Eight years after three persons were sentenced to death by hanging for gang rape of a 22-year-old photo journalist in the defunct Shakti Mills compound, the Bombay High Court has upheld their conviction, but commuted their sentence to life imprisonment for the reminder of their life.
On Thursday, a division bench of Justices Sadhana Jadhav and Prithviraj Chavan refused to confirm the death penalty awarded to Vijay Jadhav, Mohammad Qasim Shaikh and Mohammad Ansari, observing that they “deserve imprisonment for life to repent the offence committed by them, as death puts an end to the concept of repentance”.
Although the offence was “barbaric and heinous”, the court observed it cannot be said at the threshold that the convicts deserve only death penalty and nothing less than that. “A sentence of death is irrevocable and, therefore, the cardinal principle while sentencing would be: Life imprisonment is the rule and death penalty is an exception,” observed the court in its 108-page judgment.
While reducing the death sentence, the judges said that as a constitutional court it would not be proper on their part to “eliminate or extinguish the flame of life of the convicts without following due procedure established by law”.
The court observed: “We cannot allow our emotions to outweigh the principles of criminal jurisprudence and the procedural mandate of the statute,” it said.
However, the judges have made it clear that the convicts will have to spend the rest of their life behind bars. In other cases, depending on convict’s good behaviour, they are released from prison after serving 14 years of their life sentence.
“We are of the opinion that the convicts deserve the punishment of rigorous imprisonment for life -- that is, the whole of the remainder of their natural life in order to repent the offence committed by them,” observed the judges, adding: “The accused do not deserve any leniency, empathy or sympathy. 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.”
Imposing strict conditions, the Bench said the convicts shall not be entitled to remission, furlough or parole, as they cannot be allowed to assimilate in the society and because there is no scope for reformation.
“The convicts do not deserve to assimilate with the society, as it would be difficult to survive in a society of such men who look upon women with derision, depravity, contempt and as objects of desire,” said the judges.
The incident took place on August 22, 2013, when Jadhav was 19 years old, Qasim Shaikh was 21 and Ansari was 28.
Noting that every rape case was a heinous offence, the Bench said: “Every case of rape is a heinous offence. The damage done to the victim far outweighs the public conscience. A rape victim does not suffer just physical injury but what is affected is her mental health and stability in life.”
Rape tantamount to a serious blow to the supreme honour and dignity of a woman and is a violation of human rights, it added.
However, the judges said that the courts have a duty to consider cases dispassionately and cannot ignore the procedure laid down by the law.
Regarding the convicts’ conduct and the possibility of reformation, the HC said: “The conduct of the accused, and their bold confession to the survivor that she is not the first one to satisfy their lust, is sufficient to hold that there is no scope for ‘reformation or rehabilitation’.”