New Delhi: When Telangana Police gunned down the four men accused of raping and murdering a young veterinarian in Hyderabad, during an alleged escape bid, the larger IPS fraternity found itself divided.
While some officers said they were wary of “prejudging” Telangana Police before an inquiry is conducted, others stated that certain situations warranted extraordinary responses. Yet others said encounters weren’t a deterrent to sexual crime and claimed “such acts” were at times catalysed by public and media pressure.
However, almost all agreed that encounters were nothing to be celebrated.
The controversial “encounter” took place early Friday, when, according to Cyberabad police, the suspects were taken to the scene of the crime to retrieve the victim’s phone and other belongings. According to police, the four men tried to escape after snatching firearms from them and were killed in the ensuing exchange.
The killing of the veterinarian triggered deep public outrage, and many people lauded the “encounter” for the “instant justice” it epitomised.
But the incident has left several questions in its wake for IPS officers — Should Telangana Police be lauded for their actions? What precedent does this set? Does the selective outrage of the media in certain cases put insurmountable pressure on police — compelling it to circumvent due process?
“On the one hand, a lot of officers are saying that Telangana Police has set bad precedent by doing what they did, but on the other, there are several officers who want to give the police the benefit of the doubt,” a female IPS officer told ThePrint.
“Nobody wants to rush to a conclusion before an inquiry is conducted, but yes, the incident has stirred up a debate,” she added.
The officer also said the incident had divided the IPS fraternity across gender lines.
Male officers, she said, were throwing their weight behind the “encounter”, while women seemed more alarmed.
“Women are generally of the opinion that, as upholders of the law, one cannot take the law into their own hands, while men are of the view that, once in a while, when there is too much anarchy, such measures are justified,” she added.
‘Justice can’t be delivered looking at public anger’
A male IPS officer said the encounter, if fake, could not be justified by any “right-thinking” police officer.
“As a senior IPS officer, I believe that even if the accused are the actual perpetrators, there should have been an inquiry, they should have been given a chance to defend themselves, and then convicted,” he added.
“Justice cannot be delivered summarily, looking at public anger… The public will not come to the rescue of the police officers if they are indicted tomorrow,” the officer said.
He, however, was also wary of “prejudging” Telangana Police. “There are many reasons to doubt the police version, but, like suspects, police are also innocent until proven guilty,” the officer added.
The woman IPS officer quoted above said there was near consensus among officers from Telangana that this “hard approach” helps in crime control.
“Officers from Telangana have been saying that they have managed to control crimes like acid-throwing etc. only because they are a gutsy cadre,” she added.
“They are mostly of the view that because theirs has been an extremism-inflicted state, they have a hardened approach to policing, which officers from other states lack,” she said.
‘We can’t celebrate anyone’s killing’
A section of IPS officers also felt that social media posts hailing the encounter were in poor taste.
“As a police officer, I have killed in self-defence and there is nothing to celebrate about it… I could not sleep for days after doing it,” the male IPS officer quoted above said. “As a society, we cannot celebrate and distribute sweets over the killing of anyone… We are not cold-blooded monsters.”
Former Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar agreed, saying the public’s response to the encounter was a “cause for worry”.
“When politicians, Bollywood celebrities, etc. celebrate the encounter, you know that people have completely lost faith in the existing system,” added Kumar, who was the Delhi Police commissioner when one of the ghastliest crimes India has witnessed, the Nirbhaya rape-murder, was committed in the national capital.
A fourth IPS officer said there was a general consensus in the fraternity that such acts could not deter crimes against women.
“You have to be objective about this and realise that those who burn a woman alive after taking turns to rape her are anti-social elements… Such a person sitting in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh will not decide against not attacking a woman because four men in Hyderabad died in an encounter,” the officer said. “So this celebration is highly misplaced.”
‘Media pressure leads to such acts’
According to Neeraj Kumar, if the encounter turns out to be fake, it would highlight the perils of the media and the public’s demands for instant justice.
“Sometimes there is such pressure that is built upon police by the media, that it leads to such acts… Although it is no justification… as the upholders and enforcers of the law, police should have the strength and resilience to withstand pressure,” he added.
The fourth IPS officer quoted above said there “was so much pressure… [that] police tended to succumb”. “But this is something that is not talked about because the media is complicit in building that selective pressure as well.”
Edited by Debalina Dey