Hyderabad: The Hyderabad Police shot dead the four men who were suspected of raping and killing a veterinary doctor after a brief encounter on Friday morning, police said, drawing cheers from her family and people outraged over the ghastly crime.
The four accused in police custody were shot near the scene of last week's crime, said DCP N Prakash Reddy. He said the men were killed after a brief exchange of fire around 6.30am when they were taken to the site of the offence for reconstruction of the scene of the crime as part of the investigation.
The police has claimed that the four men snatched weapons from police and fired on cops and tried to escape. “The police fired in retaliation in which the four accused died," a senior police official said, adding that two policemen were also injured.
The four men, all lorry workers, aged between 20 and 24, were arrested on November 29 for raping and killing the woman by smothering her and later burning her body. They were initially remanded to judicial custody and were transferred to police custody on Wednesday.
Several questions on how the police found itself in a situation where it led to a shootout remain unanswered.
No details were immediately available about how many police had escorted the four accused and whether they were handcuffed or roped together as is usually the case.
Earlier a local police official had put the time of the deaths at around 3:30 a.m. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
Reacting to the killing of the four accused in the encounter, the victim's sister said they welcomed it. “We are happy. We did not expect this (killing in encounter). We thought they would be hanged through courts,” she said.
Her father expressed gratitude towards the police and government for this. “My daughter's soul must be at peace now," he said at his residence in Shamshabad on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
The gang rape-and-murder had triggered a nation-wide outrage with the public and lawmakers demanding speedy punishment to the perpetrators. During the past week, thousands have protested in several cities.
The woman had left home for an appointment on her scooter and later called her sister to say she had a flat tyre. She said a lorry driver had offered to help and that she was waiting near a toll plaza. Reports had said the accused took her behind a line of trucks, raped and asphyxiated and her dead body then set alight on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Many Indians, including politicians, applauded the killings on Friday, taking to Twitter to support the police, but there were some who sounded caution on supporting extra judicial killings.
In Uttar Pradesh, where a rape victim was set ablaze on Thursday while she was on her way to court in Unnao, BSP leader Mayawati said the police there should take "inspiration" from what happened in Hyderabad.
Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan, who had recently called for lynching of the accused, said the killing was better late than never, while National Commission of Women Rekha Sharma and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said they were “happy” with what had transpired.
"As a common citizen I am feeling happy that this was the end we all wanted for them. But this end was supposed to be through the legal system. It should have happened through proper channels," Sharma said.
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi also offered a justification: "As you sow so shall you reap...they tried to flee so police shot them," she said. The police has not officially given a statement yet on the killings, nor has an investigation been ordered so far.
Since the shootout happened while the accused were in police custody, the Telangana government would have to submit a report to the National Human Rights Commission via the union home ministry.
Some people, including Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, said the lack of progress in the courts did not mean the police had a free hand to dispense justice.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi said that it was a very "dangerous" thing to have happened. "Those people were in any case going to get hanging as punishment for the heinousness of their crime. But you cannot kill people because you want to," she said.
Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover said the police who were involved in Friday's incident should face an inquiry, but in all likelihood would be rewarded with medals. "Killing accused like this is a short cut, but in the long run this won't work, it will carry its own consequences."