Women in Criminal Law Association, an organisation of women Lawyers practicing primarily in the Supreme Court, Delhi High Court and other courts in Delhi, has condemned the custodial murder of the four persons suspected of raping and murdering a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad and unequivocally disowned the use of violence in the name of women’s rights and women’s safety.
“We emphatically condemn the custodial murder of the four persons suspected of raping and murdering a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad and unequivocally disown the use of violence in the name of women’s rights and women’s safety. The murder of people in so-called “encounters” by the police and security forces does not give us a safer society. It only perpetuates the use of violence as a tool of oppression, making all of society and women, in particular, more vulnerable. It also shifts focus away from patriarchy as a structural problem and the systemic failure of all institutions in discharging their duties effectively in the first place.
As many others in our country, we are constantly shocked and horrified at the incidents of violent crimes against women. As women, we experience the disciplining effects of sexual assault on our freedom and we often find ourselves fearing for our own safety. We cannot begin to understand the grief of the family of the victim in this incident and express our heartfelt condolences. We crave justice for all victims and survivors, their families and for society as a whole.
As lawyers, we have experienced the failures of the criminal justice system in responding to rampant sexual violence. Equally, it is also clear that the absence of due process is disproportionately present against Dalits, Muslims and other marginalized communities. It is our belief and hope that a comprehensive change in societal attitudes about women along with tightening the bolts on the entire system, that is, from police investigations to the trial, will deliver justice and prevent such crimes from recurring. We state that the police must do their job to begin with, that is, to protect citizens and properly investigate crimes, without moving on to assume the role of judge and executioner.
The complete brazenness of the police action in killing the 4 suspects in this case is a cause for grave concern. It is necessary to point out that the guilt of the 4 dead persons had not been established. No court had dealt with the case and the investigation of the police was in early stages. This is not justice and we condemn the celebratory statements issued by politicians and public figures in this regard.
We cannot forget that the police of this country has also been complicit in denying justice to rape victims through incompetent or corrupt investigations. We cannot forget the first Unnao case where the father of the victim was killed in judicial custody and she along with her lawyer was in a life-threatening car accident. And where was the protection for the second, where the victim was burnt on her way to Court and is battling for her life in hospital. The history of the fight against sexual assault also bears evidence of the deep complicity between police violence and sexual assault. The first nationwide organising against sexual assault resulting in passage of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 was triggered by the custodial rapes of Mathura (1972) and Rameeza Bee (1978) both of whom were women from marginalised communities. We as a society cannot be against custodial rapes yet condone custodial murder. There is nothing to celebrate, and there is no justice in what has happened today.
Criminal law does not provide for any specific exceptions for killings by the police. Such killings are murder, unless they fall within the general exception of self-defence, applicable to any person. These deaths require investigation through the registration of FIRs and it is only upon such investigation that it can be determined whether the police acted within the confines of this exception. The explanations in the media from the police as regards the 3 AM encounter at the spot must be tested in a proper investigation. According to news reports, a magisterial inquiry has been announced, but this alone is inadequate as per Supreme Court guidelines, which mandate that an FIR must be registered, and an independent investigation conducted by a team from either the State CID or another police station, led by an officer senior to the head of the party which conducted the encounter. Ultimately, we hope that true and substantive justice is served in this case, which reminds state agencies to act for the protection of citizens and in accordance with Constitutional Principles and the Rule of Law”.