Police say they shot dead four accused in vet’s rape and murder case after they tried to escape from custody.
News of the probe to be conducted by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) came as the country reeled after the death on Friday of a woman who had been set on fire on her way to a sexual assault hearing.
Police said they shot the four suspects, who had been in custody for a week, early on Friday after they snatched officers’ guns during a re-enactment at the crime scene organised by the detectives.
Their deaths prompted celebrations, with hundreds heading to the scene and showering officers with flower petals, as politicians, celebrities and sports stars congratulated police on social media.
Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u 🙏
— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) December 6, 2019
On Saturday morning, police were still at the scene outside Hyderabad in southern India as motorists stopped their cars on the busy highway to look and take photos with their phones.
Others, however, 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 operation was overseen by a police officer involved in two similar incidents including when three acid attack suspects were killed in a forest in 2008, the Indian Express newspaper reported on Saturday.
“Justice Executed,” said the headline of the daily’s report.
Reporting from New Delhi, Al Jazeera’s Anchal Vohra said there is anger among people over rising crimes against women and that protests have been planned across the country.
“The scary part is that the conversation has moved from following legal procedure to obtain justice, to justice anyhow,” she said.
“That is what is worrying many human rights activists because once that starts, once there is public sanction for police to go ahead and kill people, then where does that stop?”
Late on Friday, the High Court in the southern state of Telangana where the incident happened ordered that the bodies be preserved until Monday evening and that their autopsies be filmed.
A team from the NHRC was expected at the scene later Saturday. It said that it was concerned that the killings would “send a wrong message to society”.
— ANI (@ANI) December 7, 2019
“If the arrested persons were actually guilty, they were to be punished as per law pursuant to the directions of the competent court,” a statement said.
The four men had, according to police, confessed during interrogation to gang-raping and murdering on November 27 the 27-year-old vet before setting fire to her body under a bridge.
The case prompted nationwide protests and calls for swift – and tough – justice from a slow and overburdened legal system that campaigners say all too often fails to convict rapists.
India’s last execution was conducted in 2015.
After the men were arrested last Friday, hundreds of people laid siege to the police station where they were being held. One legislator called in parliament for the suspects to be “lynched”.
After they were killed on Friday, the pregnant 17-year-old wife of one of them told Indian media: “Take me to the same place and kill me too.”
The father of another called the deaths a “cold-blooded killing … Why did they punish them even before completing the legal process?”
But the murdered woman’s father said: “Justice was done.”
Separately on Friday, a woman who had been set on fire on Thursday by men she had accused of raping her succumbed to her injuries in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The victim, who suffered 90-percent burns, had told police that she was attacked by two men who had raped her and three others while on her way to a court hearing.
“Despite our best efforts, she did not survive,” said Shalab Kumar, head of burn and plastic surgery at the Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi.
All five suspects have been arrested and are being questioned, senior policeman Suvendra Kumar Bhagat told AFP news agency.
The victim’s brother told local media that said she would get justice when all those who killed her go to the place “where she has gone”.
Al Jazeera’s Vohra said many people, including the family of the woman who died on Friday night, asked for the accused to be hanged.
“You either hang the accused and do it quickly or even if the police shoots them down, that’s fine with us,” she reported them saying.