By- Majlis Legal Team
In a way they were ‘showpiece’ cases for the State. The Mumbai Police ensured that the criminals were detected and arrested without delay. The statements of victims were detailed and graphic. The forensic reports nailed the accused. The charge sheets were filed within a month. A highly connected Special Public Prosecutor was appointed at huge cost to the State. Over 100 witnesses deposed and the trial was concluded in record time.
RAHAT (a collaborative project between the Dept. of Women and Child Development, Mumbai Police and Majlis Legal Centre) a one stop help centre for victims of sexual violence in Mumbai, has been involved in the case from the beginning.
Within the criminal justice system which is conviction driven, the girls were mere witnesses of this high profile spectacle. There was no one to answer their doubts and fears and be with them in their moments of anxiety and panic. The RAHAT team provided the emotional, social, medical and legal support to these young girls and their families while they underwent the ordeal of a criminal trial. Accompanying them to meet the police or prosecutor when they feared going alone, addressing their anxieties over medical complications, explaining to them the legal technicalities of the case, reassuring them not to give up when they felt low, or being with them while they deposed.
Throughout all this, we fiercely guarded their right to privacy and have had to constantly urge the police to provide security from the intrusive media who wanted to report every gory detail of the incident or their private lives.
Our role of working along with the prosecution and providing unstinting support to the victims behind the scene ensured that there were no hitches during the trial. Both the Special Public Prosecutor and the then Joint Commissioner, Crime, Mumbai Police, Mr. Himanshu Roy have stated that a conviction was secured because the victims deposed confidently and without any contradictions. They have also publicly acknowledged our role as support persons.
But today we are left with a sinking feeling …
As soon as convictions were secured, and imprisonment for the remainder of their entire life was awarded in the first case (referred to as the telephone operator case), the Special Public Prosecutor made an application for framing an additional charge under S.376E (repeat offenders) for the second case i.e. the photojournalist. The maximum punishment under S. 376E is death penalty. This new section was added in the 2013 amendment.
Today was the day for arguments on this application. The defense lawyers were not well equipped to effectively oppose this application. The court accepted the application made by the public prosecutor and adjourned the matter for tomorrow to decide the quantum of punishment. One of the accused is a 19 year old boy!
While all along our concern has been to maintain the dignity of the victims and provide support, this is not what we bargained for.
At this moment, we wish to reiterate and clearly state our stand. While we condemn all kinds of sexual violence and will continue to provide care and support to victims, we stand strongly against death penalty.