Analysis: Encounter killing in Hyderabad

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The Hyderabad rape case has been the most talked about and the most rippling cases of Indian criminal history in relation to rape, next to the famous Nirbhaya case of 2013. In this case, an innocent veterinarian woman was brutally raped, murdered and her charred body left to rot near a Petrol Pump in Hyderabad.

The four main accused, gathered through investigative procedures, were named Md. Arif, Jollu Naveen, Jollu Siva and Ch. Chennakeshavulu. However, amidst the uproar against the accused, fast track ordered by the CM K. Chandrasekhar Rao, and custody granted to the Cyberabad Police for a week, all four accused were shot dead by the Police just 400 metres away from where the rape took place. This encounter was done under the authority of the Cyberabad Police Commissioner VC Sajjanar, and was allegedly taken place as a measure of self defence as the accused were claimed to have attempted to flee, while attacking the police with rocks and stealing a handgun from the police’s person.

What people may call poetic justice, its important for us as a country to realise that justice administration simply cannot work uni-dimensionally. However gruesome the crime, the appropriate justice cannot be said to be delivered unless and until principles of Natural Justice have been followed, fair trial has been conducted and innocence should be disproved. These parameters have been deeply rooted into our justice system for the purpose of deliverance of proper justice and maintenance of status quo. However, this specific encounter begs the question – have the aforementioned parameters been followed, for it to not constitute a gross miscarriage of justice?

Presumption of innocence – Principles of Natural Justice:

 “It is no doubt that wrongful acquittals are undesirable and shake the confidence of the people in the judicial system, much worse; however, is the wrongful conviction of an innocent person. The consequences of the conviction of an innocent person are far more serious and its reverberations cannot be felt in a civilized society.” Kali Ram v. State of H.P ((1973) 2 SCC 808).

“Every accused is presumed to be innocent unless his guilt is proved. The presumption of innocence is a human right subject to the statutory exceptions. The said principle forms the basis of criminal jurisprudence in India.” State of U.P. v. Naresh and Ors. ((2001) 4 SCC 324).

The Supreme Court of India has never been shy in time and time again reiterating the crucial importance of the presumption of innocence, and the Principles of Natural Justice and the very cancerous repercussions of the violation of the same. 

In the case at hand, it can be easily construed in a technical sense and in the eyes of the law, the accused were presumed to be innocent at least for the time being, the presumption of innocence had not been given any credible revocation by any competent authority.

The Principles of Natural Justice like “Audi Alterum Parta” (both sides need to be heard) even though not explicitly mentioned in our Constitution in a straight jacket based formula, it is important to note that the principle has an immense impact of Indian Jurisprudence and Constitutional Morality in itself.

The latest case at hand, if put into this perspective, can be said to be in direct violation of the Principles of Natural Justice and the Presumption of Innocence, if the Cyberabad Police’s defence is proven to be untrue.

Due process of law & right to fair trial:

The Right to a Fair Trial constitutes as an extremely important facet of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It forms the very basis of our judicial administration and justice deliverance system. Without the pre requisite of a fair trial, in the eyes of the law, it becomes impossible to discern the exact nature of the criminality and the crime committed. Hence, the right to a fair trial should never be seen as a mere procedure, but a necessary step towards appropriate and just punishment.

In Zahira Habibullah Sheikh and ors v. State of Gujarat and ors. ((2006) 3 SCC 374 at 395) The Supreme Court of India observed “Each one has an inbuilt right to be dealt with fairly in a criminal trial. Denial of a fair trial is as much injustice to the accused as it is to the victim and to society. Fair trial obviously would mean a trial before an impartial judge, a fair prosecutor and an atmosphere of judicial calm.

Now that the importance of this principle is made clear, it is important for the purposes of the case at hand, to contemplate the consequences of this encounter in perspective of the principles aforementioned. The encounter removes all the due process in question completely and the justice cannot be said to be done, as all the extremely essential components of justice were omitted.

It is the cooking equivalent of simply baking batter and calling it a cake. No matter what the intentions are, without going through each and every necessary step of making a cake, it can in no way be said to be complete or as a matter of fact, a cake.

Public reaction to the encounter:

Despite the various procedural inaccuracies and violation of Principles of Natural Justice, public at large rejoiced at the execution of the accused. Videos surfaced online, of the policemen been carried on the public’s shoulders as a manner of celebration of the execution. Politicians like Mayawati claimed that the UP and Delhi police should take inspiration form Cyberabad.

The father of the Hyderabad rape victim said that his daughter’s soul must be at peace, now the accused have been apprehended. Even celebrities like Jaya Bachchan tweeted “Der aaye, durust aaye” (better late than never). Even the mother of the 2013 Delhi rape case victim, exclaimed that the police have done a magnificent job. The victim’s sister said that this kind of killing would set a (positive) example for future rape cases.

However, despite the seemingly positive response from this, there were also a lot of negative backlash that was observed. Many said that the due process should have been followed in cases like this and this was a situation of legal manipulation.

Though the public disgust to sexual crimes creates a huge pressure on the legal institutions and the police to deal with the culprits with complete promptness. But, the last thing these institutes ought to do is overpower their authority. They must uphold the rule of law even in such cases where people want to seek revenge and as rightly said by our current Chief Justice of India SA Bobde that “justice loses its character if it becomes revenge.”

The following issues surrounding the legal authority if the killings arise:

How do we know they were the real culprits? – Promptness in responding to a criminal complaint should not be mistaken in a hasty investigation to rid public accusations. The police should exercise due caution in investigating, as the repercussions of doing otherwise are indeed radical.

A recent incident was the Ryan International murder in which Haryana Police said a bus conductor had confessed to murdering a Class 2 student in 2017. When the Central Bureau of Investigation took over the case, however, it was proved the conductor had been framed and instead took into custody a Class 9 student, a juvenile, who reportedly said he murdered the young boy to postpone exams.

Is the story claimed by the police true?  The story of the police seems more of plan than reality. How is it that the 4 accused tried to run away from a well-equipped police force? Were the police so amateur? Or the whole team was so unprepared for such an event to occur?  Frankly speaking there was no execution. It was all a political agenda of the Government to get away from the growing protests and pressure.

How do we know that such crime won’t happen again? In our country the police force is highly understaffed, underpaid and under pressure to prove themselves due to which the people of India yet cannot say that such cases can be avoided in future.

Similar instances in the past:

Unfortunately, there have been a lot of similar instances in the past, relating to this case. However, the most interesting instance, has to be an incident that happened in 2008. In 2008, 3 men arrested for attacking two girls with acid were gunned down under the pretext of the exact same defence that was taken in this case: self-defence.

The interesting part here is that, in this specific encounter, the Superintendent of Police (SP) was, the now Commissioner VC Sajjanar, the same person who led the encounter in the present case.

Conclusion:

It is no secret that our administrative organs have their fallacies. However, it does not justify the deliberate miscarriage of principles of justice. In situations like these, it is very important for us as a country to realize that instances like extra judicial killings should be considered as nothing but poison to our democratic due process.

No matter how proverbial and desperate our society becomes, the thirst of justice should never be tried to be quenched through consumption of poison. 

Authors: Adhit Kulkarni from DES Law College, Pune and Aishwarya Shankar of  Amity Law School, Noida.

Editor: Anna Jose Kallivayalil from NLU, Delhi.

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