Rasheeda Bhagat

Cheering ‘encounters’ is a dangerous trend

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on December 10, 2019

Killing suspected rapists, as in the Hyderabad encounter, amounts to giving the police a free permit to execute ‘justice’

On the gender and dispensation of “justice” front, there were a series of shocks last fortnight. As the entire country erupted in an outpouring of anguish and rage at the brutal gang-rape and burning alive of a young Hyderababd vet, the Telangana police quickly arrested four suspected rapists. As the baying for the blood of these rapists gathered steam and reached a crescendo, with parliamentarians demanding death and even lynching, there was another shock. All the four suspects were gunned down in a police “encounter” while trying to escape in the dark of the night.

Even before you could blink your eye and wonder at the so-called re-enactment of the crime at that unearthly hour, there was widespread jubilation and the social media erupted with messages congratulating the Telangana police for delivering “justice”. You were shouted down if you asked since when were the police in charge of justice.

As the Telangana police became the new celebrity in town, emboldened by the open public support of their so-called encounter, Telangana ministers not only endorsed the police action but also brazenly admitted that it was indeed a fake encounter, and glorified it. One of its ministers, Talasani Srinivas Yadav, bragged in a local TV channel, “This is a lesson. If your conduct is wrong, you won’t benefit from any court trial, prison sentence or subsequent bail as the case drags on. We have sent a message that if you do something wrong and cruel, there will be an encounter.”

The previous day, Telangana Transport Minister P Ajay Kumar boasted about the “speedy justice” the State police had delivered, adding, “We have shown that if somebody casts an evil eye on our daughters, we will gouge out his eyes.” There was not an iota or shame or regret that such a heinous crime could not be prevented and a young woman could undergo such a horrendous rape and death during their dispensation.

Sexual assaults and violence seem to be reaching a new high in India, where the hashtag #nocountryforwomen was trending on Twitter last week. And the new normal seems to be to burn the victim after rape/gang rape. The Unnao victim of gang rape was spared her life after the crime, but the rapists must have realised their mistake and, last week, while on way to court she was set ablaze.

There are heart-rending accounts of how she ran, even as she was burning, crying for help, was admitted to the Safderjung Hospital, but finally succumbed to the grievous injury. One of her family members told reporters that she kept saying she didn’t want to die but live on to see her rapists hanged to death.

There is no question about making our streets safer for women, but the larger issue is a transformation in the mindset of men, the way women are perceived in our communities, the way mothers bring up their boys and, above all, the treatment of girls/women. Even in many upper class homes, women score much lower on the power and status front, the respect they command and the way they are treated by men.

It’s about power, rage

I have always maintained that rape is not so much about lust or desire, but power, rage, envy and other emotions. Just a week earlier, in Coimbatore a Class 11 student was gang-raped. A telling comment on our mindset came when the mother of the main accused, P Manikandan, said he had told her he had not raped her but only “questioned and slapped her” for being out so late in the night (8 p.m) with a male friend. Back to the same ghisa-pita argument of girls/women having no business to be out late in the night.

Rape/sexual violence against women is such a complex issue; outrage, anguish, condemnation are all legitimate emotions. Do what you might, but the very idea of the trauma, torture, helplessness and gruesome pain of the young veterinarian makes any sensitive person want to shoot the perpetrators. But then you think rationally. Are we in the medieval ages, or do we believe in the Taliban-type of justice? What about the entire legal and judicial system which, in any civilized society, is put in place to give the suspects a chance to defend themselves, and demand from the police a proper investigation and placing of proof that those arrested have indeed committed the crime.

Cheering the police for killing the suspected rapists in fake encounters is like giving them a free permit to dispense justice. Every time there is public outrage when a woman is raped and the police are blamed for indifferent policing, they can put behind bars the first “suspects” they can find, and do away with them before even producing them for remand. How long will it be before our politicians step in and do away with political rivals — and the downward spin from there can’t even be imagined.

Published on December 10, 2019

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