India's top court finds police staged killings of accused gang rapists

Commission finds victims were minors despite police claims they were in their 20s

Military police stand guard against the backdrop of India Gate on a hot summer day in New Delhi. AFP
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A committee appointed by India’s top court found on Friday that police had staged a shoot-out that killed four men accused of gang rape and murder — an act many at the time hailed as “instant justice”.

Authorities in Hyderabad city were investigated after shooting four detainees accused of raping and murdering a 27-year-old veterinary doctor in November 2019.

The men, Mohammed Arif, Jollu Shiva, Jollu Naveen and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, were accused of raping and killing the woman after her scooter broke down on a busy motorway.

Police said the men were killed after trying to take weapons from police officers and escape.

The top court had set up a three-member inquiry commission headed by a former Supreme Court judge to investigate the killings.

The commission ultimately rejected the claims made by police and recommended prosecuting the officers for murder and destruction of evidence.

The report, made public on Friday, said that 10 police officers had “deliberately” shot the men.

“It cannot be believed that the deceased suspects might have died due to the indiscriminate firing from the pistols allegedly snatched by them and it has to be held that all the deceased suspects died due to the injuries caused by the bullets fired by the police party,” the commission observed in the report.

“Each one of [the police officers] were responsible for the safe keeping of the four deceased suspects … Just as mob lynching is unacceptable, so is any idea of instant justice,” the report said.

The inquiry commission also found that the men were minors, despite police claims that they were in their 20s.

The brutal attack on the young woman caused widespread outrage in a country with a poor record for women's safety.

Many had doubted police claims that the men were killed while trying to escape and accused them of trying to pacify public anger by staging the killing — although many hailed the killings as instant justice.

India has a long history of extrajudicial killings, widely known as “police encounters”, in which police arbitrarily gun down detainees to either cover up flawed investigations, pacify public anger or simply to win awards or cash.

The brutal rape and murder of the woman had elicited demands for the death penalty for the rapists, with one parliamentarian even demanding that the accused be handed over to the public to be lynched.

The demands were made in response to the country's typically frustrating judicial system, where cases can drag on for years.

More than 47 million cases were pending before courts in India, including tens of thousands of murder and sexual assault cases.

India recorded more than 28,000 rape cases, or an average of 77 rapes every day, in 2020, data from the National Crime Records Bureau show.

Updated: May 20, 2022, 6:03 PM