A 23-year-old rape victim, on the way to a court hearing, is doused in kerosene and set alight. She dies in hospital with 95% burns. Four men accused of the brutal gang rape of a young vet in Hyderabad are shot dead by police, supposedly after they tried to escape.
The two incidents sum up the horrors of rape and of police extrajudicial killings in India. Violence against women has become a volatile issue in the country. Government figures show that 33,658 cases of rape were reported to the police in 2017, an average of 92 rapes every day.
At the same time, the justice system in India moves exceptionally slowly. In 2017, the courts opened 18,300 new rape-related cases, but more than 127,800 remained pending at the end of the year. The length of time that court cases take often leads to a failure of prosecution.
If rape and the failure of the judicial system is an issue, so is police brutality. “Encounters” – a euphemism for extrajudicial police killings of suspects – have become increasingly frequent. In Telangana alone, the state in which the latest killings took place, there have been seven other “encounters” over the past decade. In the words of one high court judge: “There is not a single lawless group in the country whose record of crime comes anywhere near that of the single organised unit called the Indian police force.”
The depth of anger about violence against women has led many in India to cheer the killings. Vengeance, though, is no substitute for justice. And allowing the police to kill with impunity is no cause for celebration, least of all for women.
• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist