Police say the men were killed when they were trying to escape during a re-enactment of the crime in southern Hyderabad city. But rights activists say police may have used "arbitrary violence" to avoid accountability.
Indian police on Friday shot dead four detained gang-rape and murder suspects as they were re-enacting their alleged crime, prompting celebrations but also accusations of extrajudicial killings.
The men were killed while trying to escape during a re-enactment of the crime staged in the middle of the night in the southern city of Hyderabad, a top police officer told AFP.
"They were killed in crossfire. They tried to snatch weapons from the guards but were shot dead," Prakash Reddy, a deputy commissioner of police in Hyderabad said.
"We called an ambulance but they died before any medical help could reach them."
For those celebrating what looks like a clearly fake encounter in Hyderabad: Remember that the actual accused might still be roaming free for all you know.— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) December 6, 2019
To RW/“MRA” people celebrating this: remember, u r also the same people who ironically complain of “fake cases”.
Outrage over alleged gang-rape
The four were arrested last week on charges of raping, murdering and burning the body of the veterinary doctor, who had parked her scooter on a busy highway on November 27.
The men deflated her scooter tyre and lured her to a truck yard with the promise of fixing the machine, according to police.
They allegedly then raped and murdered the woman before setting the body on fire under an isolated bridge.
The crime sparked nationwide outrage in India, which has been in the international spotlight over its handling of such cases since the gang-rape and murder of a student on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.
Your own faith in judicial sytem is so thin that you have already declared cops guilty of murder. Without info, investigation, evidence & trial.— Arun Bothra (@arunbothra) December 6, 2019
Criminals should get justice in court but #hyderabadpolice should be hanged without a judicial scrutiny, right?#Encounter #Hyderabad https://t.co/xdPWea1OyL
Rights activists accused the government of using "arbitrary violence" to avoid accountability.
Police in India are often accused of using extra-judicial killings to bypass the legal process, often as a cover-up in botched investigations or to pacify public anger.
"This is absolutely unacceptable," lawyer and activist Vrinda Grover told AFP.
"There must be the accountability of the police. Instead of investigation and prosecution, the state is committing murders to distract the public and avoid accountability," she said.
More than 33,000 rapes were reported in India in 2017, according to the latest government figures, but vast numbers go unreported, experts say.
At the same time, a huge backlog of cases in the highly inefficient Indian criminal justice means that many victims wait years for their attackers to be convicted.
Showered in petals
Several hundred people flocked to the scene of the men's deaths on Friday, setting off firecrackers to celebrate and showering police with flower petals.
The victim's sister also welcomed the killings.
"I am happy the four accused have been killed in an encounter. This incident will set an example. I thank the police and media for their support," the sister told local television station.
Women in technology hub Hyderabad, home to Google, Apple and Microsoft, distributed sweets and tied Hindu ritual threads on the wrists of policemen to thank them.
Many social media users, including politicians and celebrities, hailed police.
"Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u," top badminton player Saina Nehwal tweeted.
Great work #hyderabadpolice ..we salute u 🙏— Saina Nehwal (@NSaina) December 6, 2019
"Let all know this is the country where good will always prevail over evil," a former minister and current MP from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party wrote on Twitter.