SHADNAGAR, India (AP) — Police on Friday fatally shot four men suspected of raping and killing a woman in southern India, drawing both praise and condemnations in a case that has sparked protests across the country.
The suspects were in police custody and had not been formally charged with any crime.
The burned body of a woman — a 27-year-old veterinarian — was found last week by a passer-by near Hyderabad after she went missing the previous night.
At around 3 a.m. Friday, the suspects were taken to the sites where the rape and killing are believed to have taken place and the spot in an underpass where the woman’s body was burned about half a kilometer (a third of a mile) away, according to Shreedharan, an official in the police commissioner’s office who uses one name.
Another police official said the suspects tried to grab an officer’s firearm and escape. That officer spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Indians had rallied on the streets of Hyderabad, New Delhi and Mumbai and called on social media for swift justice in a country where sentencing is notoriously delayed by backlogged courts.
Swati Maliwal, the head of the Delhi Commission for Women, started an indefinite hunger strike, demanding that the perpetrators be hanged within six months.
Maliwal said Friday that police “had no choice but to shoot.”
She said she is continuing her fast to demand swift hangings in other sexual violence cases because she thinks capital punishment will act as a deterrent.
“Hang the rapists!” shouted some of the hundreds of supporters of Maliwal, mainly women, who gathered Friday at the site of her strike, the mausoleum of Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi.
The police killings were raised in Parliament by the Congress party and other opposition groups, which demanded a probe into the incident.
“This type of justice is counterfeit,” said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.
“The killings are a ploy to shut down our demand of accountability from governments, judiciary and police, and dignity and justice for women. We demand a thorough investigation into this,” she said.
Maneka Gandhi, a lawmaker from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and a former Cabinet minister, accused police of taking the law into their own hands.
“They would’ve been hanged by court anyway. If you’re going to kill the accused before any due process of law has been followed, then what’s the point of having courts, law and police?” she said.
Some hugged officers and lifted them into the air, chanting “Long live police,” while others showered them with flowers.
After the 2012 gang rape and killing of a 23-year-old student on a New Delhi bus, minimum sentences were raised in cases of sexual violence. The four men convicted in the case have appealed their sentences, death by hanging.
Reporting by Mahesh Kumar and Emily Schmall; Associated Press writers Mohammed Shafeeq in Hyderabad and Chonchui Ngashangva, Ashok Sharma and Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi contributed to this report
Image: Activists demanding justice in the case of a veterinarian who was gang-raped and killed last week shout slogans during a protest in Kolkata, India, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019 (AP Photo/Bikas Das)