New Delhi/Mumbai, Aug. 31: Two sisters who kidnapped children and killed them by smashing their heads against walls or electricity poles could become the first women to be hanged in Independent India.
The Supreme Court today upheld the death sentences awarded to Renuka Kiran Shinde, 39, and Seema Mohan Gavit, 35, refusing leniency to the “depraved” women and saying they were unlikely to reform themselves if given a second chance at life.
The Pune-based sisters were accused of kidnapping 13 children under five between 1990 and 1996 and killing nine of them, but only five of the murders could be proved.
They would carry the children in their arms to avoid suspicion while moving about in crowded places, snatching purses. The children were murdered when they grew too old to be carried about, or if they tended to cry in public and arouse suspicion.
When one such child’s cries led to a scuffle outside a temple in Kolhapur, the sisters threw him down to momentarily divert the public’s attention. As they seized their chance to escape, the women somehow managed to pick the severely injured child up and take him along. Their mother Anjanabai later killed him by smashing his head against a pole, police said.
Another victim, a three-year-old who talked to passers-by about his parents, was hung upside down from the ceiling and his head was repeatedly slammed against a wall. Among the other victims were two 18-month-olds and a two-year-old.
The apex court took note of how the women killed the children “the moment they were no longer useful’’, acting not “under any compulsion but very casually… least bothering about their lives or agony of their parents”.
If the court — which has described the case as “rarest of the rare” — rejects the sisters’ review plea, their only hope would be their mercy petition that has been lying with the President for five years.
Although many women are awarded the death sentence in India, legal experts couldn’t recall any being executed after Independence. Some have had their sentences commuted — as happened with Rajiv Gandhi murder accused Nalini — and the mercy petitions of many more are pending.
Lawyers said this was probably the first case in India where two women had been sentenced to death.
Seema and Renuka were allegedly helped by Anjanabai and Renuka’s husband Kiran Shinde in kidnapping the children from railway stations, bus stands and temples in Kolhapur, Thane, Mumbai and Nashik.
Anjanabai died a year after the gang’s arrest in 1996 while Kiran had all charges dropped against him after he turned approver and testified against his wife and sister-in-law.
After a three-year trial, a sessions court awarded the death sentences to the sisters in 2001 and Bombay High Court upheld them in 2004.
“The nature of the crime and the systematic way in which each child was kidnapped and killed amply demonstrates the depravity of the mind of the appellants (the convicts),’’ the Supreme Court bench headed by Justice K.G. Balakrishnan said today.
“We have carefully considered the whole aspect of the case and are also alive to the new trends in sentencing system in criminology. We do not think that these appellants are likely to be reformed.’’