Indian police shoot dead four men suspected of raping vet

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Demonstrators hold placards to protest against sexual assaults on women, following the alleged gang-rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad, during a march in Kolkata on Dec 4, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - The four men accused of the gang-rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman near the southern city of Hyderabad were shot dead during an alleged botched escape attempt - in a development that earned the police both criticism and praise.

According to the police, Mohammed, 26, Jollu Shiva, 20, Jollu Naveen, 20 and Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, 20, were shot dead between 3am and 6am on Friday (5:30am and 8:30am Singapore time).

They had been taken to the crime scene by the police as part of the investigations. According to reports in Indian media, the men had tried to steal police guns and escape but were killed by the police in a crossfire during the effort to recapture them.

"The accused were killed in a police encounter at Chatanpally, Shadnagar, in the wee hours between 3am and 6am," Cyberabad police commissioner V C Sajjanar told Indian media.

The rape of the woman, a vet, had triggered public outrage across the country amid heated debates on the lack of safety for women, even inviting calls for introducing castration and even public lynchings.

The rape victim, who cannot be identified by law in India, was attacked and set on fire on Nov 27. The victim had parked her scooter near a toll booth and upon return found that the scooter had a puncture.

Just before she was ambushed, she had called her sister saying she was scared.

The victim's charred remains were found the next day and the accused were arrested two days after the murder.

Sexual crimes against women and delays in the police and judicial process for victims have remained a serious problem in India. The issue hit the international spotlight following the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a physiotherapy student in a moving bus in the capital city of Delhi.

The crime triggered street protests forcing the government to change laws including introducing the death penalty for serial rapists. Seven years later, an appeal against the death penalty awarded to the four men convicted of the crime is currently in the Supreme Court.

Reactions to the deaths of the four suspects on Friday poured in from across the country.

Some expressed satisfaction, others wondered if this was a breakdown of law and order and an instance of an extra-judicial killing.

"Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u," wrote Indian badminton star and former world No. 1 Saina Nehwal wrote on Twitter.

The deaths also come amid deep frustration over a slow judicial system and instances of shoddy investigations by the police.

Television news channels showed crowds cheering and setting off firecrackers in a show of celebration at the spot of the killings.

The vet's family expressed satisfaction with the death of the accused.

"It has been 10 days to the day my daughter died. I express my gratitude towards the police and the government for this. My daughter's soul must be at peace now," her father, who cannot be identified, said.

Ms Asha Devi, the mother of the 2012 gang-rape victim, who has been critical of the delays in her daughter's case, also expressed satisfaction with the developments.

"I am extremely happy with this punishment. Police has done a great job and I demand that no action should be taken against the police personnel," she told news agency ANI.

"I have been running from pillar to post for the last for years. I appeal to the justice system of this country and the government, that my daughter's culprits must be hanged to death, at the earliest," she said.

But just as vocal were those who questioned whether this was a breakdown of law and order in the South Asian country. Some even wondered if the right culprits had been caught.

Questions were also raised over the police version so far with many wondering if all the four men had tried to run away.

"All those who will say that the 4 got what they deserved, remember their guilt had not been established. One or more of them cd hv been innocent. Just bcos they had been arrested did not mean they were guilty. This can happen to anyone now. Down the abyss we go," Sumanth Raman, a journalist and political analyst, wrote on Twitter.

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