Dear Honourable Members of Parliament,

We, a group of retired civil servants deeply committed to the values and guarantees of the Constitution of India, are appalled by the recent incident of the gunning down by the police of four men accused of raping, killing and burning a young veterinary doctor in Hyderabad. While the crimes of rape and murder were truly horrific, and we condemn them in the strongest terms, we were equally aghast by the widespread clamour among the public, and calls from the media and responsible persons to castrate, publicly execute, hang or lynch the persons responsible for the offence.

Even some Members of Parliament demanded instant and kangaroo justice.

It is quite possible that the response of the Hyderabad police to kill the four accused in an early morning ‘encounter’ on December 6 was a result of this clamour. Criticised for poor policing and pressured to show quick results, they could have decided to take the easy way out. The actions of the police, prima facie, do not inspire confidence .

How was it possible for a team of ten armed police officers to be overpowered by four men who had been in the police lock- up for several hours and without weapons?

Why could not the accused have been handcuffed?

Why could they not have been shot at to wound but not to kill when they tried to escape?

Several retired police officers have gone on record stating that the police version of the encounter is not believable. And at least one Minister of the Telangana government is reported to have said that the orders for the extra- judicial killing came from the very top!

Article 21 of the Constitution says no person can be deprived of his or her life without due process of law being followed. Due process is essential not only to ascertain that the persons arrested are actually guilty and if so, to what degree, but also to know whether or not the persons arrested are the real criminals and not some persons rounded up by the police to satisfy the outburst of public anger. The fundamental premise of our jurisprudence is that a person is innocent until proved guilty.

A kind of blood lust seems to have swamped India in recent years. Lynching of persons accused of cattle smuggling, of thieving, of child lifting, of witchcraft, in fact of any kind of crime at all, is becoming increasingly common and the Indian public does not turn a hair when such incidents are reported.

Shockingly, many of these gory incidents of lynching are even video- recorded and widely distributed. More and more people in India seem to be in favour of this crude and instant justice. Unfortunately, this is getting encouragement from the statements made and actions taken by some of the MPs both within and outside Parliament. But, as the Chief Justice of India has said, “justice loses its character if it becomes revenge”.

The public offering garlands and sweets to the policemen responsible for the encounter killings in Hyderabad is of a piece with this. When MPs and MLAs demand summary justice, the common man will believe that that is what is desirable and will have no difficulty in seeing killings by policemen as laudable. It will not cross their minds that perhaps those men were not the real culprits, or perhaps all of them were not equally guilty. Everything gets drowned in the chorus of Kill! Kill! Kill! But to quote Barry Eisler ,“Beware that , when fighting monsters, you do not become a monster yourself.”

It is not as if it is impossible to deliver justice speedily. Swifter investigation by the police and quicker and continuous trials in the courts are the key. Without this, the police and the people could be tempted to take the law into their own hands and act as judge and executioner.

As MPs, you can ensure these changes are brought about. You can stop calling for lynching and summary executions; you can also prevail upon your parties not to give tickets to people who are accused of rape and murder. Without such actions, your speeches will be seen as hypocritical. We hope to see you work to bring about the meaningful changes necessary to curb such crimes in the future.

Yours faithfully,

(65 signatories, as below)