Chief Justice of India SA Bobde yesterday condemned the practice of extrajudicial killings, saying that justice loses its very character when it takes the form of revenge.
The observation came as a top Indian rights group yesterday launched an investigation into the police shooting of four rape-murder suspects after accusations they were gunned down in cold blood to assuage public anger.
But in a country where violence against women is rife and an overburdened criminal justice system means attackers often escape punishment, many Indians also celebrated the suspects’ deaths.
The launch of the investigation by the National Human Rights Commission comes as India also reeled from the death of another woman yesterday, set on fire on her way to a sexual assault court hearing in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Justice Bobde, however, admitted the recent events in the country have reignited a debate with new vigour where there is no doubt that the criminal justice system must reconsider its position and attitude towards the time it takes to dispose of a case.
“But I don’t think justice can ever be or ought to be instant and justice must never ever take the form of revenge. I believe justice loses its character of justice if it becomes revenge,” the CJI said during the inauguration of a new building of the Rajasthan High Court in Jodhpur.
The four accused were arrested on November 29 for allegedly raping and killing the 25-year-old veterinary doctor on November 27 by smothering her and later burning her body, an incident that led to widespread outrage.
Justice Bobde’s remarks came a day after the police claimed that all the four accused in the rape and murder of a young veterinarian near Hyderabad were shot dead in “retaliatory” firing by the policemen when two of the accused opened fire at them after snatching their weapons and tried to escape from the site where they had been taken for a reconstruction of events as part of the investigation.
The four men had, according to police, confessed during interrogation to gang-raping and murdering the woman before setting fire to her body under a bridge.
Opinions are divided over the killings in Telangana’s Shamshabad.
The accused deaths were met with celebrations, with hundreds heading to the scene and showering officers with flower petals, as politicians, celebrities and sports stars congratulated police on social media.
However, others expressed horror, with one Supreme Court lawyer calling it “murder in cold blood” and Amnesty International saying the “alleged extrajudicial execution” should be investigated.
The Indian Express said in its yesterday’s editorial that the shooting of the four suspects “reflects an idea of medieval mob justice.”
Veteran politician Kapil Sibal warned that “savage Taliban-style justice... will make courts irrelevant.”
But the murdered woman’s father said “justice was done”.
More than 33,000 rapes were reported in India in 2017, according to the latest government figures, but vast numbers go unreported, experts say. At the same time, a huge backlog of cases that many victims wait years for their attackers to be convicted, and that many perpetrators escape justice.