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Bodies of the accused in the rape and murder of the veterinarian seen at the spot where they were killed in an "encounter" with the police. Image Credit: Pic: Style Photo service.

Dubai: In a democracy, only the State has the powers to kill, and that too after following the due process of law. What happened on December 7 in Telangana was nothing but cold-blooded murder of four people who were arrested on suspicion of the rape and murder of a 27-year-old woman.

The four suspects, aged between 20 and 26, were taken to the crime scene to “reconstruct” the murder after midnight on Friday. Police said the suspects snatched weapons from policemen who then fired in “self defence”, killing all the suspects. The police statement on these extra-judicial killings has more holes than the bullet-ridden bodies of the suspects.

Here are some basic questions that cops must answer:

Was the approval of a court obtained before the suspects were taken to the crime scene past midnight?

Is there a video recording of the crime scene reconstruction? If yes, then where is the video?

Why were the suspects not handcuffed? How many cops accompanied the suspects?

If these killings are subjected to an investigation, mandated by law, a magistrate can easily have these cops de-rostered and prosecuted. But that is unlikely to happen, given the public euphoria and widespread support for the police action. Here is what I would say to those who are cheering for this ‘instant justice’: “Every time you support extra-judicial killings, you add one more brick to the foundations of a rogue republic.”

While dealing with suspects, no matter how heinous the crime is, the State cannot and must not respond with the same degree of brutality. Lethal weapons are placed in the hands of uniformed personnel to uphold the law and not violate it. The State’s unlawful and brutal response to a brutal crime is no different from one mafia gang bumping off members of another. By killing the rape suspects in cold blood, the policemen showed their contempt for the criminal justice system and ended up gang-raping the law.

Here, I would like to emphasise that I am not being insensitive to the pain and suffering of the woman who was burnt after she was raped. I also understand the anger and anguish of the victim’s family and have deep sympathy for them.

Still, in a democratic society, vengeance and anguish cannot form the basis of justice. Independent arms of the State – investigators, prosecutors and judges – form the bedrock of the justice system. Each arm has a set of duties that must be performed to deliver justice.

Procedural delays in conducting trials cannot be an excuse for this type of “justice”. India has moved forward from the era of Maharajas who proudly posed with their kill during hunting trips. Sadly, the police officers posing for TV cameras along with the suspects’ bodies reminded me of that medieval practice.