Ten days after the brutal gang rape and murder of a young veterinarian in Hyderabad, police on Friday shot dead all the four accused in an alleged exchange of fire near Shadnagar town of Telangana's Ranga Reddy district.
Police said the accused were killed in retaliatory firing after they snatched weapons from the police and opened fire on them.
The incident occurred around 6 a.m. at Chatanpally near Shadnagar town, about 50 km from Hyderabad.
The accused were gunned down at a spot about 400 metres away from a bridge under which the accused had dumped the victim's body and set it afire on the night of November 27 after the gang rape near Shamshabad on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
Cyberabad Police Commissioner V. C. Sajjanar said told reporters at the scene that the accused were brought to the spot around 5.45 a.m. by a 10-member police team to recover the mobile phone and other objects which they had hidden after burning the body.
He said the accused attacked police with stones, sticks and other sharp objects. Two of the accused also snatched firearms from policemen and opened fire.
"Still the police maintained restraint and ask them to surrender but they continued to fire. The police returned the fire and after a lull, when they checked they found all four dead," he said.
The police chief said the police found weapons in the hands of main accused Mohammed Arif and fourth accused Chennakeshavulu.
He said two police officers also received head injuries. However, they did not sustain bullet injuries.
Facing a volley of questions, the officer said the police weapons snatched by the accused were unlocked. He also said that accused were not handcuffed.
"Law has done its duty. That's all I can say," Sajjanar said when asked about criticism from some quarters that police took law into its hands to kill the accused.
"We will submit reports to all concerned," the police chief said when asked about National Human Right Commission (NHRC) seeking report on the "encounter".
The four accused killed in the encounter were: lorry drivers Mohammed Arif, 26, Chintakunta Chennakeshavulu, 20, and lorry cleaners Jollu Shiva, 20, and Jollu Naveen, 20. All hailed from Narayanpet district of Telangana.
As the news of the "encounter" spread, people gathered near the scene, off the Hyderabad-Bengaluru national highway. They raised slogans hailing the police.
Four executive magistrates conducted an inquest at the scene. The bodies were later shifted to government-run hospital in Mahabubnagar for autopsy. They will later be handed over to their families.
The accused had committed the crime after trapping the accused near Tondupally toll gate on Outer Ring Road (ORR) by deflating one of the tyres of her parked scooty. When the victim came to pick up her bike, the accused approached to help her but raped and killed her.
The charred body of the victim was found under the Chatanpally bridge.
The four were arrested by the police on November 29 and the next day, a court in Shadnagar sent them to judicial custody for 14 days. They were subsequently shifted to the Cherlapally Jail in Hyderabad.
A court on December 2 had remanded the accused to the police custody for 10 days. The Police Commissioner said they interrogated the accused on December 4 and 5.
Massive protest was held outside the Shadnagar police station on November 30 when the accused were about to be taken to the court. The protesters demanded that the accused be handed over to them. The magistrate had to be brought to the police station to send the accused into the custody.
The gruesome rape and murder had triggered nationwide rage with demands for immediate death penalty for the perpetrators. There have been protests all over the country. Many have demanded that the accused be hanged in public.
Speaking in Parliament, some MPs even called for lynching the perpetrators involved in the horrific crime.
The Telangana government on December 4 had set up a fast-track court in Mahabubnagar for speedy trial of the case.
The 'encounter' touched a deep chord on Friday with 400,000 tweets and counting in just a few hours, some cheering and others concerned at what they saw as one more instance of vigilantism.
The deep schisms on the incident were reflected on Twitter and other social media sites as thousands of people aired their views, many recalling that Cyberabad Commissioner V C Sajjanar, who carried out the "encounter" was involved in a similar incident in 2008.
Hashtags like #justiceforDisha, #encounter, and #Hyderabadhorror started trending on Twitter from early on Friday.
Many people took to the microblogging site to thank and celebrate the police officer for "delivering justice" for a second time.
In 2008, when Sajjanar was the superintendent of police in Warangal, he had shot dead three young men, a day after their arrest in an acid attack case.
"2008: Warangal Acid attack perpetrators killed in an #Encounter. 2019: Hyderabad #DishaCase perpetrators killed in an #Encounter. Name: VC Sajjanar. Job: Delivering Justice, one bullet at a time. #JusticeForDisha," tweeted one user.
"Remembering the encounter of Warangal Acid case accused in this context. Now after 4 accused in #Justicefordisha have been shot dead , salute to the man behind this prevention of escape IPS VC sajjanar. #Thankyousajjanar," wrote another.
The hashtag #humanrights also started catching on with as more than 20,000 tweets till late afternoon, as more and more people argued that human rights are not meant for rapists.
"When terrorists and Maoists were encountered without any court trial then why rapists be left ..#EncounterNirbhaya rapists who were fed like pigs in Tihar jail since 7 years should also be encountered like mad dogs in the streets of Delhi.#humanrights only for humans not brutes," one user wrote.
Another tweeted, "#HumanRights are only for humans not Monsters. Rapiest = Monsters They only deserve #Encounter." In the chorus, there were some who made themselves heard with their criticism of the police action.
Lawyer-activist Vrinda Grover called the killing of the accused "absolutely unacceptable", and added that the act only added to the state's "arsenal of unlimited arbitrary violence!" in the name of equality for women.
Women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan shared All India Progressive Women's Association's (AIPWA) statement on "Hyderabad Fake Encounter: No Custodial Killing In Our Name" on both Twitter and Facebook.
According to the statement, the "encounter" had "all the hallmarks of a custodial murder, dressed up to look like an encounter".