The brutal gang rape and murder of 27-year-old veterinarian Dr. Priyanka Reddy on the 27th of Nov had left the whole of India burning in rage, it woke us up once again to the reality of rape that women in our country face. The vicious act of rape followed by the brutish images of her charred body left below an underpass left most of India in shock and despair, and as always it plunged the country into a flurry of debates on topics ranging from that of woman safety to that of police inefficiency.
On the 29th of November, the Hyderabad police with clinical precision tracked the criminals responsible with CCTV footage uncovered from toll booths, the video showed one of the suspects leading Dr. Priyanka Reddy away from the toll booth. At first, credit should be given where due and the Hyderabad police who had successfully managed to arrest the four rapists within 2 days of the heinous crime need to be appreciated for their swiftness in cracking the case. Apart from this the police also collected reliable intel from the petrol bunks from where the rapists had fuel that were used to burn Dr. Priyanka Reddy’s body beyond recognition. Furthermore, while in police custody the rapists had confessed to their crimes and thus it is safe to say that the guiltiness of the accused and had been established beyond reasonable doubt.
In the early hours of yesterday, India woke up to the news of the encounter of all four rapists, who allegedly tried to flee from the police whilst enacting the acts of the crime in the crime scene. The encounter had captured the imagination of Indians around the world, who were seen to be in a state of euphoria as they took to the streets in celebration by bursting crackers, distributing sweets and raising slogans praising the police. Despite human rights activists crying foul, the mood and sentiments of the people also reflected on social media, with many tweeting in approval of the actions of the Hyderabad Police and hailed them as heroes. What was even more surprising was that similar sentiments were echoed even by various celebrities like Sania Nehwal, P.V.Sindhu, Allu Arjun, Samantha, Nagarjuna, and Rishi Kapoor.
However not all concur with the views of the majority public and many disputing both the legitimacy of the encounters and the conviction of the accused. Many have also raised serious concerns about society’s glorification of such encounters and see this as an indication of society’s descent into anarchy.
Are these celebrations truly a sign of society’s endorsement of anarchy? Do they suggest a lack of empathy? Or is there an underlying issue that we seem to miss? To figure this out one must take into consideration the circumstances in which these events have unfolded. To begin with, we have become numb to the number of rapes and violent acts against women that have been plaguing our nation, it is seen that every other day a report on a rape seems to find its way to the papers. We also seem to have one of the worst conviction rates with conservative estimates putting us at 26%. According to 2017 statistics, more than 32,500 cases of rape were registered in the year 2017 alone, and at the same time, Indian courts disposed of only about 18,300 cases related to rape that year, thus leaving more than 127,800 cases pending at the end of 2017.
To make matters even worse even when the accused are convicted of rape, we have seen cases of bizarre judgment. For instance, let us take the case of the juvenile rapist from Hyderabad who after four years of investigation and trial who had been asked by the courts to do community service in the very school of the victim whom he had raped. These lapses of judgment on the part of the Juvenile Justice Board (JJB the judiciary panel) need to come under serious scrutiny. Adding to this is the unsettling delay in judgment even when all evidence has been strongly established on the accused. What has the judiciary done to ensure that the families on the receiving end of such acts are rendered justice? We all are aware of the Nirbhaya rape case of 2012 and uproar that it had caused and the protests that it had brought about, but after 7 long years the convicts are still allowed to live their lives out in prison. The mother of the Nirbhaya girl who herself has been running pillar to post demanding for the hanging of the rapists of her daughters says she finds solace in the way the four rapists in Hyderabad have been dealt with.
The jubilation of the public to such encounters are not only because of the failure of the judiciary but also because of their frustrations against certain sections of the media who seem inclined to always humanize the guilty. As so craftily exemplified by the online news portal The Quint, which attempted to humanize one of the rapes accused Muhammad Pasha by writing a brief article on the poverty-stricken life that the family has been subjected to. The ineffectiveness of the judiciary and indifference of certain media portals towards the pains and the suffering of the victims have pushed the general public to admire such acts. This is a worrying trend and one that threatens to continue unless the Judiciary takes notice and accepts responsibility. The Judicial system on India has been allowed far too long to carry out without any sense of accountability, and the people of India have lost trust in the judiciary. It is time for the judiciary to build back the trust in the judicial system and if they fail to do so society will continue to look towards vigilantism as a form of justice.