The dawn of December 6 broke with a breaking news. The police had shot dead the four men accused of raping and burning a young veterinary doctor in Hyderabad. There was a sense of euphoria, the thrill of punitive retribution, a sense of fulfilment of vengeance and even a sense of patriotism at this act. The act was everything that an average Indian dreams about. It is with such stuff that the C-grade Bollywood movie scripts are filled with. In a country where court cases drag over decades, what could be a better way of satisfying our thirst for justice than shooting down the accused in cold blood?
Meanwhile, in Unnao of UP, allegedly the rape capital of India, where there have been 86 such cases in 2019 itself, the accused gets out on bail and promptly burns the victim in full public view. In the same state, a victim of rape languishes in jail while the accused, a godman and the ruling party leader, remains as powerful as ever. In another parallel universe, a godman accused of paedophilia and rape manages to escape the country on an expired passport, making fool of the intelligence machinery. After a few days, this man—more famous for his buffoonery and sexual exploits than any spiritual merit—comes up with a bizarre claim of buying an island and declaring it as the first ‘Hindu’ nation. There are two ‘godmen’ who are languishing in jail after being proven as rapists, but we witnessed the pitched street battles that the followers of these godmen fought to resist their arrests. A Catholic Bishop is playing hide and seek with the police after a nun accused him of raping her and the state machinery is handling this case with kid’s gloves.
A study done by Association of Democratic Reforms came up with a disturbing conclusion. It claims, after analysing the election affidavits of candidates, that 327 candidates of state legislative and parliament elections have cases registered against them for crimes against women in the last five years. Among the major political parties, 47 legislators with declared cases of crimes against women are from the BJP. The silver medal in this dubious distinction goes to BSP with 35 MP/MLAs with cases of crime against women and the Congress is close behind with 24 legislators. What differentiates these VIP rapists from the four accused in the Hyderabad rape case?
Once we get tired of praising the brave police for their heroic act, we should pause to reflect on such questions. We should also take time to ask, what is the duty of the police? Is it to dole out instant ‘Bollywood flick justice’ or is it to prevent the crime? The poor victim of Hyderabad wouldn’t have died, had the police done their duty when the victim’s sister approached the police station. As per the state home minister and news reports, the victim’s family claims that they were made to run from pillar to post on the night of the crime when they went to register a missing person report. The victim’s father said he had to bear the allegation of the policemen that his daughter had eloped with someone and later was made to run from one police station to another as the police argued about jurisdiction. Had the police done its elementary duty, the victim would have been alive.
When the world knew about the brutal crime and the public anger boiled over, only way this could be quenched was by delivering an instant ‘justice’. Such acts make a mockery of our democratic institutions. Those who talk about rapists walking scot-free and blaming it on the court forget that the court decides on evidence and it is the duty of the police to prove the crime. If criminals are getting elected, if criminals are becoming godmen and conmen and flee the country, if the accused come out on bail and burn the victim, who is at fault? It is a failure of law and order and not the Constitution, the rules or the court.
There was this strange case of Gopal Shetye. A mentally unstable woman said a man called Gopal raped her as she was sleeping under Ghatkopar bridge of Mumbai and the police picked him up from his apartment. His wife divorced him, his father died heart-broken, he lost his job and his children went to orphanage. The man claimed to be innocent as he was at his home at that time, but the police made him confess the crime. After languishing seven years in jail, the court dismissed the case and came down heavily on the police for fabricating evidence. Injustice was done both to the victim and the accused, but Gopal should be thanking his stars that this happened in 2009, before lynching, both on social media and on the streets, became a national pastime. There was every possibility that he might have been taken to Ghatkopar bridge at 3 am, with no handcuffs, and he would have got the sudden urge to kill a dozen armed policemen by grabbing their guns or throwing sticks and stones at them. The hapless policemen then would have been forced to shoot him dead and win the wholesome praise of chest-thumping patriots and social media warriors.
The four accused of Hyderabad case, if they have done the crime, deserved the gallows. But the police need to work on building a foolproof case after a proper investigation and prove in the court beyond all doubts that none among the four is another Gopal. We have a Constitution and institutions like the court for a reason. The ‘Dabangi’ heroes are fine on the silver screen. If they start prowling our streets and we keep cheering them, we don’t know when we would find ourselves at the wrong end of their guns.
( Anand Neelakantan is the author of Asura, Ajaya series, Vanara and Bahubali trilogy and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )