It is difficult to express dissent after the hysteric euphoria around us over the encounter killing of four people alleged to have committed the dastardly rape and murder of a young veterinarian in Telangana. The primary reason to disagree with this jubilation is that mob rule is an antithesis of the rule of law. Whether it is a police officer or another public servant, no one has the licence to kill.
The place as well as the time of the encounter is not in doubt. But what is in doubt is whether there was a need to kill them at all. For that, we will have to wait for scientific evidence, which will determine the distance from which the bullets were fired, whether the entry wounds are in the front or at the back, and whether their hands were tied or not. The police will also have to answer as to why they were not handcuffed because this kind of attempt to snatch weapons was entirely foreseeable. Forensic evidence will also show how many weapons were involved in the shooting; even if two weapons had been snatched, the police still had eight weapons and 10 able-bodied men, and they could have easily snatched the weapons back and pinned the accused down. To arrive at any conclusion at this stage, in the absence of scientific evidence, would not be proper.
The killings assume greater dimension because there have been regular cases of mob lynching in the past six years, and most of the accused who killed fellow humans in full public view in broad daylight were not arrested immediately, and sometimes not even prosecuted. And in some cases, it’s the victims’ families that came to be prosecuted. This state of affairs has become alarming as it seems mob leaders who kill human beings like rats seem to enjoy some protection against prosecution. According to media reports, 33 people have been killed in just two years in more than 266 cases of lynching across India, 97 per cent of which were on account of cow-related violence. But there is no record of any successful prosecution against the attackers, while the accused in Pehlu Khan’s lynching case have been let off for lack of sufficient evidence. Moreover, 35 per cent of police personnel interviewed for a recent survey by an NGO, Common Cause, think it is natural for a mob to punish the culprit in cases of cow slaughter, and 43 per cent think it is natural for a mob to punish someone accused of rape. This has created a sense of insecurity among members of a particular religion and rule of law has suffered gravely. Perhaps, the fear of law has greatly evaporated as cases of lynching have become more regular and more brazen. In this atmosphere, sometimes the police also become emboldened and trigger-happy, apart from the fact that it is also one of the means of escaping the wrath of society arising out of the brutal killing of a young woman after her gang-rape.
When there is neither proper investigation nor successful prosecution, lawlessness is bound to increase. Fake encounters, however, are surely no remedy. A fake encounter is nothing but cold-blooded, brutal murder by people who are supposed to uphold the law.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly deprecated the practice of fake encounters and held that trigger-happy policemen, who think they can kill people in the name of ‘encounter’ and get away with it, should know that the gallows await them. Killings in police encounters affect the credibility of the rule of law and the administration of criminal justice. Such killings require independent investigation. It is, therefore, the duty of the government to dispassionately evaluate the scientific evidence, and if it turns out to be a case of fake encounter, then there is no way the accused (even if they are policemen) can be allowed to escape the clutches of law.
K.T.S. Tulsi is senior Supreme Court advocate and Rajya Sabha MP. Views expressed are personal.