On November 25, 2021 as the world observed “International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women” the Bombay High Court delivered a judgment on the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Eight years after a Mumbai trial court sentenced three accused to death by hanging in the 2013 Shakti Mills gang rape case, the Bombay High Court on Thursday set aside the death penalty awarded to the three guilty and granted them life imprisonment!
By Asma Torgal
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
IN AUGUST 2013, a 22-year-old photojournalist intern for a magazine in Mumbai was gang-raped by five people (one juvenile) when she had gone to click some pictures of the deserted Shakti Mills compound, along with her male colleague on an assignment.
Five men who were meandering around took a chance and held the male colleague first and tied him up. They then took the woman to another side and raped her. To control her they held a broken beer bottle to her neck and continued the heinous crime six times. They even clicked photos of her on a cellphone, threatening to release them on social media if she reported the attack. Not only that, the rapists then compelled the victim to clean the crime scene too. After the criminals left, the woman went to the hospital, got admitted, and filed a complaint.
IN her statement on her hospital bed, the victim said, “I want no other woman in this city and country to go through such a brutal physical humiliation. Perpetrators should be punished severely as they have ruined my life. No punishment short of a life term will take away the pain and humiliation and physical abuse I underwent. Rape is not the end of life. I will continue fighting.”
When the Shakti Mills rape case went viral an 18-year-old telephone operator employee reported that on July 31, y 2013 she too had been gang-raped inside the mills complex where the accused were almost the same.
WHAT DID THE LAW DO?
THE accused who gang-raped the photo-journalist are namely Vijay Jadhav, Mohammed Kasim Bengali, Mohammed Salim Ansari, Siraj Rehman Khan and Aakash (who was a juvenile at the time of the crime). A year later in March 2014 Jadhav, Bengali, and Ansari were convicted by the Mumbai Sessions Court under Sections 354B, 377, and 376D of the IPC. Aakash was sent to a correctional facility by the Juvenile Justice Board and Khan was sentenced to life imprisonment. The trio was also awarded the death sentence after the prosecution invoked Section 376E of the IPC. They had also been convicted in the rape case involving the 19-year-old woman as well.
The court convicted the five men for criminal conspiracy, gang rape, assault, common intention, wrongful restraint, unnatural sex, criminal intimidation, destruction of evidence under IPC, and other applicable sections of the Information Technology Act.
HOW DID POLITICIANS’ REMARKS SPARK CONTROVERSIES?
POLITICIAN Mulayam Singh Yadav (ex-chief minister of Uttar Pradesh) on April 10, 2014 while referring to the Shakti Mills case said, “When boys and girls have differences, the girl gives a statement that ‘the boy raped me,’ and that poor boy gets a death sentence. Should rape cases lead to hanging? Boys are boys, they make mistakes.”
Reacting to Yadav’s comments Samajwadi party unit chief of Maharashtra Abu Azmi stirred up controversy too when he said the last line, “At times, wrong people are sentenced to the death penalty. Boys do it in josh (excitement) but what can I say in this?” Another MLA from Samajwadi Party Naresh Agarwal concerning the same case stated that women should wear appropriate clothes to avoid being raped.
WHAT CHALLENGES DID THE VICTIMS FACE?
THE photojournalist’s strong will-power made her fight back against the rapist. When she recovered she affirmed to resume her job, saying “I want to join back my work as soon as possible.” She recovered physically but she underwent mental trauma. The other victim on the other hand faced a “two-finger test” which humiliated her. Yet both the victims decided to fight back strongly.
Even during the trials and proceedings the telephone operator girl with memories and flashbacks was scared, trembled, and deeply afraid of the accused. Yet she managed to give her testimony in court. During trial questions like whether she has suffered any injuries, touches, repetitive incident explanatory was irrelevant, but the victim’s trauma was overlooked.
Filing a case by the photojournalist inspired many other women not to remain quiet against crimes. And also when the case got highlighted the telephone operator rape case came to light.
WOMEN VICTIMS IN INDIA
VIOLENCE against women in our country has always been a major concern. Most cases include physical assault, torture, mental and emotional harassment. The National Crimes Record Bureau data of 2020 says that in India every hour 35 crimes against women are reported with 28,046 rape cases. While a woman recovers from her injuries, trauma, trials, humiliating cross-examination and a judgmental society – rape victims die or commit suicide so often. They undergoes mental illnesses such as fear, agony, anxiety, mixed emotions, depression, and post-trauma attacks.
With a huge pendency of criminal cases in the courts, there is delay in actual deliverance of the final order and justice done after a round-up of the entire proceedings in full conformity of the prescribed procedures. During this period the victims remain a question mark in society which refuses to sympathize with the already punished victim because she was raped and it brought shame to the community!
THE FINAL VERDICTt?
COMING back to the death penalty of the three convicts of Shakti Mills gang-rape case, The Bombay High Court bench while addressing the guilty said: “The accused do not deserve any leniency, empathy, or sympathy. Hence, they deserve imprisonment for life i.e. for the remainder of their natural life. Every day the rising sun would remind them of the barbaric acts committed by them and the night would lay them with a heavy heart filled with guilt and remorse.
“The Shakti Mills gang-rape case has shocked the conscience of society. A rape victim suffers not just physically but mentally as well. It is a violation of human rights. But only public outcry cannot be taken into account. A death sentence is only an exception. Judgment should not be guided by public outcry.”
With antiquated laws in India and after eight long years of waiting; getting the verdict in the victim’s favor, is it right to say: Justice transpired or was done for the victims of rape?