10:39 am - Thursday November 5, 2015

Four sentenced to life in prison for gang-raping telephone operator at Shakti Mills

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MUMBAI: The court grew silent on Friday around 12.45pm as the trial judge sentenced four convicts to life till death for gang-raping a 19-year-old telephone operator last July.

The sentence for the convicts in the case of the gang-rape of the 23-year-old photojournalist will be decided on March 24. Special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam sought invocation of an additional charge against three of the convicts who were common to both the cases. The charge of section 376 E of Indian Penal Code (IPC) which he sought to add is to mark them as “repeat offenders in a rape case”. The section provides for death sentence as maximum punishment for such repeat offenders in rape and gang-rape cases.

Though Nikam did not elaborate on the reason behind his application to add the new charge, legal experts say it is clearly because it attracts a higher penalty for repeat offenders. The court, presided by principal sessions judge Shalini Phansalkar Joshi who sentenced the four convicts to life sentence till the remainder of their natural life, adjourned the matter to March 24 when it would decide the plea to add the additional charge in the photojournalist’s case at the Shakti Mills compound.

The crime against the telephone operator had occurred on July 31, 2013 while that against the photojournalist, on August 23, less than a month later. However, the photojournalist filed an FIR immediately, inspiring and emboldening the operator to also file her complaint a month after she was attacked in a brutal manner at the same abandoned Shakti Mills compound, near Mahalakshmi railway station in south Mumbai.

The three convicts common to both the cases are: Vijay Jadhav (19), Salim Ansari (27) Kasim Shaikh alias Kasim Bangali (20). Additionally, Ashfaque Shaikh is an accused in the July 31 case and Siraj Khan is an accused in the August 23 case. The fate of the three — Jadhav, Kasim and Ansari — would be decided again on March 24. The prosecutor said he would “develop” on the application if the court accepts it. The IPC section clearly provides for death for a convict who has been previously convicted in a gang-rape case. Since the conviction on Thursday of the trio in the case filed by the telephone operator, their conviction again in the second case filed by the photojournalist and tried separately makes them repeat offenders is the argument the state has advanced. If accepted, the prosecutor is likely to seek death penalty for the three. The fourth convict in the case of the photojournalist would be liable to maximum life imprisonment under the law.

The sentencing arguments on Friday had begun in the case of the telephone operator where the convicts themselves pleaded leniency, some in tears, citing family and children as responsibilities. Their lawyer also cited poverty as a mitigating factor and the fact that “society” did not accept them and the raw deal they got with lack of education and proper guidance and influence in their formative years. “Two of them are barely out of their teens. Their youth and easy access to negative influence of pornographic material make them good candidates for “reformation” rather than retribution,” is what the defence lawyers stressed.

But Nikam, who then commenced his plea for the maximum punishment of life imprisonment their crime attracted, said the law was amended to make minimum sentence also a 20-year period because the crime is so heinous and it leaves behind a mental scar on the survivors. He said the convicts were “shameless” and showed no remorse.

Nikam said, “July 31, 2013, was the most hateful day in the life of the 19-year-old victim, a telephone operator, who was assaulted and raped by young men.” “She was forced to leave Mumbai and go to her native place as she couldn’t face up and tell her mother, and she returned only a month later. All she had done was to take the Mills as a short cut to the station with her then boyfriend.”

Nikam sought maximum punishment till the end of their natural lives. “The victim is suffering from post-traumatic stress and the accused are shameless,” Nikam said, demanding, “All four accused in the telephone operator case must be imprisoned for the remainder of their lives”. The court, after hearing both sides, did just that and sentenced them for their entire remaining life in prison.

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