Hyderabad, TELANGANA: On Friday morning, as television channels recreated the Hyderabad ‘encounter’ scene, the man behind the scenes was V.C. Sajjanar, the Commissioner of Police, Cyberabad, who is in charge of investigating the young veterinarian’s rape and murder case. While Hyderabad’s ‘Justice for Disha’ protesters celebrate the news of the extrajudicial killing, which is currently being perceived as “quick justice”, Sajjanar who is set to hold a press conference later on Friday, is being lauded for not just one ‘encounter’ but two.
In 2008, Sajjanar, who was Superintendent of Police, Warangal, was in charge of investigating an acid attack case which had led to massive protests across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (one state at the time). That year, two women—Swapnika and T. Pranitha—were attacked with acid by three young men—S. Srinivas (25), D. Sanjay (22) and P. Harikrishna (24). The attack happened after Swapnika, a student of Kakatiya Institute of Technology, Warangal, rejected a proposal from Srinivas.
The two women were admitted immediately in a private hospital in Warangal and then shifted to a private hospital in Hyderabad. As they were undergoing treatment, the police team headed by Sajjanar released the news of the ‘encounter’ killing of the three men. According to the press conference held by Sajjanar at the time, the police had taken the men to Mamnoor in the outskirts of Warangal. There, according to the police, the youth tried to attack them with country-made weapons and acid bottles which they had allegedly hidden. The police retaliated and all the three were killed in ‘encounter’. As a section of the civil society accused the police of taking law into their own hands, the Chief Minister of the time, Congress’s Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, later denied that the youth were killed in ‘fake encounter’.
On Friday, as news about Hyderabad’s encounter broke, the Warangal encounter is back in public memory, especially as the method that the police adopted for “evidence collection” seems to be similar.
Here’s the timeline of events to draw a parallel. The police headed by Sajjanar held a media conference on November 28, stating they made the arrest based on CCTV footage procured from near the toll plaza in Shamshabad where the young vet had first parked her bike. The four had approached her offering help, forcing her to stay near the toll plaza, and abducted and assaulted her later. As the accused were lodged at Shadnagar police station, huge crowds swelled at the spot, with most turning violent and demanding that the police hand over the accused to them. The police renamed the young woman ‘Disha’, to “protect her identity”.
The protests continued, with other members of Hyderabad’s civil society demanding #JusticeForDisha. The police did not issue any statements in public or hold meetings with the protesters (though they issued an advisory that put the onus of safety on women). Multiple calls by reporters including this correspondent to Sajjanar and other officers were unanswered. After the court gave custody of the accused for evidence collection on December 4, on Thursday, a meeting of top police officers including DGP Mahender Reddy was held in Hyderabad. Attempts to reach police officials were unsuccessful that day as well.
On Friday morning, the police, who had not informed the media that the accused would be taken to the outskirts of Hyderabad, released the news that all four men were killed in encounter. Early visuals of the culvert where the woman’s body was found on November 28 show two cars, including one belonging to the police, stationed there. The windshields of the cars appear to be shattered.
As members of the residential colony in Hyderabad, where the vet’s parents and sister live, gave sound bytes supporting ‘justice’, judicial experts have decried what they are calling a false encounter.
“There is no evidence that the youth attacked the police. And there seems to be a pattern, given that the top cop involved in this ‘encounter’ was earlier involved in the one in Warangal. Killing people for committing crime is only mob justice. The police is bound by duty to follow their duty as law and order officials,” said Madabhushi Sridhar, a professor of law and former Chief Information Commissioner.
Just two days ago, on Wednesday, the Telangana government had announced that a special fast-track court would be set up for the trial of the case.