NEW DELHI -Police officers shot and killed four suspects in the alleged rape and murder of a young veterinarian in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, a startling turn in a case that had triggered a nationwide furor.
The four men were in police custody when they were killed early Friday. A senior police official told reporters that as part of the investigation, officers had taken the suspects to the spot where the victim’s body was found burned. He said two of the men grabbed officers’ weapons while the two others attacked officers with sticks and stones.
Prakash Reddy, a deputy police commissioner in Hyderabad, said the four were killed in “crossfire.”
The deaths sparked praise in some quarters in a country that has grappled with a series of gruesome crimes against women and girls. But activists and lawyers said the shootings bore the hallmarks of extrajudicial killings.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, the victim’s mother expressed satisfaction that the suspects were dead.
“We did not expect that justice will be delivered,” she said. “I have been saying that the government will not do anything, but today they have done something.”
Activists said the official explanation for the shooting beggared belief. This was “a planned murder,” Kavita Srivastava of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, a human rights group, said in a statement. The officers involved should be charged and tried, she said.
There is “no justice” in such killings, wrote Kalpana Kannabiran, a Hyderabad-based sociologist and women’s rights activist, on Facebook. “Only a macho show of power . . . that does great disservice to the memory of women assaulted, killed and maimed.”
On the evening of Nov. 27, a 26-year-old veterinarian had parked her scooter near a busy toll plaza in Hyderabad. Four men nearby saw her and made a plan to assault her, police said. The men allegedly deflated her tire to prevent her from leaving, then gang-raped and suffocated her. Her burned body was discovered the next morning in a passage under a highway.
Police swiftly apprehended the four suspects and said they confessed to the crime. The Washington Post was unable to reach lawyers for any of the men, and it is unclear whether they had legal counsel. Officials said they would complete the investigation as quickly as possible and that the case would be tried in a fast-track court.
The veterinarian’s rape and killing recalled a 2012 attack in which a young woman died after a brutal sexual assault on a bus, prompting widespread protests. Four suspects in that case were convicted and sentenced to death in 2013, but the sentences have yet to be carried out.
Killings by police of suspected criminals are so widespread in India that they have their own terminology. Such incidents are known as “encounter” killings, and the officers involved typically state that they acted in self-defense. But activists say that in practice, police officers enjoy broad impunity and that the killings are not followed by thorough investigations.
Katthi Somireddy lives on a farm about 300 yards from the spot where the four suspects were killed. He said it was still dark when he heard the sound of gunshots. He estimated that he heard 14 rounds fired.
On Friday afternoon, the bodies of the four men were still lying in an empty field, two with pistols in their hands. The suspects were not handcuffed at the time of the incident, police said.
Crowds gathered at the spot where the suspects were killed to praise the shootings. “Long live police officers!” they shouted. Some showered officers with flower petals and lifted them on their shoulders.
S. Jeevan Kumar of the Hyderabad-based Human Rights Forum appealed to the public not to get “carried away by instant emotions” that could allow the authorities to trample people’s rights.
“The state should have adhered to due procedure in delivering justice,” he said. “We are compelled to believe that the government has no faith in the judiciary and its own law.”