The overgrown Shakti Mills in south-central Mumbai where the girl was raped, against the backdrop of the more familiar highrise-dotted face of the financial capital. The Mahalaxmi Racecourse and the office of the magazine where the girl interned are not too far from the mill. (AFP picture)
Mumbai, Aug. 23: The 22-year-old photojournalist gang-raped in an abandoned textile mill compound in Mumbai on Thursday evening was clicking the last few shots for her assignment when she was brutalised.
Friday was the final day of her three-month internship with the Mumbai edition of a prominent lifestyle magazine. She had joined the internship programme after finishing a journalism course in Mumbai.
Asked to work on a photo essay on abandoned spaces in Mumbai, Shakti Mills was one of her chosen spots of assignment. The mill is located in a lane near the busy Mahalaxmi Racecourse and is flanked by some of the tallest luxury residential towers in Mumbai.
“She had already completed her work but was asked to get some sunset shots before submitting her assignment on Friday — the sunset period is considered a phase of golden light for photography,” said a source in the magazine.
The mill, a kilometre away from the magazine office, was an ideal place to shoot. The girl reached the mill premises around 5.30pm. The sun does not set before 6.45pm in Mumbai around this time — and though the mill compound is deserted, the lane where it stands is not.
“Still, when she decided to go, one of her fellow interns — a 23-year-old lad from Bengal — offered to accompany her,” said the source.
Mumbai crime branch officials told The Telegraph that the boy’s inputs and his photographic memory had helped them identify the culprits quickly.
“A lot of the credit goes to him — he is unafraid and is ready to be a witness. He gave us crucial details about the appearance and conversations of the accused,” said a senior crime branch officer. The young man’s parents have reached Mumbai.
The rape survivor, who has suffered multiple internal injuries, is a Mumbai girl and lives with her mother in the suburbs. Soft-spoken and reserved, she was very diligent in the office, her colleagues said.
Doctors attending to her at Jaslok Hospital said she was “in a stable state” and was not in intensive care. “She is able to communicate,” said Tarang Gianchandani, the hospital’s acting CEO and director of medical services.
Magazine sources and police officers said the male intern had told them that he and his colleague were accosted by the accused inside the overgrown mill compound.
“The attackers were very aggressive. They claimed to be railway policemen,” said a police officer.
The attackers — there were five — asked the two interns why they were hanging around the place. The assailants said a murder had recently taken place at the spot.
They turned to the young man and grabbed him and said he looked like the murderer. Then they tied his hands and feet with a belt.
“He is a strong lad. Two of the five men pinned him to the ground while the other three dragged the girl about 20 feet away to a hall-like space and raped her. They then returned to relieve their two accomplices who were restraining the girl’s colleague. These two then raped the girl,” said the magazine source.
After the assault, the five men ordered the photojournalists not to look back and to walk out of the mill premises.
Gathering themselves, the two kept walking in a daze till they reached Mahalaxmi railway station — a busy commuter station opposite the Mahalaxmi Racecourse and 500 metres from the mill.
“It was a little after 7pm. And the whole world passed us by in the heavy rush hour,” an officer quoted the rape survivor as telling the police.
“The young man then called the magazine office and told his seniors about the incident. They advised them to rush to Jaslok multi-speciality hospital, about 3km away. He got the girl into a cab and took her to the hospital and admitted her around 8pm,” the source said.
Other colleagues from the magazine also reached the hospital. The police arrived half an hour later.
Police sources said the composure of the rape survivor, who recorded her statement last night, and the male colleague, who was taken to the scene of the crime by the investigators late in the night, had proved decisive in identifying the perpetrators. “The detailed statements given by the two helped artists draw sketches with 80 to 85 per cent accuracy, which helped identify the accused,” an officer said.
The police have arrested one of the accused, Mohammed Abdul alias Chand, 20. Chand has named his four accomplices and confessed to the crime, the police said.
“Of the five accused, four have criminal charges against them in various police stations. We are closing in on them and will get them soon,” said DCP Ambadas Pote.
Mumbai police commissioner Satyapal Singh declined to divulge the names of the accused, citing the sensitivity of the case. However, the names were leaked soon after with police sources identifying the wanted suspects as Kasim Bangali, Salim, Asfaque and Vijay Jadhav. All the suspects are aged between 20 and 22 and lived near the mill.
Fielding a question on the Shiv Sena blaming Bangladeshi immigrants for the rape, commissioner Singh said tonight: “All five accused are locals born in Mumbai; (they are) not Bangladeshis.”