As It Happens

After Indian police kill rape suspects, lawyer calls public celebrations 'abhorrent'

Lawyer and women's rights activist Prabhsahay Kaur speaks with As It Happens host Carol Off about the case that has sparked massive protests in India.

Officials say suspects in rape and murder of 27-year-old veterinarian seized weapons from police officers

People shout slogans as they celebrate after police shot and killed four men suspected of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian in India. (Amit Dave/Reuters)

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Police officers in southern India are being celebrated for killing four men who were suspected of raping and killing a veterinarian, but a lawyer says the public reaction is "absolutely abhorrent."

On Friday at about 3 a.m., police took the four suspects to the scene of the crime. That's when, according to local police commissioner V.C. Sajjanar, the suspects "seized some weapons from policemen who had taken them there and started firing." 

"Even though our officers maintained restraint and asked them to surrender ... they continued to fire and continued to attack us," Sajjanar said, adding that police returned fire, killing the suspects.

There had been protests in India after the burned body of the 27-year-old veterinarian was found last week near Hyderabad. 

Friday's police killings have drawn criticism from some lawmakers and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, which said the government "must ensure an independent, impartial, swift and thorough criminal investigation into the alleged extrajudicial execution of four under-trial prisoners."

Lawyer and women's rights activist Prabhsahay Kaur spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about the case. Here's part of their conversation.

What do you say to people in Hyderabad who are celebrating the killing of these four men? 

To be honest, I think it's absolutely abhorrent. 

This is an insult to the democracy. It's an insult to our constitution. It's an insult to the rule of law. 

Police officers in southern India are being celebrated for killing four men who were suspected of raping and killing a veterinarian. (Swarat Ghosh/Reuters)

Even the parents of the rape victim, though, are calling these deaths a justice. 

The Indian law doesn't allow me to take the rape victim's name. She has been named Disha.

The parents of Disha are at a very different mindset right now, and we have to understand the brutality with which she was raped and murdered. I won't justify that they are saying this, but one can understand their rage. 

But one cannot understand the rage of people who are absolutely taking law into their own hands.

What's absolutely distressing is that people think that it's justifiable for the protectors of law to take law into their own hands like this.

Forensic officials examine the bodies at the site of the police shootings. (Swarat Ghosh/Reuters)

There are so many questions, aren't there? You think, well first of all, how could all four of them be shot dead? Why were they not just wounded? Why couldn't they have overwhelmed them and apprehended them again, given that the police were armed? Why 3 a.m.? I mean, you must have a lot of questions of your own.

Absolutely, and not only the act in itself, but the acts and the reaction after it.

For instance, they left the bodies there for a long time for the public to collect there. This entire celebration and all of this happened … many hours after the incident. So the bodies were left there. 

But there is one heartening development that has happened today. The High Court of Telangana … they have directed for the bodies of all the four accused to be sent for post-mortem ... and they have directed for the bodies to be preserved.

So I'm very glad to know that this kind of kangaroo justice hasn't affected our higher courts. 

How is the police department itself responding to what its officers did? 

They are calling themselves heroes. I believe this is a moment of glory for them. 

It's very unfortunate because it is not for the police to take a decision — it's for our courts to decide whether they were actually the accused or not after a trial. 

If the police is going to indulge in acts like this, it is going to put more questions on whether they caught the right accused. 

It also, I guess, raises questions ... if since we won't know if these four men were the ones who did this brutal rape and murder of this young woman, the people who did it might still be at large.

This act itself, I think, is the biggest disservice to the trial and to actually the rape of Disha because it raises these questions. 

There is, I'm told, a lot of circumstantial evidence that has already been collected against them. There's CCTV footage. There's DNA profiling. So all of this would have been sufficient to secure a conviction. 

But because of this act itself, it has put a question mark on who actually raped her. 

I recall, from a few days ago, there were many who thought, "What was she doing out late? Why didn't she call police?" There were a lot of suggestions that she may have brought this on herself. Did people find that disturbing? 

That's extremely disturbing and I think it's doing a huge disservice to the woman who has lost her life.

She was an independent, confident, young lady who was going out to work. Raising questions like this is as bad as the incident itself. 

But to be honest with you, when [the Delhi gang rape] case happened in 2012, we heard a lot of these voices. In my view, a lot of those voices did not happen in this case and people did not raise as many questions as they did last time. 

It seems that we have also accepted, and moved on, as a society, that women have a right to earn their livelihood. They have a right to be out in the open. 

Prabhsahay Kaur is a women's rights activist and lawyer in New Dehli. (Submitted by Prabhsahay Kaur)

People who are celebrating, who see this as justice, is it not an issue that there are so many cases that don't end with a successful conviction? There's so much impunity for rapes and attacks on women, that people perhaps feel this is the only way they would have had any satisfaction. Is that possible? 

That's true. That's absolutely what their justification is. So even though all these measures have been taken … unfortunately, many of them exist only on paper. And it has not really made a difference on the ground. 

So this is, in a way, people's frustration coming out. This reaction is testament of the absolute failure of our criminal justice system to bring justice for rape victims. And this is why this has led to a lot of rage in people. 

Having said that, it doesn't justify what has happened. 

Written by Katie Geleff with files from The Associated Press. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.