NEW DELHI - Indian police have shot dead four men suspected of raping and killing a 27-year-old veterinarian in the southern city of Hyderabad last week, according to police officials in Telangana state.
The news of their killing early Friday was welcomed by thousands across the country who hailed the police action as swift retribution for the brutal assault.
But as rights activists raised questions around the circumstances that led to the killing of the four suspects, India's National Human Rights Commission said the shooting needed to be "probed very carefully."
Police say the four men were shot after they tried to steal guns and attempted to escape when they were taken to the scene of the crime at 3 am to reconstruct the sequence of events that led to the veterinarian's murder.
The young woman had been waiting last week near a toll plaza on the outskirts of Hyderabad after her scooter had a flat tire. Her charred remains were found the next morning by a passerby. According to police, two truck drivers and their two assistants gang raped her and then burned her body. They say they were identified through security camera video.
"The law has done its duty," said V.C. Sajjanar, a top police official in Hyderabad said.
And the public appeared to agree. A city, which days ago had led angry protests to slam the police for a slow response to reports of the young woman's disappearance, showered them with rose petals on Friday. Residents distributed sweets, raised chants of "hail the police," and set off celebratory firecrackers.
Victim's family grateful
The victim's family welcomed the news of the killings her mother said justice had been done.
"It has been 10 days to the day my daughter died. I express my gratitude towards the police and government for this. My daughter's soul must be at peace now," her father told reporters.
The tens of thousands of tweets that followed the news mostly welcomed the killing of the four men.
Others cautioned that the celebrations of their killing reflect a worrying loss of public faith in the country's criminal justice system, where cases can take years to wind their way through courts and conviction rates are low.
In the nationwide protests that followed the veterinarian's gang rape and murder, there had been loud calls for "swift justice," in a country where frustration is growing as cases of brutal sexual assault against women continue to be reported. In the latest case that has grabbed national attention, a rape survivor in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was allegedly set on fire by five men she had accused of rape while she was on her way to court to testify against them.
Still, many women activists raised concerns Friday about the killings of the four men.
The head of the National Commission for Women, Rekha Sharma, said she was happy that the perpetrators were dead, but justice should have been done through proper legal channels.
Several senior lawyers called the killings unacceptable, saying it will be difficult now for anybody to know whether the four men were innocent or guilty.
There were also calls to investigate whether the death of the four men amounted to extra judicial killings -- a term used to describe "staged" killings by police in which detainees are shot dead.
Calling the killings "cold blooded murder", a top lawyer, Dushyant Dave, told a television channel that the incident "reflects a complete negation unfortunately of faith in the legal system of the country."
Shashi Tharoor, a senior leader of the opposition Congress Party, tweeted,"We need to know more, for instance if the criminals were armed, the police may have been justified in opening fire pre-emptively. Until details emerge we should not rush to condemn. But extra-judicial killings are otherwise unacceptable in a society of laws."
Amnesty International India said the killings raised "deeply disturbing questions about the state of justice in India."