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Rule of Law Women

This is Not the Justice We Seek

We awoke today to the shocking news of the deaths of the four suspects in the murder and rape of the veterinarian last week. They were killed at 3 am purportedly while trying to ‘escape’ from the scene of crime, where they had been taken for a dead-of-night reconstruction of the crime of rape and murder at the scene of the offence.

Kalpana Kannabiran 06 Dec 2019

Hyderabad encounter

I grieve with the families of the veterinarian, as I grieve, deeply with the family of TekuGopu whose wife was gang-raped and murdered in Asifabad three days before the veterinarian.TekuGopu’s wife was three years older than the vet, and belonged to a nomadic community that eked out a living by petty vending and wage labour.  These are two in a long line of girls and women across the country who have been killed and maimed in the most brutal fashion while we have had a stringent, amended rape law in place and fast track judicial processes.  

Two women politicians, Ms Jaya Bachchan and BehenjiMayawati went on record asking for suspects to be publicly lynched and celebrated the deaths by encounter, respectively.  This ironically, while we have a rape accused anointed as Chief Minister of the largest state in the country (he is an accused, like these others who are now dead, is he not?), and another who has been allowed to flee the country and set up his own ‘nation’ – untouched by the long arm of the law, men of god, both.  And yet another politician whose case might abate because the victim has been attacked and is battling for life with 80 percent burns.

This is precisely why as citizens in this free country, we need to think apart from these voices of power and impunity that are the biggest threat to the cause of women.  I perfectly understand the emotional upheavals and the grief of the families of victims, who will, from their point of view, sometimes ask for death in return for death.  But we also need to remember that not all people do that.  We can scarcely forget that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi asked for clemency for the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.  Grief at loss speaks through different tongues, and we need to be mindful of this fact.  Violent deaths and maiming are gruesome – sexual assault, assassination, caste atrocity, shooting children with pellets and guns… But we must take note of the diverse ways in which we grieve, and the diverse ways in which we can grieve and heal. 

We asked for a more stringent law on rape.  We got a far more stringent law, as a direct result of the public outcry and the intense deliberations of the Justice Verma Committee on rape law reform in 2013.  In an important sense therefore, the struggles of the Delhi victim’s family were not in vain.  The Nirbhaya Act is testimony to the strength of her spirit and an acknowledgment of the loss – to family, and country – by the mere possibility of this level of violence. 

Trigger happy policemen with an utter disregard for the law are not the answer we seek.  The ends of justice are not served by wanton killing and retributive bloodlust.  The course of justice is not determined by the grief and grieving of victims’ families.  Justice lies in supporting them in their moment of grief and pain and insisting on due process that brings suspects and accused to trial through a robust, stringent and competent criminal investigation. 

What is the purpose served by killing four unarmed suspects who were in high security police custody and certainly under physical restraint? The loss of life is never compensated by the taking of more lives.  In its arbitrariness, its pre-meditated nature and the guarantee of impunity it enjoys, it is grossly unlawful – and in complete derogation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India – ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.’ 

At the end of it, what is the account of bodies we are left with in the case of the veterinarian?

One person (a woman) was raped, killed and tortured post-mortem – a most heinous treatment of a human being possible.

In return, 4 suspects are apprehended and shot in custody within a week, without the criminal investigation having commenced in any substantive way.  They were shot purportedly when they tried to escape during an exercise of reconstruction of crime at the scene of offence – so even that very preliminary step in criminal investigation had not been completed.  So, the police personnel – unnamed, except for the Commissioner of Police – have caused the investigation of the crime of rape and murder to abate by killing the suspects.  They have still not been convicted for the crime, nor their involvement investigated fully.  However, that is not the end of the matter, because, as a direct result of this shooting, we have four more dead bodies – all victims of murder, according to the definition of murder in criminal law – that must be investigated. Unlike the suspects who confessed in custody under conditions of restraint, in the second set of murders, we have an open and public admission of commission of the act of killing by officers of the state.  The official version is that the suspects were attempting an escape when the police shot in ‘self-defense.’  Self-defense is a plea when the other party is armed and tries to kill, is it not?  Surely these four men, having been kept in custody, were unarmed.  Be that as it may, self-defense is only up for consideration during the evidentiary stage of a trial, and cannot be claimed to escape responsibility for willfully and in pre-meditated fashion causing death.  We have deliberated on this at length in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Justice GodaRaghuram’s judgment and Justice Bilal Nazki’s dissent that preceded it can scarcely be set aside. 

The police are officers of the state – bound by the Constitution and trained in Criminal Procedure, the law of evidence, and the Penal Code, among others.  They have been given arms to protect, and to ensure security, not to kill and maim at will.  A disciplined police force is a non-negotiable for the rule of law.  They are under oath to subserve the constitution, irrespective of what dominant public sentiment is.  Can we ever forget Dr. Ambedkar?  Public morality he warned must yield to constitutional morality, which may not be a natural sentiment, but one that we as a civilized constitutional democracy – if we call ourselves that -- must school ourselves into. The need is restorative policing, not retribution.

As women, it is extremely dangerous for us to succumb to the blood lust of the police, and the arbitrariness of the state, even while we travel the torturous road to justice, freedom and dignity.  It is difficult to even think through, but we have no alternative road to a just society.

(Author is Professor & Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad)

This is Not the Justice We Seek

We awoke today to the shocking news of the deaths of the four suspects in the murder and rape of the veterinarian last week. They were killed at 3 am purportedly while trying to ‘escape’ from the scene of crime, where they had been taken for a dead-of-night reconstruction of the crime of rape and murder at the scene of the offence.

Hyderabad encounter

I grieve with the families of the veterinarian, as I grieve, deeply with the family of TekuGopu whose wife was gang-raped and murdered in Asifabad three days before the veterinarian.TekuGopu’s wife was three years older than the vet, and belonged to a nomadic community that eked out a living by petty vending and wage labour.  These are two in a long line of girls and women across the country who have been killed and maimed in the most brutal fashion while we have had a stringent, amended rape law in place and fast track judicial processes.  

Two women politicians, Ms Jaya Bachchan and BehenjiMayawati went on record asking for suspects to be publicly lynched and celebrated the deaths by encounter, respectively.  This ironically, while we have a rape accused anointed as Chief Minister of the largest state in the country (he is an accused, like these others who are now dead, is he not?), and another who has been allowed to flee the country and set up his own ‘nation’ – untouched by the long arm of the law, men of god, both.  And yet another politician whose case might abate because the victim has been attacked and is battling for life with 80 percent burns.

This is precisely why as citizens in this free country, we need to think apart from these voices of power and impunity that are the biggest threat to the cause of women.  I perfectly understand the emotional upheavals and the grief of the families of victims, who will, from their point of view, sometimes ask for death in return for death.  But we also need to remember that not all people do that.  We can scarcely forget that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi asked for clemency for the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.  Grief at loss speaks through different tongues, and we need to be mindful of this fact.  Violent deaths and maiming are gruesome – sexual assault, assassination, caste atrocity, shooting children with pellets and guns… But we must take note of the diverse ways in which we grieve, and the diverse ways in which we can grieve and heal. 

We asked for a more stringent law on rape.  We got a far more stringent law, as a direct result of the public outcry and the intense deliberations of the Justice Verma Committee on rape law reform in 2013.  In an important sense therefore, the struggles of the Delhi victim’s family were not in vain.  The Nirbhaya Act is testimony to the strength of her spirit and an acknowledgment of the loss – to family, and country – by the mere possibility of this level of violence. 

Trigger happy policemen with an utter disregard for the law are not the answer we seek.  The ends of justice are not served by wanton killing and retributive bloodlust.  The course of justice is not determined by the grief and grieving of victims’ families.  Justice lies in supporting them in their moment of grief and pain and insisting on due process that brings suspects and accused to trial through a robust, stringent and competent criminal investigation. 

What is the purpose served by killing four unarmed suspects who were in high security police custody and certainly under physical restraint? The loss of life is never compensated by the taking of more lives.  In its arbitrariness, its pre-meditated nature and the guarantee of impunity it enjoys, it is grossly unlawful – and in complete derogation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India – ‘No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.’ 

At the end of it, what is the account of bodies we are left with in the case of the veterinarian?

One person (a woman) was raped, killed and tortured post-mortem – a most heinous treatment of a human being possible.

In return, 4 suspects are apprehended and shot in custody within a week, without the criminal investigation having commenced in any substantive way.  They were shot purportedly when they tried to escape during an exercise of reconstruction of crime at the scene of offence – so even that very preliminary step in criminal investigation had not been completed.  So, the police personnel – unnamed, except for the Commissioner of Police – have caused the investigation of the crime of rape and murder to abate by killing the suspects.  They have still not been convicted for the crime, nor their involvement investigated fully.  However, that is not the end of the matter, because, as a direct result of this shooting, we have four more dead bodies – all victims of murder, according to the definition of murder in criminal law – that must be investigated. Unlike the suspects who confessed in custody under conditions of restraint, in the second set of murders, we have an open and public admission of commission of the act of killing by officers of the state.  The official version is that the suspects were attempting an escape when the police shot in ‘self-defense.’  Self-defense is a plea when the other party is armed and tries to kill, is it not?  Surely these four men, having been kept in custody, were unarmed.  Be that as it may, self-defense is only up for consideration during the evidentiary stage of a trial, and cannot be claimed to escape responsibility for willfully and in pre-meditated fashion causing death.  We have deliberated on this at length in the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and Justice GodaRaghuram’s judgment and Justice Bilal Nazki’s dissent that preceded it can scarcely be set aside. 

The police are officers of the state – bound by the Constitution and trained in Criminal Procedure, the law of evidence, and the Penal Code, among others.  They have been given arms to protect, and to ensure security, not to kill and maim at will.  A disciplined police force is a non-negotiable for the rule of law.  They are under oath to subserve the constitution, irrespective of what dominant public sentiment is.  Can we ever forget Dr. Ambedkar?  Public morality he warned must yield to constitutional morality, which may not be a natural sentiment, but one that we as a civilized constitutional democracy – if we call ourselves that -- must school ourselves into. The need is restorative policing, not retribution.

As women, it is extremely dangerous for us to succumb to the blood lust of the police, and the arbitrariness of the state, even while we travel the torturous road to justice, freedom and dignity.  It is difficult to even think through, but we have no alternative road to a just society.

(Author is Professor & Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad)

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