A commission set up by the Supreme Court to investigate the alleged encounters of the four accused in the 2019 Hyderabad rape case has submitted a report stating that the police deliberately fired with an intention to kill and there did not arise any occasion for exercising the “right to private defence”. In November 2019, a veterinary doctor, 26, was gang-raped and murdered which led to the arrest of four. The police claimed that the accused, declared adults at the time of the incident, were killed in an alleged encounter when they tried to snatch police weapons and fire at cops in an attempt to flee custody.

Nearly three years after two petitions were filed seeking an independent investigation against the police officers allegedly involved, the SC panel noted that two of the accused were minors and the deceased did not commit any offence related to the alleged encounter like snatching of weapons and attempting to assault or fire at police officials.

The SC panel has recommended action against ten police officers and personnel under various charges, including murder.

But when the police had killed the accused nine days after the gang-rape and murder in 2019, the alleged encounter was massively hailed by members of parliament, politicians, media personnel, celebrities and even sportspersons who shifted the narrative from due process to ‘blood lust’. The ‘swift action’ of the police was celebrated as ‘justice’ and support for meting out similar ‘punishments’ to alleged perpetrators of rape were viral on social media and mainstream media alike.

Former ADGP of Telangana VC Sajjanar had stated at the time that the “law has done its duty” but retired SC judge J. Chelameswar had cautioned, “If police action of encountering accused is promoted, anyone among us could be the victim tomorrow”. He said it could lead to a situation of “arbitrary state action”.

In this report, we look back on how the alleged encounter was celebrated with blatant disregard for due process.

Reactions that corroded the relationship between legislature and rule of law

While BJP MP Maneka Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among the handful who criticised the alleged encounter, most incumbent and former lawmakers across political lines celebrated the police action.

The Wire reported, “Minister in the Telangana Rashtra Samithi government Gangula Kamalakar said that the killing of the rape accused demonstrated the prowess of the Telangana police.” However, TRS wasn’t the only party that backed the alleged encounter.

Communist Party of India’s National Secretary K. Narayana had said, “I defend encounter killings in rape cases. Such deterrent police actions are essential to send a strong message across society to prevent recurrence of sexual assaults on women.”

Three days after the alleged encounter, Andhra Pradesh CM YS Jagan said in the state assembly, “Salute To KCR and Telangana police.” He further stated, “If the hero in a movie kills someone in an encounter, we all clap and say the movie is good. If a daring person does that in real life…someone will come down from Delhi in the name of National Human Rights Commission and say this is wrong.”

Similarly, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said, “…it can be said that justice has been done.”

On the day of the alleged encounter, Deccan Herald reported that office-bearers in the Karnataka government — then CM BS Yediyurappa, ex-deputy CM C N Ashwath Narayan, and then Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai — lauded it.

RJD leader and former Bihar CM Rabri Devi said, “What happened in Hyderabad will act as a deterrent against criminals surely, we welcome this.”

Congress leader and MP President Arun Subhash Yadav tweeted, “Daughter got justice, congratulations to Hyderabad police.”

YSR Congress MP Kanumuru Raghu Rama Krishna Raju had said, “They deserved to be shot dead. God has been kind that they were shot dead, this is a good lesson. They tried to run away and they were killed. No NGO should oppose it and if they do so, they are anti-national.”

Former Madhya Pradesh CM Uma Bharti lauded Telangana police and tweeted, “I can now believe that the people sitting in the governance of other states will find ways to teach the criminals a lesson immediately.”

SP President and former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav also welcomed “justice via encounter”.

BSP chief and former UP CM Mayawati said, “Wish the police had done a better job in the Nirbhaya case as well.” She asked UP police to “take inspiration”.

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Some of the BJP leaders who supported the encounter included Rajyavardhan Rathore, Anil Vij, Locket Chatterjee and Shobha Karandlaje.

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Rajya Sabha member from Samajwadi Party Jaya Bachchan had called for the “lynching” of the accused a few days before the alleged encounter took place.

‘Blood lust’ in the media

Sudhir Chaudhary, editor-in-chief and CEO of Zee News, WION and the host of Daily News & Analysis, presented an hour-long show on the alleged encounter. In the opening remarks, he said, “In our ancient texts it is said that the one who enjoys killing should be killed instantly. Today, four such demons were killed by the Telangana police.”

Several News18 Twitter accounts branded the alleged encounter as ‘justice’ — News18 Bihar, News18 Chhattisgarh, News18 Haryana, News18 Himachal, News18 Madhya Pradesh, News18 Rajasthan, News18 Uttar Pradesh, News18 Hindi, and News18 India. Managing Editor of News18 Hindi Amish Devgan similarly wrote, “Justice for Hyderabad’s daughter” (हैदराबाद की बेटी को इंसाफ).

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Zee MP-Chhattisgarh, Lokmat Hindi, Dainik Bhaskar, InKhabar, Punjab Kesari also followed suit.

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ABP journalist Sumit Awasthi joined the bandwagon as well.

Celebrities who hailed the alleged encounter

Patanjali Ayurved founder Ramdev had said, “Such criminals… and terrorists should be dealt with on the spot by armed forces and police forces…”

Actor Vivek Oberoi termed the alleged encounters “poetic justice”.

Less than 24 hours after the alleged encounter, The News Minute published a report documenting how Tollywood stars cheered the Telangana police. Bollywood actors Anupam Kher and Rishi Kapoor also expressed the same opinion.

Latestly reported that sportspersons Saina Nehwal, Phogat sisters and Harbhajan Singh lauded the police.

A Supreme Court panel has now reported that the alleged encounters were not justified as the police’s version of events leading up to the killings cannot be believed. While public sentiment supports ‘instant justice’ due to a slow judicial process, political leadership, the media and celebrities encouraging encounters promotes lawlessness.

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About the Author

Archit is a senior fact-checking journalist at Alt News. Previously, he has worked as a producer at WION and as a reporter at The Hindu. In addition to work experience in media, he has also worked as a fundraising and communication manager at S3IDF.