December 9, 2019
WSS Statement Against the rapes and murders in Hyderabad and Unnao
On December 6, 2019 four unarmed men – lorry workers aged between 20 and 24 – were killed by the Telangana police at the spot where they were suspected to have gang-raped and killed a 26-year old woman just over a week ago. That same afternoon, a 23-year old woman from Unnao who spoke out against being gang-raped in December last year, was on her way to the Raebareli court to testify against her rapists. One of the men she had accused of raping her had been arrested but was let out on bail just a week before her most recent court hearing. She never made it to court that day, because she was set ablaze by five men en route. Two of these five men were her accused rapists. One of them was the same person who had been let out on bail just days before. After walking a kilometre, still aflame, she was taken to hospital, her body battling 90% burn injuries. In less than two days she succumbed to her injuries. Just before she died, people in Hyderabad were celebrating the killing of the four men who had allegedly raped the young veterinarian doctor, by the police while they were in custody, crying out that “justice” had been served.
On the 27th of November 2019, the 26-year old doctor’s scooter broke down on the Hyderabad-Bangalore Highway. Four men, pretending to help her, allegedly dragged her to a secluded spot, raped her and smothered her to death. To destroy evidence, they burnt her body which was discovered the next morning. The incident sparked public outrage, and the Telangana police swung into action. They immediately arrested the four men likely to have been responsible for the rapes. A week later, before they had been proven guilty beyond doubt by any legal process, they took them to the spot of the crime to “reconstruct the crime scene” and in search of further evidence. Here they shot them, killing all four in an “encounter”, claiming that the accused pelted stones and snatched the guns from the policemen, which compelled police to shoot all of them dead in self-defence. This occurred a day after the state government gave orders for setting up a fast-track court for the case.
There are several gaping discrepancies to the story being told by the police, and as many obvious violations of procedure and law. Why were the men not handcuffed – should not police have been prepared for the possibility that they might escape? If the policemen had been compelled to shoot, why didn’t they aim at the lower limbs? Why shoot to kill? Were there more people involved? Were the murdered men indeed the ones who committed the crime? Was there irrefutable evidence and proof produced before a court of law proving their involvement in this crime, without a shadow of doubt? Was there a trial followed by judgement that pronounced punishment according to the criminal justice system? Wasn’t the fast-track court set up to serve this purpose?
The narrative is even more curious for its similarities with another such incident that took place in 2008. CP Sajjanar, who is the current commissioner of the Cyberabad police division responsible for this “encounter”, was SP Warangal at the time, when two women engineering students of the Kakatiya Institute of Technology were victims of an acid attack. One of them died while undergoing treatment. Under Sajjanars leadership, three men were arrested within 48 hours, taken for the “reconstruction of the crime scene” and shot dead claiming that they were throwing acid bombs at the police. These were men in custody. One wonders how they had access to acid bombs to attack the police who had themselves accompanied them to the scene of the crime. In both cases, the families and the public bayed for blood and hailed the killings as the best way of serving justice.
Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have a long and dubious history of extra-judicial executions by the police. In addition, several rape cases where influential people were involved were deliberately mismanaged by the police to delay and undermine the judicial process. In the case of a sudent of pharmacy in Vijayawada and the gang-rapes of tribal women in Vakapally by security forces the cases were brought to the court only to ensure the denial of justice.
The student of pharmacy studying in Vijayawada was brutally assaulted and killed in the bathroom of the hostel where she was staying. The prime suspects initially were the son of a Minister and another politician. Despite a host of clues like hair, semen and blood samples from the scene of crime, the police arrested a physically challenged dalit man, Sathyam Babu, and accused him of scaling the wall at night, climbing the stairs and perpetrating the brutal crime without being caught by any of the 20 other inmates. This was in 2007. Sathyam Babu was sentenced to 14 years in prison. When the case was appealed in the High Court, Sathyam Babu was acquitted after spending seven years in jail in 2014. The court reprimanded the police for shoddy investigation and ordered a reinvestigation. Meanwhile the lower court destroyed the material evidence in its possession making reinvestigation that much more difficult, though another case was filed to investigate destruction of evidence.
In 2007, 11 adivasi women belonging to the Kondh tribe were gang raped by a team of Greyhounds while they were on an anti-Maoist combing operation in their village, Vakapally. Twenty one men were accused but 8 were let off and 13 are facing trial after the high court commenced the trial in 2018. The Supreme Court ordered that the trial must be speeded up and completed in six months. Initially the women were not allowed to file a FIR till the court ordered the same. The case was systematically undermined at every stage. If it wasn’t for the persistence of the Women’s and Human Rights activists, the case would not have reached the trial in High Court.
On the other hand, in the case of the Hyderabad encounter, women and Human Rights activists who raised their voices against such extra-judicial killings have been systematically trolled and targeted so that public rage be directed against those who demand that the rule of law be followed.
The repeated instances of failure of the police to protect public interest in cases of violence against women are now being white-washed by vigilante justice by the men in uniform. The National Commission for Human Rights (NHRC) has taken suo motu cognizance of these custodial murders carried out by the Telangana police and has ordered a spot enquiry from its investigation team. A case was also filed in the Supreme Court by advocates from Hyderabad.
Celebrating and nurturing a culture of extra judicial killings, however, seems to be a part of the ethos of the police and the politicians in this country. By undermining and then maligning the judicial process and then subsequently through extra-judicial vigilante actions public opinion is misled and a rabid rage is manufactured to cultivate the belief that encounters serve justice. As the report released by the judicial inquiry instituted to look into the 2012 incident in Sarkeguda, Chhattisgarh, reveals, what was then dubbed as one of the most “successful” encounters carried out by the security forces, which claimed to have killed 17 alleged Maoists, was in fact a one-sided murder of 17 villagers, 7 of whom were minors, and none of whom was a Maoist.
This valorisation of “encounter” killings as a response to crimes against women not only serves to cultivate a culture of impunity that rests on inequalities of caste and class, but also only to breed a form of violent masculinity that underlies a culture of rape. The rapists and the police – or the state through legal sanction – who murder them are then but two sides of the same patriarchal coin. What this culture also does is perpetuate and cement the inequalities of class and caste that constitute the impunity with which the security forces of the state function. It is easy to call for the hanging and murder of lorry workers but what of the many fathers and uncles and brothers, godmen and security and army personnel who continue to rape with an impunity granted to them through legal and social protection?
In Unnao too, this is not the first such instance of rape. One need only remember the 17-year old who was repeatedly gang-raped by BJP MLA Kuldip Sengar and others, and the brutal violence and endless harassment her family has had to face for speaking up. She and her lawyer were mysteriously hit by a truck, her father died in police custody, his body poisoned and marked by multiple injuries. Two of her aunts were also killed and she was forced into attempting to self immolate in front of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence. Yet, there has been no justice there either, and the powerful rapists belonging to the ruling political class continue to enjoy a protection the rape survivor is consistently denied. What the cases of Unnao and hundreds of other instances in which women from marginalised communities are raped reveal, is that somehow rage at rape too is selective. The rape of a non-metropolitan dalit or Muslim woman doesn’t nearly generate the same public anger in the name of which extra-judicial killings are justified. This selective rage sacrifices both security and justice; the UP Chief Minister proudly claimed responsibility for over 3000 encounters in just over a year of his tenure. While encounters and killings by the police are carried out with complete impunity, the same government has somehow been unable – or unwilling – to guarantee the security of women and protect them against rape. With great drama and aplomb, displays of concern are made by airlifting survivors to the hospital – but the question is why were they put in that position in the first place? At the same time, the police is quick to instruct women on what they should and shouldn’t do – don’t leave home after 8 PM we are told. Does stifling the autonomy of women mean ensuring their protection?
Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS) condemns the rape and murder of the doctor in Hyderabad and the killing of her suspected rapists by the police in Telangana. We also condemn the murder of the Unnao rape victim and as we mourn her death, we also mourn the death of justice and the loss of humanity in this country.
In a single week, two women were raped and burnt to death, one in Hyderabad and the other in Raebareli. On December 6, four men, three belonging to Valmiki caste and one a Muslim, accused of raping one of them were shot dead by the Cyberabad police near Hyderabad. And on that very day, the woman from Unnao was set ablaze by five men, including those she accused of raping her. All of the accused belong to the upper castes. There was rage after the rape and celebration after the ‘encounter’ in Hyderabad, and there was silence and a continued impunity in Unnao. There was barbaric violence in both cases, and justice in neither.
On this very day 27 years ago, there was another moment of barbaric violence that our country can never forget, because there too, justice was never granted. The violence that led to and followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya scattered seeds of a culture of hatred and revenge, one that is capable of grave barbaric violence and an obfuscation of justice. It is ripples of this same hateful violence and rabid rage that has stripped the nation of its humanity and allowed us to nurture a world in which justice finds no place. It has also validated a return to feudal values that relegate women to the status of chattel through a cacophonous orchestration on mainstream and social media networks. The nation is facing a drastically falling sex-ratio and unprecedented violence against women in all forms. Constitutional institutions have been disabled to serve this political culture. As the powerful statement released by the Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW) and the Bebaak Collective pointed out, in the case of Babri-Ramjanmbhoomi case, justice was traded for peace. And yet, as they also pointed out, what we saw on the streets was not “peace” but silence. In the case of the rape and murder of the young doctor and the killing of her alleged rapists in Hyderabad, and the case of the Unnao rape survivor being burnt in broad daylight as she was on her way to court, justice was replaced by vengeful murder.
The Telangana police’s lack of faith in the system of justice, and the Unnao victim’s faith in the courts reveals how the police, in collusion with the violent structures of caste, class and patriarchy is compelled and willing to undermine the judiciary itself. It is up to the Courts in the country to re-establish the balance of power by asserting their independence to preserve the rule of law; and up to the rest of us to speak out against such violence and the power that wields it.
WSS demands that:
the investigation into the rape and murder of the veterinarian doctor continues, to arrive at definite conclusions about the perpetrators of the crime, based on hard facts and conclusive evidence. The case of ‘encounters’ must also be dealt with by the fast-track court that has already been notified by the Telangana government.
the state government also institute a time-bound judicial inquiry into the custodial murders in Hyderabad by the Telangana police. We demand that women’s rights activists be part of the commission, to ensure a free and impartial investigation.
the Chief Minister of Telangana and the Commissioner of Police must be held accountable for the custodial murders and inform the public about the subsequent steps they plan to take to ensure the Rule of Law in the state.
the courts must rein-in the media from glorifying this miscarriage of justice.
the High Court must take suo motu cognisance of the cases of abuse and threats against Women’s Rights activists and Human Rights activists on mainstream and social media and order the state to take immediate action on all pending complaints immediately.
the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister must own up responsibility for the utter failure of the government to protect women and inform the public about the immediate steps that they will take to ensure justice for all victims and survivors of sexual crimes.
those responsible for the rape and murder in Unnao be tried immediately in a fast-track court. In the previous case of rape in Unnao (where the survivor is still fighting for justice), strict legal action be taken against the accused and protection and justice granted to her.
Conveners, WSS: Ajita, Nisha Biswas, Rinchin, Shalini Gera