Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Men Accused Of Gang Rape And Murder Killed In Police Custody In India


Protests and candlelight vigils have been held across India for the past week over the gang rape and killing of a 27-year-old veterinarian in the country's south. Police very quickly arrested four men on suspicion of murder. And then this morning, police announced that all four of those men had been shot dead while in custody. NPR's Lauren Frayer has been following this case from our bureau in Mumbai. Hi there, Lauren.


GREENE: This is dramatic. I mean, you have the suspects in a case that's truly outraged a country now all dead. What is - how are people reacting there this morning?

FRAYER: They're celebrating. Hundreds of people gathered at the actual crime scene, the side of a highway in the southern city of Hyderabad. Here's what it sounded like there.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Police, police, zindabad, police, police...

FRAYER: They're chanting police zindabad - long live police. They showered officers with rose petals. The murder victim's father thanked police and said his daughter's soul is at peace now.

GREENE: Wow. I mean, what do police say actually happened? How did they die in custody?

FRAYER: So police say they took these four men out to the crime scene to reconstruct the crime. A struggle broke out, and all four suspects were shot dead. Now, to many, this looks like mob justice. Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation. The local branch of India's ruling party issued a statement, saying India is not a banana republic. There's actually a legal framework for prosecuting criminals. Two things to underscore here - one, how outraged India has been over this rape case. We had lawmakers on the floor of Parliament calling for the suspects to be lynched in public - and also how slow India's justice system sometimes is. I talked this morning with the head of the Delhi Commission for Women. She's been on a hunger strike. She says India's courts are so flawed - cases can get delayed for years - that she understands why police might take matters into their own hands, though she doesn't condone it.

GREENE: Well, can you just remind us about what happened to this woman in this gang rape? I mean, this was truly brutal.

FRAYER: It was. This happened last Wednesday night. The victim got a flat tire on her motor scooter, pulled over to a toll plaza. Four suspects are alleged to have let air out of her tire, tricked her, posed as good Samaritans, then raped and killed her. And her body was found burned. She's become sort of the latest face of India's rape problem. You might remember a 2012 gang rape, brutal crime on a Delhi bus. That led authorities to double penalties for convicted rapists. And now people are really frustrated. It feels like nothing has changed.

GREENE: So, I mean, how typical are rape cases like this in the country?

FRAYER: Not typical at all. The majority of victims of sexual violence in India are poor, rural women. And they tend to know their attackers. This case got a lot of media attention because the victim was an urban professional, a veterinarian, as you mentioned. She was attacked by a stranger. And the details are so brutal. But this is not the norm. In fact, all this media coverage can make it feel like an epidemic. But here's something - there are fewer reports of rape in India than in the U.S., even though India has four times the population. Now, a lot of cases are thought to go unreported.

GREENE: And so what happens now in this case?

FRAYER: Theoretically, the police officers who shot these rape suspects could be reprimanded, but so far they're being celebrated. And there is anger. One ruling party lawmaker said, what's the point of having laws and courts if police are going to kill suspects without due process? The suspects in this case hadn't yet been charged.

GREENE: NPR's Lauren Frayer in Mumbai. Thanks, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.