Indian police have shot dead the four men accused of the brutal gang rape of a young vet in Hyderabad, in circumstances that have been described as “suspicious”.
The four had become high-profile objects of hatred within the country, following their alleged premeditated attack on a 27-year-old veterinary doctor last Wednesday.
According to the police, the accused men – Mohammad Areef, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen, and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu – were taking part in reconstruction of the crime in the early hours of Friday morning when they tried to escape and were shot by police.
However, the lack of clarity around the incident have led many to suspect this was an extrajudicial killing by the police, something not uncommon in India.
The rape and murder case prompted a wave of public vitriol across India, with thousands taking to the streets in protest over the week and calls from politicians and the public for the men to be lynched.
They were accused of deflating the victim’s scooter tyres and lying in wait for her at an isolated spot by a motorway tollway. Her attackers approached her offering help, then dragged her to some bushes where they gang raped her, asphyxiated her until she died and then drove her body to an underpass where they set it alight.
N Prakash Reddy, a deputy commissioner of police in Shamshabad, said: “In the morning, at around 6-6.30, our persons have come to reconstruct the scene of crime and the accused have tried to snatch their weapons, and there was a cross-fire. In this, all the four accused have died. Two policemen have been injured.”
Reddy’s accounted contradicted an earlier police version of events stating the attempted escape and shootings happened at 3.30am.
The killing of the suspects proved highly divisive in India, with some celebrating it as “quick justice” while others condemned the police appearing to take the law into their own hands.
The rape victim’s family welcomed the news of the killings of the alleged perpetrators. “It has been 10 days to the day my daughter died. I express my gratitude towards the police and government for this. My daughter’s soul must be at peace now,” the woman’s father told the Indian news agency, ANI.
The All India Progressive Women’s association condemned the manner in which the accused men died.
“We, as a country, will now be told that ‘justice’ has been done, the victim avenged … But this justice is counterfeit,” the association said in a statement.
The group said deaths of the four men at the hands of the police was telling women “we can’t ensure the streets are safe, can’t investigate crimes against women to ensure there’s enough evidence to prove guilt, can’t protect rape survivors , can’t ensure that survivors get dignity in court.”
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the killings set a worrying precedent.
“The rape cases that have come to light of late, people are in anger whether it is Unnao or Hyderabad, so people are expressing happiness over the encounter,” he said. “It is also something to be worried about, the way people have lost their faith in the criminal justice system. Together all the governments will have to take action on how to strengthen criminal justice system.”
Many Indians had expressed satisfaction with the actions of the police on social media. Asha Devi, the mother of the woman who died in the notorious 2012 gang rape on a bus in Delhi – known as Nirbhaya – told Indian media she was “extremely happy with this punishment. The police have done a great job and I demand that no action should be taken against the police personnel.”
“Finally … the brutes deserved it for the inhuman horrific crime they committed,” wrote the actor Nikhil Sihhhartha.