Many Indians took to social media on Friday to applaud the police killings of four men accused in the gang rape and murder of a 27-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad.
Police said the men tried to snatch the weapons of accompanying policemen when they were taken to the scene of the crime to reconstruct events. All four of the accused were killed and two policemen were injured.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent years to protest against increasing incidents of rape in the country and the slow response of police and the courts.
About 90 cases of rape are reported in India each day and many more go unreported because of the social stigma attached to victims. Court cases drag on for years and few result in convictions, legal experts say.
Some victims and their families have ended up being attacked for pursuing cases against powerful men, often local politicians.
The sister of the veterinarian praised the police for the killings, saying she was “feeling very happy for it.”
“I think this will be an example and nobody will even think of doing it. And I think it’s in a record time, they have done this,” she said.
The killings were seen as justice to the mother of a 23-year-old student who was gang raped and murdered in New Delhi in 2012, a case that caused outrage across the country. Four men were convicted and are on death row pending appeals.
“At least one daughter has been served justice,” the mother said. “I thank the police. I have been shouting for 7 years, punish the culprits even if it needs to be done by breaking laws and then see how the society changes for good.”
Summary justice meted out by police, especially against rapists and crooked politicians, is a recurring theme in India’s Bollywood films.
Nevertheless, some commentators said the killings set a worrying precedent.
“You can’t take the law in your own hands,” said Maneka Gandhi, a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The courts would’ve ordered them (the accused) to be hanged anyway. If you’re going to shoot them with guns before due process is followed, then what’s the point of having courts, police and law?”
Indian police have been frequently accused of extra-judicial killings, called “encounters”.
“Police with such serious allegations against them are termed ‘encounter specialists’, and many have been awarded medals as well as financial rewards,” wrote Priya Pillai, an international legal expert, in an article published this year by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute.
“So rather than prosecution and punishment, there appears institutional and popular support for these killings.”