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Medieval spectator justice

- Cops thrash murder suspects in public as delirious crowd cheers

Hyderabad, Dec. 2: Four murder suspects were thrashed in public by a woman DSP and her juniors before a cheering crowd of hundreds in an Andhra town where police have faced allegations of street justice earlier.

Footage of yesterday morning’s incident in Anantapur’s Guntakal town being telecast on channels show the suspects on their knees and hands folded as the cops led by DSP E. Supraja rain batons on them near a crowded bus depot.

At one point, a woman identified as the wife of prime suspect Sekhar, accused of killing his father-in-law over a family dispute, is seen slapping him as the cops pin him down.

Later, the police team of 10 is seen taking turns to beat the men who had been brought to the neighbourhood to reconstruct the crime sequence after being picked up on Saturday.

Other images of the atrocity, filmed on the cellphones of some spectators, show many in the frenzied crowd heckling the suspects and egging the police on.

One of the officers in the team suggested they wanted to make an example of the men and send a message to other offenders. “We wanted to instil fear in such elements by making a public show of what awaited them if they resorted to such crimes in society,” said the officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

But Andhra police chief B. Prasada Rao condemned the action and ordered disciplinary action against DSP Supraja and others. “It is condemnable. I have asked the DIG, Anantapur range, to initiate disciplinary action and we will take action,” Rao said this morning. Late this evening, the DSP was transferred.

But the police chief sought to suggest that “such brazen display of brutality” sometimes occurred because of “public expectation for quick action from police to local issues”. “Police personnel are trained how to enforce the law but some officers get into the mindset and want quick-fix solutions. I believe we can achieve the same results without resorting to brutality,” Rao said.

Some senior citizens said they had protested the beatings but were outnumbered by others in the crowd baying for the suspects.

“I asked the police if this was the punishment for murder suspects. I told them you can’t beat them in public. After all, they are only an accused and they have not been tried and convicted,” schoolteacher Ramakrishnaiah said.

But Akbaruddin Owaisi, a Hyderabad MLA of local party MIM who claimed to have narrowly escaped a murder bid a few years ago, defended the DSP’s action.

“If every DSP follows the same steps, murders and other crimes will come down. The brave DSP (Supraja) rounded up the murderers and gave them a stern punishment in front of people to end the fear of the common man from anti-socials,” Owaisi said.

Sekhar, the main suspect, and his accomplices had killed his 65-year-old father-in-law last week over a family-related property dispute. “The suspects had been in lock-up. Sekhar had killed his father-in-law. The others abetted the crime,” said another officer.

Eyewitnesses said some cops in the Supraja-led team had goaded Sekhar’s wife to come down to the street and slap him.

But residents said this wasn’t the first such instance of Taliban-style justice by Guntakal cops. A few young men allegedly caught harassing women were beaten up recently not far from the spot of yesterday’s thrashings.

Last month, some youths picked up on eve-teasing charges were allegedly forced to undress before being slapped by the college girls whom they were accused of harassing.

But some in the force sought to justify public humiliation as a tool of deterrence against petty crimes. “Unless we create the fear of public humiliation, such acts will continue even after courts fine culprits or give short sentences,” said inspector Shiva, who is posted in the Anantapur district police headquarters but had no role in yesterday’s incident.