Hyderabad: Not surprisingly, Telangana surged in jubilation over the encounter in the outskirts of Hyderabad that killed the four accused in brutal rape and murder of Disha. This unprecedented trigger happiness demonstrated by large sections of society, especially youngsters, is a clear sign of people’s disenchantment with our criminal justice system and disdain for the rule of law. The delay in delivering justice, even in some horrific crimes where the guilt is palpable, created an unusual demand for delivery of instant justice.
While the reaction from commoners is understandable, lawmakers who are supposed to ensure robust women safety regime and speedy justice unabashedly joined the chorus seeking instant justice. It is nothing but a complete abdication of responsibility the Constitution has reposed in them as lawmakers. The film world, which saw an opportunity to reap maximum publicity, also jumped onto the bandwagon for instant justice.
While demanding for swift justice, the society asked pertinent questions about police inaction and indifference, even in attending to complaints and registering FIR, which is their primary responsibility under the existing rulebook.
Hyderabad encounter raises specific fundamental questions on the criminal justice system in India. The accused certainly deserves much harsher punishment. However, as the Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde, said, “Justice is never ought to be instant. Justice must never take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character when it becomes revenge.”
The police allegedly did not even cooperate with the family when they reported her as missing. This utter lack of gender sensitivity and squandering away crucial time, pondering over jurisdiction, while the family urged for immediate response has invited sharp criticism from the public at large. Even the Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao was flooded with questions from national media, as to why he did not visit the victim’s family but found time to attend a wedding. Against this simmering anger and anguish, the encounter has only helped to insidiously divert public outrage from the criminal neglect of police and administration to perform its proper responsibility.
The encounter raises specific fundamental questions. The killing of the four accused permanently closes an opportunity to identify any more possible culprits associated with the crime. Possibly, someone can escape law with such trigger-happy justice delivery. The question that often emerges from society is that will the police do the same if the accused is rich and powerful. The family members of the accused and even families of other victims are now demanding a similar form of justice delivery in all rape and murder cases. The instant justice helps authorities to escape public anger from an inefficient criminal justice system and inordinate delay in justice delivery. Instead of putting in place a comprehensive and robust women safety measures to prevent such crimes, instant justice is attempted to cover up failures and escape public anger over it. So long as this continues, the present trend of rising atrocities against women and low rates of conviction will also continue.
There are fault lines even in this instant justice delivery system. Many cases remain unreported. The police have not acted so even at times when the crime is equally horrifying if not more. The classic example is the atrocity on a months-old child in Warangal. The Hazipur serial killer, who abducted three girls raped and killed them, remains under trial. Why didn’t the police deliver a similar instant justice? Such demands continue to galore. The police will be under intense pressure to act similarly.
The media, Parliament, celebrities and society displayed hypocrisy in the way they responded to Disha and subsequent encounter of the accused. The society’s response to such brutal crimes is also a function of caste, class and geography. Questions continue to mount on why such an outrage was not seen when a Dalit woman was subjected to similar brutality in Komaram Bheem, Asifabad district. Why does civil society reacts so only when the media create hype for the incident? Why does political leadership of all colours, who are primarily responsible for the present state of the criminal justice system, fail to act to prevent such crimes? Such questions remain even when society rejoices over the extrajudicial killings in Hyderabad.
The most important justification for the encounter is that such instant justice shall instil fear in criminals and thereby have a deterrent effect. However, despite a similar encounter, incidents continue to be reported from Warangal. It indicates that the real solution lies in strengthening the criminal justice system and judicial accountability.
The encounter even hampers the course of the investigation into the crime that would have helped in strengthening criminal investigation. However, the killing of four accused has taken away significant clues that would have helped to shed light on the crime. Many questions remain unanswered when the suspects are killed in an encounter even before the investigation and judicial process come to a logical conclusion. There are many lapses in the system, which led to the crime. These lapses are responsible for breeding such crimes despite laws made stringent after every such outrage. Rights activists allege that the encounter is an attempt to cover up these failures and preventing them from becoming an agenda that causes embarrassment for the people in power.
Unlawfully satisfying the collective conscience will further derail the rule of law and facilitate law enforcement authorities to get away from professional accountability. Dispensing with the rule of law will only herald a police state, working in favour of the strong and against the weak.
There are many instances where the due course of investigation and even fresh examination has led to new revelations. In Ryan International School murder, the accused changed from a mediocre school bus conductor to a senior student. In Ayesha case, Satyam was proved not guilty after a prolonged period of imprisonment. Has there been a similar encounter, the innocent would have lost their lives, and the real culprits would have permanently escaped the law. It may not be the case with the present Disha case. However, legitimising encounters can lead to many such experiences, as such acts of instant justice are opaque operations and not subject to public or even thorough judicial scrutiny given the prevailing public mood in favour of extrajudicial killings.
Women of India need deterrence of crime rather than retributive justice. Retribution will help the dysfunctional system to legitimise its failures. Thus, such a cure is worse than the disease.
Mobocracy cannot be allowed to replace democracy and jungle law cannot be allowed to take over the rule of law. The accused in the Disha case do not deserve to live in a civilised society. However, political sanction to extrajudicial acts will erode the people’s confidence in the criminal justice system resulting in anarchy and derailment of the rule of law.