of the most brutal rapists roam free, to rape and kill more women. #EncounterNight #Encounter," she wrote.
'Cops can't act like lynch mob'
The police cannot act like a lynch mob under any circumstance, several rights activists said after four people accused in the rape and murder of a woman veterinarian were killed near Hyderabad in the early hours of Friday.
The encounter is an attempt by authorities to distract people from the government's failures to safeguard women's rights, the activists said.
According to Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, this is not justice but a "ploy" to shut down demands for accountability from the police, judiciary, governments, and justice and dignity for women.
"Instead of being accountable to his job and answering our questions about his government's failures to safeguard women's rights, the Telangana CM and his police have acted as leaders of a lynch mob," she said.
She described the incident as the admittance of utter incompetence and failure of criminality on the part of the entire political and police system and accused Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao of deflecting the "whole issue".
"We are asking tough questions to the police and to the government. In order to avoid answering these questions it is an attempt to say justice has been done," she said.
"We must also remember that these four men were suspects. We do not know if there was a shred of evidence proving their guilt, beyond the custodial confessions which police in India routinely obtain through torture. Torture does not reveal truth," she said.
Krishnan said the police personnel responsible must be arrested and prosecuted, and must be asked to prove in court that all four men were killed in self defence.
"This encounter has all the hallmarks of a custodial murder, dressed up to look like an encounter. Since the suspects were in police custody, and thus unarmed, it is clear that the police is lying when it claims they were killed when attacking the police at the crime scene where they had been taken to recreate the events of the night the rape-murder occurred," she said.
Annie Raja, general secretary of the National Federation of Indian Woman (NFIW), called for a high-level inquiry.
"Why in spite of having all legislations in place in the country are governments failing to implement it. Definitely it was a distraction. It was an attempt to divert attention from the issue. A high level inquiry is needed in the matter," she said.
Lawyer and rights activist Vrinda Grover termed the incident "absolutely unacceptable".
Asking people to say "no to trigger track injustice", she said, "... so all that the state will do in the name of ensuring that women live as equal and free citizens is to add to its arsenal of unlimited, arbitrary violence."
She also asked for an independent judicial inquiry into the incident.
Human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, founding member of ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy), agreed that it might be an attempt by the government to distract people.
"They (BJP) believe in this kind of politics and they are adding to the violence to public discourse and forcing people to a situation where chaos prevails in society... because when people start asking for lynching on the streets and killing people with stones or killing them in fake encounters, it is a very serious situation in society and it has to be strongly condemned," she said.
"Everyday they want to create a situation where you forget what is happening and it is not only protest around rape but also all other protest like Kashmir, NRC, Ayodhya judgement, so that people don't ask about failure on economic front," she said.
Lalitha Kumaramangalam, former National Commission for Women chief, said the encounter could have been a "knee jerk" reaction to the wide spread protest against the brutal rape.
"It is wrong because then it will become lynch mob justice. Street justice should not be handed out. There is a system that should kick in," she said.
Chavvi Methi from the Bharatiya Samajik Jagritik Sanghatan said judicial procedure should have been followed.
"Police cannot kill just anyone in this pretext. The rapist should not have been set free but judicial system had to be followed," she said.
The gangrape-and-murder triggered a nationwide outrage with the public and lawmakers demanding speedy punishment to the perpetrators. The state government had ordered setting up of a special court (fast track) to expedite the trial.