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Four convicted in mill rape case

Mumbai, March 20: Four men were today found guilty of the gang rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist in the Shakti Mills compound last year, an early evening attack that had raised fresh questions about women’s safety in Indian cities.

The journalist, working as an intern with an English magazine, was on an assignment at the abandoned mill with a male colleague when she was assaulted on August 22.

The quantum of sentence will be announced tomorrow.

Principal judge Shalini Phansalkar of the fast-track court held the men guilty of gang rape, criminal conspiracy, common intention, unnatural sex and offences under the IT Act — the rapists had recorded the savagery on a cellphone — in a courtroom packed with journalists.

Minutes later, special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam sought more time to provide additional evidence to support the claim that the convicts had a criminal past and deserved the maximum punishment. Under the amended law, the maximum punishment for rape is imprisonment for life.

The court scheduled arguments on the quantum of sentence for tomorrow after the defence agreed.

Three of the men were among four convicted for another rape on the same premises almost a month earlier.

A telephone operator was gang-raped on July 31 in the Shakti Mills compound where she had gone with her boyfriend. Traumatised by the assault, the two fled to Chhattisgarh and returned after a month to lodge the case. By then police were already investigating the assault on the journalist.

Mumbai police had arrested seven persons, including two minors, in the two cases. The fast-track court convicted Vijay Jadhav, 19, Mohammad Qasim Shaikh alias Qasim Bengali, 21, and Mohammad Ansari, 28, in both the cases today. In addition, the court found Siraj Rehman Khan guilty in the photojournalist’s rape, and Mohammad Ashfaque Shaikh, 26, guilty in the assault on the telephone operator.

The two minors, one in each case, would be tried under the Juvenile Justice Board and face a maximum of three years in jail.

Mumbai police had filed a 600-page chargesheet in the photojournalist’s case in September, extensively using scientific evidence. The chargesheet contained statements of 86 witnesses, analysis of eight cellphones seized, 22 different DNA analysis reports of the crime scene, hair, nails and body fluids, and a soil analysis report matching the soil found on the footwear of the accused.

The photojournalist and her male colleague, who had reported the gang rape to the police the same evening, had identified all the five accused during the identification parade.

To make the case watertight, the police had also recorded the statements of both the rape survivors before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil, who was present in the court to hear the verdict, welcomed the judgment. “Both the cases were chargesheeted and tried in the fastest possible time. The victims and their families have got justice. The verdict will help send a strong message to the criminals and hope it will act as a deterrent.”

The assault on the journalist had raised fresh questions about women’s safety in India, under the spotlight since the gang rape and murder of a student on a bus in Delhi in 2012, which provoked nationwide protests.