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After brutality, dental care and cartoons

Mumbai, April 4: Qasim Bengali, one of the three convicts sentenced to death today, has been described by police as the most depraved of the five who gang-raped a photojournalist on the premises of Mumbai’s Shakti Mills in August last year.

His real name is Mohammad Qasim Hafiz Shaikh. The first to rape the girl, he was also a police informer.

But his friends and neighbours in Agripada — a low-income residential cluster in south-central Mumbai — know him as Qasim Bengali, probably because his mother Chandbibi says his late father hailed from Bengal.

Chandbibi’s first husband and Qasim’s father, Mohammad Hashim, died of liver cirrhosis 10 years ago. Qasim has three younger siblings, including two sisters.

Hashim, she told the police, had migrated to Mumbai from Calcutta via Bihar. Chandbibi, a native of Bihar, had reached Mumbai at the age of five with her mother.

On Friday, the court said that Qasim was the most violent of the attackers — brutalising the photojournalist twice.

After raping the girl he had gone back home and, according to his mother’s deposition, had “brushed his teeth first”. He then watched cartoons on TV.

“We watched TV for a while and we had dinner. He asked me for Rs 200 to buy gutka, but I did not have that much and gave him Rs 50 instead. At 10pm, I left home for work. When I returned an hour-and-a-half later, he was gone. His cellphone was switched off and I did not know where to find him. That night, I looked in Byculla, Agripada, Maratha Mandir and near Nair Hospital but did not find him,” Chandbibi had told the police in her statement.

After his mother left, Qasim had gone to sleep. He left hurriedly two hours later after receiving a call from a policeman. Since Qasim was an informer, the policeman apparently asked him if he had any information on the Shakti Mills rape.

“Qasim was watching TV and resting after dinner when he got a call from the local crime branch office asking him to go to their office. His 10-year-old younger sister, who was in the house, told the police that she had heard him make a few quick calls on the night of the rape. He left home around 11pm. He had not even worn his slippers. The sketches were yet to be made at this time and Qasim had not expected the victim to lodge a formal complaint,” said Mumbai’s then joint commissioner (crime) and current anti-terrorism squad boss Himanshu Roy who had investigated the case.

When not working as a police informer, Qasim earned a little by working as a waiter during weddings in Agripada. The family also supplemented its income by renting out a room for Rs 1,500 a month.

Qasim also used to steal scrap from railway yards. He has spent nine months in jail for various petty offences so far.

Qasim’s associates have blamed him for plotting the rape.

He was the one who decided that they would use fake names during the rape so as to avoid identification. Again, it was his plan to video-record the rape on a cellphone to intimidate the girl and stop her from filing a complaint. He had used the same modus operandi in the last assault as well, the accomplices told the police.

The morning after leaving his home, Qasim went to the red light area of Kamathipura and to Virar in the afternoon. He returned to Kamathipura after visiting Chor Bazaar to buy clothes, the police said.

At 5pm, he was spotted in Kamathipura. Some gamblers in Shuklaji Street — an alley off Kamathipura infamous for its illegal betting and gambling dens — told the police that Qasim played a couple of hands, lost Rs 900 and left.

At 8.30pm, the police got information that Qasim was in Mumbai Central. After scouring several stretches, the police picked up information that Qasim had been seen at the government-run Nair Hospital.

“Our teams checked each individual at the hospital —every bed, every face. At 4am on Sunday morning, we found him sleeping on the terrace and arrested him,” said Roy.